Top five OKR mistakes to avoid


Date: 20 July 2020

A team assess the objectives and results they should target

More and more companies are discovering the potential of setting OKRs (objectives and key results). But if OKRs are not implemented correctly, they will not provide the performance improvements they are known for delivering.

Like anything new, if you don't succeed in moving from the initial implementation to OKRs being fully embedded in your every-day activities, ultimately your OKR initiative will fail. This is what you need to avoid at all costs.

If OKRs are new to you, this is what you need to know.

OKRs are the goal setting framework originally adopted by Intel and then by Google when Google was still small. It's now one of the most popular ways to set goals for all organisations of all sizes.

Most people have used and are familiar with SMART goals. Well, OKRs are like SMART goals, just with a little more goal setting best practice guidance built in. The extra guidance includes:

  • Grouping one to four Key Results that are "measuring what matters", often KPIs, to give a more complete picture of what success looks like.
  • Horizontally aligning and cascading OKRs using hierarchical relationships to improve alignment.
  • Deliberately setting hard targets, because easy to achieve goals have zero net benefit, and stretching goals help teams innovate.

Mistake 1

The first common OKR mistake is creating Key Results that are actually projects or tasks.

Key Results should ideally contain metrics. These metrics have a target value that is usually to be achieved by a standard period of time like the end of a quarter or year.

If Key Results do not have metrics containing target values and are actually activities to be completed like projects or tasks, they are likely to be what are called 'initiatives'.

Mistake 2

The second mistake is related to the first. Teams can often add poor metrics to their Key Results.

The issue of Key Result metric selection is similar to those of KPI selections. It's common to see teams selecting metrics that are easy to track, rather than the things that need to be tracked. Or teams choose metrics that are not good lead indicators and predictors of future performance.

Both of these problems can be solved with better KPI planning. If you do use metrics that do not reliably predict improvements in future KPIs, like downloads or website visitors, you need to pair them with metrics that can confirm quality not just quantity. For example, conversions to an event like sign-up or to a commercial event like a paid subscription.

Mistake 3

Easy to achieve, 'business as usual' targets are set. Hard goals create ambition and drive innovation. Easy to achieve goals far less so.  In fact, easy to achieve goals have been shown to have zero net benefit.

The issue is that setting and missing hard goals is often believed to have detrimental consequences. Or, worse still, missing hard goals really has detrimental consequences.

What you need to do is make hard both 'normal' and 'safe'. This means agreeing hard targets and adjusting the definition of success inline with difficulty. Make less than 100% safe. Success of a hard target is generally 70% to 100%. The success rate of 'Moon Shots' is even less.

Mistake 4

The fourth mistake you need to avoid is getting carried away and creating too many OKRs or OKRs with too many Key Results.

Good OKRs are like a good strategy. You are more likely to succeed when you're focusing your resources on fewer areas with maximum impact, as opposed to setting goals for everything and never really focusing on anything.

So, now we've got Key Results that are not initiatives, we're targeting metrics that matter and are good predictors of performance. We have set hard targets, and we're focusing all of our efforts on the OKRs that are going to make a material difference to the organisation.

Mistake 5

This happens most often when OKRs live in spreadsheets and don't have processes like check-ins and team meetings built around them.

It is critical that your teams are constantly using OKRs and Initiatives as the agenda for regular meetings, whether remote or face-to-face.

In these meetings status, progress, and confidence are displayed and discussed, in addition to what's holding people back and what's going well.

Adjustments are made where necessary, and everyone gets on with enjoying the feeling of having a clear sense of purpose, more autonomy, effective collaboration, and continual learning. All of which is proven to lead to a happier, more engaged and better performing workplace.

Many of these mistakes can be solved with training and the correct implementation of software. We have pulled together a list of the ten best OKR software platforms on the market which can help you set, track and manage your OKRs.

Copyright 2020. Article was made possible by site supporter Matt Roberts, founder of ZOKRI. Matt is an expert in embedding OKRs in tech and non-tech businesses.

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