4 min read

OKRs gone Wild – 4 (Deadly) Traps to Avoid

OKRs gone Wild – 4 (Deadly) Traps to Avoid

“We tried OKRs, but we failed,”' lamented a once-hopeful business leader.  

It’s no surprise that not all organizations who have introduced OKRs have done so with élan. 

Those who have stopped using OKRs within the first 90 days,  have either not used the right tools and techniques to sustain successfully or lacked sponsorship.   

However, the ones who have gone on to witness 10X returns are the ones who sustained OKRs quarter on quarter and spoke a consistent language of business.  

Let's take a quick look at what OKRs are and what they’re not.

While many define OKRs as a strategy execution framework, which it certainly is, OKRs is a critical thinking framework that gets teams to think about their most important business metrics. OKRs are cherry-picked as shared commitments by teams and not in silos. 

So, it’s not surprising that companies are stepping forward to use OKRs, to supercharge growth, drive change, innovate or excel in a manner that every employee in the company knows how they contribute. 

More than 80% of Silicon Valley startups have adopted OKRs and experienced a meteoric rise in their growth, by just being thoughtful about the metrics they measure. 

While so much is written about OKRs everywhere, not to mention the success stories of Google, LinkedIn, and Twitter, many companies still don’t seem to get it right. This could be attributed to their lack of understanding of OKRs or could also be the inertia of stepping out of their comfort zones around traditional performance practices. 

How do you write OKRs? 

OKRs is an acronym for Objectives and Key Results.

Objectives tell you “What do we need to achieve?” They have words and no numbers, and must communicate the business value.   

Key Results focus on the ‘How do we measure success?’ or helps answer the question ‘Whats the eye on the prize at the end of 90 days!’ 

Tasks/Initiatives which is “What do we need to do to get there? They are the To-Do’s that are on our plate. With the introduction of OKRs, team members make mindful choices on the choice of a task / initiative that would indeed move a Key Result forward.   

How hard is it to implement OKRs? 

OKRs are really not that hard, but they do require the investment of leadership attention, discipline, and wiring the organization to think about business outcomes. 

According to the Fitbots OKRs study 2021, the Top 3 reasons why companies adopt OKRs are to build Goal Alignment, transparency and Employee Engagement.  

Any organization which achieves these three outcomes are sure to supercharge growth by 10X.  

In the same study, we quizzed respondents on ‘What are the Top Challenges in implementing OKRs?’ 

While there are a lot of reading resources out there, it was interesting to find that 53% of respondents stated a lack of knowledge in implementing OKRs, indicating that having reading resources is not a substitute for experience in OKRs implementation. Another interesting insight is the third-most common challenge that participants face, and that is a lack of understanding of the subject. Now, this has a direct correlation to the inability of teams/companies in crafting high-quality OKRs. 

How do you avoid OKRs going wild, or falling into a Trap? 

While OKRs are not a magic bullet, if implemented right, they can supercharge your business to 10X growth.  Interestingly, 60% of OKRs rollouts don’t make the cut, owing to common mistakes or traps that can be avoided.   

Trap 1: When Tasks are muddled with Key Results 

‍In the bestseller “Measure What Matters” John Doerr speaks about how OKRs should not be about every task at hand. The tasks could be the many steps in achieving the OKRs but not the OKRs themselves. As mentioned in Google Re:Work: Use OKRs to define the outcomes the team wants to see and let the teams come up with the methods of achieving that impact. 

“Goals are not tasks, never mistake activity for results.” — John Wooden.

 

Tasks are the daily to-do’s. They are the inputs that move an outcome forward.  

Key Results are the outcome metrics, that are carefully selected, to move the business forward.   

Let's get into the trenches with some examples. Let's say, we would like to ‘Increase diversity of intern sign-ups from 20% to 55%’, this is a Key Result. It’s a metric we would like to measure and improve over the next 90 days.  

To move the metric forward, we would need to do a bunch of activities.  

Eg: 

  • Sending daily emails as part of our marketing campaign 
  • Conducting events encouraging interns representing diversity to apply. 

The eye on the prize is the Key Result, and the activities are the means to get there.   

 

Trap 2: You track once a quarter or year!

 

That sounds like Set, Forget and Hit the Panic button!

Real-time check-ins are the way to go. Teams who do regular OKR check-ins are more likely to be on top of team performance, check alignment to the company objectives and key results, and coach each other.  Alongside OKRs weekly check-ins,  Leadership reviews and the OKRs retro reboot are the must-have rituals to sustain the spirit of OKRs. 

The role of OKRs champions is unparalleled in helping teams stay enthused around OKRs. The internal OKR Champion is someone nominated by the sponsor of an OKR Roll (usually the CEO), to introduce the concept of OKRs to the organization and work closely with teams to adopt them. Such Champions are generally certified and come with a wealth of OKR implementation knowledge.  

 

Trap 3: Your key results are fuzzy

 

That’s right, the term key results imply they need to be measured but are you measuring it correctly? What are the indices and benchmarks you use to define the metrics around the key results?

“Increase customer retention by10%,” seems fuzzy. Make it specific with something like "Increase free trial sign-ups from 20 to 50 per month” — this increases the clarity and precision of  the result that needs to be achieved.

Trap 4: You hold on to a KR even if it’s not moving the business 

‍The very fact that OKRs are set quarterly makes it a highly agile framework. Instead of holding onto KRs which are not achieving outcomes, course correct and pick the right measures. In other words, move beyond the process of setting to measuring outcomes. Key Results that do not move the business needle, or are hard to measure, would be most reset during the quarter.

OKRs being agile, help teams to look deeply into metric progress and change initiatives/tasks if they are not moving a metric forward.   If a Key Result is not contributing to business velocity or needs re-adjustment, it is encouraged in an OKRs roll out.   

In the past few years, organizations across industries are starting to realize the value and potential of OKRs and the benefits of rallying the entire organization around a common purpose. We strongly believe that OKRs are here to stay and will continue to create the ruffle across industries and segments and as long as it is adopted right, the ripple effect will follow.

 

Fitbots is super committed to enabling organizations to get OKRs rollout right the first time.  Our suite of OKRs software with on-demand coaching and OKRs certifications gives an integrated OKRs experience to teams.   Fitbots has worked with over 5000 teams, and helped organizations move the needle on metrics that most impact business.  Please click here to take a free trial of our OKRs software and talk to an OKRs expert.   

About the Author:

Vidya Santhanam is the Co-Founder of Fitbots OKRs. Having coached 600+ teams, and conducted 1000+ check-in meetings, Vidya likes writing about Metrics, high performance, and leadership.

Get your OKRs right with

TRY IT FREE
Book a demo