Setting goals with OKRs - effective way to activate your team
Agnieszka Amborska
Agnieszka Amborska

Setting goals with OKRs – an effective way to activate your team

As an HR Consultant, I repeatedly come across questions on how to increase team’s engagement. Talking to leaders, they point out that it’s initiative and sharing new ideas they lack them most. There are some solutions which companies try to introduce when facing such problems...
  • team building activities,
  • integration dinners,
  • joint trips,
  • moderated workshops.

Meanwhile, Deloitte’s research shows that there is no other, even equally important, team building factor than common goals (J. Doerr, 2017). Now, here’s the question I ask first – do you have your company/team goals set and clearly communicated? In most of the cases, the answer is not instant nor unequivocal. As far as setting goals is not a huge deal, clear communication and cascading onto particular teams might be. And usually is. There are some tools that can help you out, though. The headlined OKRs are just one of them. If well introduced, they might get you a way better result than KPIs or V2MOM.

Why OKRs, you ask

We already know it’s good to set goals to reinforce engagement. Now, we need to hunt up the tool that will do best for our team. Many of them (OKR, KPI, V2MOM), they carry out similar tasks:

  • point out the main company goals,
  • coordinate team’s efforts,
  • divide vision to smaller team’s/team members’ goals,
  • measure the progress.

Apart from delivering those four, OKRs have the edge in three more areas:

  1. They are not the one and only base to the team’s assessment, e.g. they don’t influence the salary. Therefore, it’s possible to set some really ambitious and inspiring goals. I will again quote the research which shows that the more ambitious (still realistic) goals, the higher efficiency level and results you get (J. Doerr, 2017).
  2. OKRs are evolved collectively. Using the company’s OKRs, the organization indicates teams what’s crucial in the particular time-scale. However, it’s team that answers the question “How can we contribute to achieving those goals?” while writing its OKRs down.
  3. It’s a great feedback-stimulating tool. They also pinpoint achievements – those significant, as well as smaller ones. It’s team’s duty to realize, update and discuss the results of their OKRs. It makes the feedback loop short, reactions to changes quick and successes visible hand-to-mouth.

What are OKRs?

I hope your curiosity increased quite a bit and you just can’t wait to dive deeper 🙂

OKRs is a process for setting goals, which gained its popularity (under the name of OKR) thanks to John Doerr, quoted a bit here and there. In 1999, John shared his long-standing experience he gained while working at Intel (it’s the company where Andy Grove, for the first time ever, introduced the method we talk about, back then unnamed) with the team of 40 specialists at Google. It didn’t take long for the method to be fully and enthusiastically accepted and most certainly contributed to the success we witness today (just to show you the scale of success, in 2017 Google counted in 70 000 team members and $70 billions in cash).

OKR is the acronym of: Objective (O) and Key Results (KR). The Objective has to answer the question WHAT we want to achieve in a defined time. Then, Key Results shows HOW we want to this (to realize the Objective). Nevertheless, it’s just a brief intro to honestly written OKRs. It’s because its each part has to fulfill specific criteria.

The Objective is the inspiring part. It should be meaningful for the organization/team, specific, time oriented and understandable for everyone. “Become a better HR Consultant” might be an example. And as far as it somehow triggers my imagination and invigorates to work, it is not a good Objective. It’s because only I can understand the meaning of “better” in that case, it’s very subjective and soft. However, paraphrased sounds much better – “Support my clients in a more adequate way, through new techniques and tools”. Will I realize this goal in just one OKR cycle (e.g. one quarter)? Surely not, but it’s allowed within the Objective. You can work on your goal for multiple cycles if you need to. Though, it’s good to have it precisely defined, when I want to realize my O.

The KR criteria are not as adjustable as those for O. Here, your goal needs to be consistent with SMART criteria. The most important in case of KR is that they have to be ambitious and realistic, you can measure the progress week-by-week and ability to deliver in one OKR cycle. Also, you need to remember that there’s no chance you put a KR that don’t realize its O.

Textbook OKRs

How to set OKRs smart? There are plenty of rules John Doerr describes in his book. I decided to share with you those, which we found the most helpful while introducing the process at Bee Talents.

1. OKRs are not a TO DO list. KRs answers the question whether, according to my definition of done, did I realize the Objective. Here’s the example:

VER 1
O: Support my clients in a more adequate way, through new techniques and tools
KR: Complete a certified Design Thinking training (activity)
KR: Read “The high output management” by A. Grove (activity)

vs

VER 2

O: Support my clients in a more adequate way, through new techniques and tools
KR: The average rate of the adequacy of the solutions out of Client’s survey at 10 (scale 1-10) (metrics)
KR: Five new solutions tested with clients and described conclusions (metrics)

KRs included in VER 2 do not exclude all the activities from VER 1, while it allows you to measure the efficiency of activities on your road to realize O.

2. Less means more. Recommended number of O’s is 1, 3 or 5. The less O’s you assign, the better quality of priorities you achieve, the more effective communication and the better execution is.

3. Transparency is a key to have good OKRs. It means they need to be public and clearly written. Everybody in the company can feedback everyone’s OKRs.

4. If there’s a good reason behind it, you can change your OKRs during the cycle. By a good reason I mean, e.g. adjusting to the changes in the environment around your goal. A bad reason example? Prosaic lack of time.

How HR Specialist can help in setting company OKRs

At first, start with working out the mission, vision and values of the company with your management team. There are loads of methods, exercises and other ways to engage the team, which makes it the other article content. Anyway, knowing what you’re best at (mission) and having a distant point which you, as the organization, want to reach (vision), it will be way easier for you to choose and follow the first few steps. Steps that will approximate to that point – company OKRs. While company goals are set, let your team define how they can influence goals realization with abilities, experience and ambition they have. That way, the high-level goals won’t die, being commonly achieved instead. They will also bond the team together.

Having the high-level goal defined, now you can consider all the details. I advise you to begin with designing the OKR process:

  • what is the length of the cycle (quarter, half of the year, a year)
  • how often you’re going to update OKRs (once a week, once in 2 weeks)
  • how the OKRs education should work (how often do we talk about the process/to do retrospectives/what kind of content might be useful)
  • what’s the action plan (if OKRs are to be cascaded, then company goals should be set early enough for the Teams and Team Members to have time to set their goals for the next cycle)

Knowing what’s the most important and what time range you plan to run the cycle, you can finally set the OKRs accordingly to all the clues above. The icing on the cake are regular retrospectives of the process and adjusting it in line with your Team’s need.

Summary

Do we have to use OKRs? No! The crucial driving force is set, communicated and cascaded goals. OKRs are just a tool that helps companies being more effective, which stands out with wise and effective engagement of the entire Team. All of you, who seek for more on OKRs, I strongly encourage you to say hello to John Doerr’s Measure What Matters.

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