Oops… Did You Just Step into an OKR Landmine?

Lesson 5: OKR implementation traps and how to avoid them!

Hello there! You are almost getting close to the finishing line, and we must tell you, you are doing very well. Because staying onto it and keeping up with the learning journey is not as easy as it sounds, it takes a lot of grit and determination to get this far… so keep at it!

Perhaps you've just started talking to your teams about the increasingly popular strategy execution framework, known as OKRs (Objectives and Key Results). You stand there expecting beaming faces. Instead, what you see is a bunch of skeptics staring back. Sometimes, you might encounter a group of people who say they have been there, done that and OKRs are more complicated than it sounds.

BAM! We know exactly how that feels. 

Often, the frameworks which seem simple, supercharged and loaded with benefits, face the most resistance when it comes to acceptance and adoption, simply because everyone in your company is not on the same page.

But why the resistance? Because OKRs are not just about a process implementation, they are also about changing the management style and culture building, since it pushes teams and leadership to relook at the way they approach business outcomes and challenge the status quo. These things do not come easy!

In this chapter on OKRs, let's analyze a few common mistakes that companies and teams make while implementing OKRs, thus impeding the benefits that OKRs bring about in creating a high-performing and engaged ecosystem.

#1 Lack of Leadership Commitment and Sponsorship 

If we had to give the number one reason for OKR derailment, this one would win hands down. If OKRs are not sponsored and vouched for by the Founder and CEO, its results in a lack of commitment from the Senior Leadership members and the ripple effect flows through the teams.

When leaders are not aligned to OKRs, they may not pick the right priorities to craft OKRs at a company level. Lack of clarity on company OKRs limits the teams from understanding the larger picture and aligning their OKRs with department or company priorities. 

#2 Fill it and forget it 

Yes, we know, we have stressed a lot on this. But then, OKRs will not bring you the desired effects if teams are not working with the sharp focus that is needed to achieve the outcome.

Hence, OKR Check-ins are that magic pill which gives teams the much needed dose of vitamins to keep the game up. But remember, OKR Check-ins do not mean ‘yet another meeting’, instead, they are part of the weekly sync-ups and best driven by teams who update outcome progress. Refer to the previous chapters on Importance of Check-in Meetings in sustaining OKRs.

#3 The Classic Confusion of Mixing BAUs with OKRs 

We have previously outlined the importance of prioritizing and not picking up every task at hand. When you have multiple tasks at hand, it is best to focus on the outcome they would result in.

If multiple tasks align to a common outcome, then that common outcome might be the Key Result that these tasks contribute to. Let the teams come up with their own ways of achieving the impact. Often, companies and teams mistake day-to-day activities with a delta improvement as Key Results... That’s where the issue lies!

OKRs are about creating aspirational goals, which means going beyond the slight stretch out of your comfort zone! 

#4 Are Your Aspirational Goals Just a Stretch of the Comfort?

We know achieving 100% of your defined goals sometimes seems to be like the best possible scenario, but then, when you keep 100% committed OKRs Q-o-Q, Y-o-Y and celebrate it, aren't you missing the challenge?

The very crux of OKRs is that it helps companies achieve 10x growth at a scalable and sustainable rate. 10x growth cannot come when teams pick goals which can be completed at a 1x level of comfort. It needs experimental thinking and creativity at times, but definitely not at the cost of pushing your teams too thin. Maintain the fine balance between aspirational and achievable.

Look at user interviews and see what your customers really really want. Can you pick one or two top customer issues and set goals to completely solve that issue in a set time frame? Would that stretch your team enough and help you achieve the top spot in your customer’s mind? These are powerful questions to consider when crafting your OKRs.

#5 You Are Picking Not-so-Sharp Key Results 

Yes, you heard that right! Key results need to be sharp, focused and progress-based. But there is a rider here - the term Key Results implies that 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?

Many companies carry forward their aspirational OKRs quarter-on-quarter and finally drop it saying it was not a priority. This indicates that it's time to check if the right resources were in place to achieve the OKRs. Did you underestimate an aspirational OKR? Did you involve the team in choosing this OKR? It might be time to hear their side of the story so that the situation does not repeat itself.

#6 Connecting OKRs with Feedback in the Early Implementation Stage 

OKRs allow scope for coaching, regular check-ins, progress tracking to ensure that teams keep an eye on KRs at risk and address the issues during the process of achieving the outcomes and not after, as in the case of traditional Performance Management reviews.

Hence, coupling it with performance reviews right at the start if implementation might result in teams' hesitancy in taking up aspirational targets and playing safe to avoid any negative impacts on reviews. 

#7 Holding on to a KR, Despite Slow or No Progress

OKRs are set quarterly for a very specific reason - to make them flexible and agile. When you see that you are unable to progress towards a Key Result, consider two things

1) Is it a priority Key Result and does it really contribute to the Objective? 

2) Are the tasks rightly aligned to the KR? If yes, why are they not contributing to the progress of the Key Result?

In other words, move beyond just checking the progress, ask the right questions to see how your initiatives can help move the needle forward. Refer to our powerful questions to get started.

Now that you are familiar with the OKRs basics and traps to avoid while implementing them, do you think your company has the right setup it needs for getting started with OKRs? Talk to us and explore your readiness quotient.

If you want to bring astonishing changes in your company with the power of OKRs, we recommend that you start by becoming a certified OKR Champion.

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