July 24, 2019

Implementing OKRs More Effectively

BY: Marcus Lambert
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Implementing OKRs More Effectively


You’re probably implementing OKRs already, or at least thinking about it. If your business is performance-focussed, OKRs often play a crucial role. 


But implementation isn’t always an easy ride.


Keep reading to learn best practices for implementing OKRs, to cement a high-performance culture. Let’s start with a quick overview of this oft-misunderstood performance management technique.


Quick Summary – What are OKRs?


OKRs are a tactic to align everyone in the business around the same overarching goals. They fit within the performance management spectrum but they’re not the same as - or a replacement for - performance evaluation.


OKRs are transparent across the business, so everyone knows what path you’re on. They’re set and reviewed regularly, so they’re always relevant. Done right, OKRs are a guiding hand that steers day-to-day activity.


(For a deep dive, you can’t beat this Google Ventures Startup Lab video about implementing OKRs in Google).


OKRs have two parts – Objectives and Key Results.


  • Objectives are strategic goals. They work at business, department and individual level but they also feed into business strategy.
  • Key Results are measurable results that define how you’ll reach the Objective. Each Objective should have no more than four correlating Key Results.


John Doer – who introduced OKRs in Measure What Matters gave this example:



(John Doer Slide for Google about implementing OKRs)


That’s his own OKR for his presentation about OKRs to Google, to get meta about the whole thing.


Another example could be:


Objective – Decrease turnover

Key Results –

  1. Run monthly engagement questionnaire with an 80% completion rate
  2. Run three monthly team/culture building activities with an 80% attendance rate
  3. Launch, and ensure 100% of new hires complete, new onboarding program
  4. Introduce team culture fit interview into recruitment for 100% of interviewees


Once you’ve set OKRs, you score them, learn the relevant lessons then repeat. To enjoy benefits like:


  • A more disciplined, productive business. Everyone understands what to work on and, crucially, what not to work on.
  • A culture of transparency. Everyone can see everyone else’s priorities and can collaborate better.
  • A focussed, aligned business. Everyone pulls in the same direction, towards the same overarching goals.
  • A performance-orientated business. Everyone knows what progress looks like and is accountable for their part.


Let’s talk about moving beyond theory, to implementing OKRs more effectively.


Best Practices for Implementing OKRs


  • Educate to drive uptake


Employees might struggle to see the importance of OKRs. Managers might feel OKRs are ‘an HR thing’ that distracts from business-as-usual and doesn’t add value.


That’s not the case but you can see why they’d feel that. Change emotions and actions will follow. Educate your people why this stuff matters - then train them how to use OKRs effectively.


Consider running OKR training during onboarding, to bring new employees up to speed. And hold regular refresher sessions. It’s also good to set manager Objectives around successfully implementing OKRs across their team, for example. So OKRs become part of the fabric of your business – not an afterthought.


  • Balance individual and corporate needs when setting Objectives


Traditional performance management relies on top-down goal-setting – this is different. All Objectives should relate to corporate Objectives but the individual also has input. Each team member sets Objectives based on what they want to achieve, what their manager wants them to achieve, and what the business needs.


OKRs drive creativity  

because you give individuals freedom to pursue their own priorities. Those new directions will open doors to new ways of thinking at corporate level.


  • Choose five Objectives with four Key Results each quarter


If you set too many OKRs, they can become distracting and ineffective. OKRs work because they’re few enough you can take each on board, to guide performance over the quarter.


Each Objective should have no more than four Key Results for the same reason. Managers should help employees identify focussed, targeted Key Results that signpost progress.


  • Key Results should refer to outcomes, not tasks


Before signing off OKRs, managers should check employees’ Key Results are outcome-based. That is, they’re not task-lists.


For example, “assess ad spend for Q3” is a task – but “publish briefing on ad spend for Q3” is an outcome. “Join negotiation course” is an activity – but “complete 6-weeks of notes for negotiation course” is an outcome.


  • Make Key Results difficult enough to challenge (but not too difficult)


Your people shouldn’t regularly achieve 100% of their Key Results. If they do, the targets weren’t challenging enough to inspire the best performance. If tasks are too unattainable though, they might be demotivating.


To strike the right balance, managers should work closely with team members to set attainable but challenging Key Results. Like stretch goals. Then use scores to guide the next cycle.


  • Get your people to self-score – and then learn


You can’t implement OKRs without measurement. Every quarter individuals should self-score their progress towards each Key Result. Then average those scores to give an overall Objective score (without weighting).


If you’re implementing OKRs right, most people will score around seven out of ten. That means their Key Results sit at the right level.


  • Use the right tools


OKRs are transparent across the business, so everyone can access them whenever they want.


In theory, any tool like Google Docs or Google Sheets could work. In practice though, those tools are hardly engaging. They’re frustrating and time-consuming and don’t prompt you to complete tasks. So OKRs are always an add-on that employees have to remember. There’s always friction.  


Use engaging tools to streamline the OKR cycle and turn OKRs into a seamless part of your business. Done right, OKRs aren’t just something you do. They’re something your people engage with, almost without thinking.


Tools – like TalTrack’s next-gen performance platform – remove the friction from implementing OKRs. The platform is an engaging, intuitive mobile-first interface, so your people can set, score and learn from OKRs easily. They’ll get prompts aligned to the OKR cycle too.


The result is, your workforce take ownership over OKRs without the endless chasing or cajoling. And OKRs become an effective performance management tool that genuinely helps drive growth.


Culture comes first with OKRs


OKRs aren’t too complex but businesses often struggle to get them right. That’s less about the functional side of implementing OKRs – although important – and more about culture. If you can weave OKRs into the fabric of your business, you build a culture of engagement around them. That’s when you see the biggest benefits from implementing OKRs – when OKRs aren’t a chore but a value-add activity your people embrace.


TalTrack is a next-gen platform for businesses that take high performance seriously. We make implementing OKRs simple and friction-free. Book a personal demo now.








About the author Marcus Lambert

Entrepreneurial and commercial CTO. For over 20 years, Marcus has built a global reputation as a technology innovator. Today, he architects and delivers world-class products and projects that solve real business problems.