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Do’s and Don’ts on Writing OKRs for Dramatic Growth

The article will provide an insight on Do’s and Don’ts on writing OKRs leading to successful implementation of OKR and hypergrowth.
Sourabh Jha

Sourabh Jha

writing  OKRs

OKRs are not a silver bullet or a magic potion. It is a tool.”

– John Doerr

The results of writing OKRs can be magical if we understand that there is a method in completely utilizing the framework. You can see that clearly while observing how some companies attribute a large part of their success to the OKR framework, while some are not able to implement the OKRs across their teams, even after several iterations. 

This is because there can be varying outcomes based on the effectiveness of the OKRs written by companies. Writing OKRs is a high-level engagement exercise at all levels of the organization to reap positive outcomes. Read on to find out how you too can dramatically increase outcomes by following some do’s and don’ts while writing OKR. 

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Let us divide the OKRs between Objectives and Key Results and understand the Dos and Don’ts individually.

Objectives are: What do we want to achieve?

Key Results are: How will we get there and what metrics will we use?

Do’s When Creating Objective

Goal Setting Process for writing OKRs

1 Ask, ‘Is the objective meaningful’?

Is it merely output-based or outcome-based? Does the objective help in achieving company goals? While the output is how much the team produces, outcomes are representative of change. For example, “Improve the delivery process so that there are very few customer complaints by the end of the third quarter” is outcome-based as opposed to, “Attend 100 calls per day” which is activity and task-based.

2 Make sure the objective is inspirational and transparent.

They should be empowering at all levels. For that, it needs to be accessible and visible to all ranks of the company so everyone is aware, reminded, and empowered at all phases of progress.

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3 Set objectives that are time-bound

Any goal must have deadlines so the employees get an idea of how productive they need to be in a given set of time. If there are no deadlines, employees are likely to slack off or even work on it forever.

4 Align the company objectives with the larger vision of the company.

Objectives need to be reevaluated to ensure that it adds value to the vision and mission of the company. A good objective is vital to the success of the company. An example of a good objective looks like- Increase brand visibility across the U.S.A, launch an educational app, design a framework that allows employees to work remotely, etc.

5 Objectives should be crisp, inspirational, and impactful.

 Objectives should be audacious and challenging not ‘business as usual’ that is taken for granted. Of course, they need to be realistically achievable as well. An unrealistic aspiration looks like, “Create life on Jupiter in a month”. Unrealistic goals will only discourage employees from achieving anything at all.

6 There must be a sweet spot between aspirational and operational objectives.

Always reexamine to make sure both make a healthy blend. If the objectives are only aspirational, it becomes difficult to know where to begin. If operational objectives are included as a healthy blend, employees can gain a better vision of goals.

Reexamine the objectives while writing OKRs

Don’ts When Creating Objectives

1 Avoid objectives that are non-viable and complex.

 A non-viable objective looks like this- “Eliminate all other brands and become the only brand in the world. Outsource company services to outer space or increase profits by 100% by tomorrow”.

2 Don’t rule out the possibility of starting afresh.

If the team feels the objective is not challenging, consider starting afresh by changing the objective. Alternately, if the teams have achieved the goal easily then the OKRs are not drafted properly. 

But, remember that any strategy takes time to flower, and perhaps being patient and giving it time will yield the intended benefits. However, if the business atmosphere changes, prepare to be flexible and change- modify your OKR accordingly to meet new demands.

3 Don’t use cryptic, metaphorical language

 Be as precise as you can. When employees know exactly what is expected out of them, it makes it easier for them to work towards it. Poor understanding will mislead them.

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4 Steer clear of casual OKR.

OKRs shouldn’t be treated as Business-as-usual or as boxes to tick because they are not. They are grand goals and strategies you have set collectively. They can lead to the success you imagined for your company. So give it the respect it deserves.

5 Limit the number of objectives.

Too many objectives will make employees overwhelmed and discouraged. Rather, make them more challenging if you have to. Set 3-5 objectives for a single quarter and you will notice that employees are performing significantly better with fewer objectives.

Do’s When Creating Key Results

Focus on growth by writing OKRs

1 Make sure the Key Results are quantifiable.

Quantifiable metrics can not only assess progress but also identify setbacks. A good objective assigns a numerical value like, “Increase website visits by 10% per week” whereas “Increase website visits” is not indicative of milestones that need to be achieved.

2 Set stretch goals to challenge the team.

If the goal is 100% attainable, it is way too easy. Push employees to pursue uncomfortable goals and expect them to hit at least 70% of them. Again, if they achieve 100% of it, the bar isn’t high enough.

 A few key results are enough to yield the maximum outcome. 2-3 key results are ideal. Setting many key results will only lead to chaos and confusion. An example of good key Results looks like- Accelerate web traffic by 10% within one month. Increase the number of newsletter sign-ups by 300 per week. Create three new articles weekly.

Don’ts When Creating Key Results

Ideation process while writing OKRs

1 Key Results are not tasks.

Key Results are not activities and tasks to accomplish. So, avoid treating them like one. Tasks are checklists and checklists are not reflective of outcomes.

2 Don’t under-promise and over-deliver.

In other words, don’t subscribe to sandbagging. Setting small targets only to tick a box of success is counter-productive. In OKRs, there is no place for small ambitions that are easy and require little effort. Oftentimes, sandbagging and tying OKR to performance review go hand in hand. It snowballs into a vicious cycle where OKR becomes indicative of what employees failed to achieve.

3 Creating too many Key results or objectives is a recipe for chaos and obscurity..

 Don’t go overboard. The key is to narrow down the focus and a few key results will help employees gain a sense of direction.

4 Avoid vague key results.

If there is no clarity as to how the objectives can be achieved, or what indicates that objectives have been achieved, it is your turn to change/ modify your key results immediately. Example of bad key results- Try to increase the number of people visiting the website. Create many new newsletters.

5 Lack of follow-up or check-in process results in indiscipline and a casual attitude.

 To be consistent, always track progress and suggest changes if need be. Creating a timeline and using tracking tools like ‘Workfront Goal’ can be used to make the process simpler. Regular check-ins discourage employees from slacking off and that is a good thing. Moreover, regular meetings also help resolve conflicts and help revisit the purpose of being in the team.

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OKR Examples

Example 1.

Objective:

  • Improve ratings of customer service by the end of the fourth quarter.

Key results:

  • Heed 90% of emergency issues within 15 minutes of complaint placement.
  • Improve infrastructure to support 8,000 users per week.
  • Introduce new tech tools to facilitate seamless communication by this Friday.

This is an example of a good OKR because it has quantifiable metrics; it is time-boxed, challenging, and written with clarity.

Example 2.

Objective:

  • Build a culture people love.

Key Results:

  • Improve employee engagement score from 60% to 90%.
  • Improve eNPS from 3 to 8.
  • Ensure 1:1s and check-ins participation to 100%

Example 3:

Objective:

  • Crush the revenue goals

Key Results:

  • Acquire 10 Enterprise Customers.
  • Generate 5 million USD from Upsell.
  • Hit 30 million USD in Revenue.

Example 3: 

Objective:

  • Transition from remote work to on-site work while adhering to covid health guidelines.

Key Results:

  • Send mail to all employees mentioning their shifts by Tuesday.
  • Provide adequate masks and sanitizers to each employee by Monday.
  • Create a washroom permit for every employee by Wednesday to avoid crowding and ensure social distancing.
  • Assign tasks for the next week to ensure business continuity and maintain workflow.

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Final Thoughts

 Employees looking at the progress report.

An effective OKR creates a culture of ambition and competency to fulfill what has been decided to attain. Also, the management or the leadership needs to be a guiding evangelist in writing better OKR to the individual and teams for better clarity.

Additionally, remember to collaborate with the team when forming OKRs. Take consensus if you hit a roadblock or if you can’t get every person to agree with everything. It helps to think from the point of view of the client/customer as well. If you are unsure about the OKR, then consider testing the OKR for a pilot test before cascading it to other projects and involving the entire organization.

 A pilot test also helps identify pitfalls where you may need to modify your OKR or decide if you need an OKR at all! Just don’t do OKR to do OKR. If you think you don’t need it, perhaps you will be better off without it. But, don’t be discouraged if you fail in the beginning. Like any other tool, you can master it with time, practice, and patience. 

You have the prerequisites of writing OKRs- the dos and don’ts. Now, what’s stopping you from achieving everything your company has dreamed of?

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