If you aren’t familiar with OKRs you will be soon. It is a simple, yet effective goal setting process that got famous when Google tried it (even though Intel tried it first). Other companies joining the OKRs bandwagon include Zynga, Dropbox, and GoSquared.
Setting OKRs basically involves outlining some major objectives, and then listing the quantifiable actions (usually three to five) needed to achieve them. These actions are known as the Key Results.
Nothing too sophisticated right? So what is the big deal?
What makes OKRs so darn special is that they are much more than just goal setting, OKRs are an effective way to internally communicate vision and purpose. When done right, OKRs help solve some of the most common workplace challenges. Like these:
Where do I even start today?
Have you ever arrived to work on a Monday morning only to find your email inbox overflowing, calendar appointments flashing, and someone waiting at your desk to talk to you? In other words, you are five minutes into your work week and all you want to do is go home. You don’t know where to start right?
OKRs tackle this problem by helping you understand what you should prioritize, and more importantly, what you shouldn’t. When your goals are clear it’s easier to say “Hey, this is my priority, this is where I start,” rather than just arbitrarily jumping into tasks. When setting OKRs, establishing a 70-20-10 model can help too. Devote 70% to your core duties, 20% directly to your position, and the last 10% to personal projects you are passionate about. Because yes, that stuff matters too.
What have I accomplished today?
Even the best of us have unproductive days. But what happens when those days turn into weeks? Or even months? Is it a simple lack of motivation, or do we simply not understand what we need to accomplish? And even if we do understand, is it quantifiable?
OKRs provide this level of clarity that can help us accomplish real things. When you set attainable goals and objectives, you know where to focus. You can actually look
back at the end of the day and know which key results you worked towards and which ones you didn’t. Even if some days feel like the smallest wins, you at least know you are moving in the right direction.
What are my coworkers doing?
I’ve seen a lot of animosity and confusion develop as a result of employees not understanding what their coworkers are working on. For example, how many of you have worked alongside someone who appeared to do nothing all day? Was this ‘really’ the case? Or was this just an example of miscommunicated task allocation and responsibilities?
With OKRs, all company, team, and individual objectives and key results are published and open for everyone to see. This level of visibility helps colleagues support and assist each other. You end up with everyone finishing on the same page with a clear understanding of how their work fits into their colleagues’ goals and the company goals.
How am I doing?
How many times have you walked into a performance review only to discover that your opinion of yourself didn’t come close to your bosses opinion of you? A lot of managers still have no clue what their employees do. This is for a lot of reasons, but mainly because a lot of managers don’t communicate enough with their employees. And when they do, it’s during an annual performance appraisal.
OKRs are not meant to replace performance reviews. However they can assist the process by providing more clarity for both employee and manager. It also helps to create ongoing communication, rather than a sole annual check-in. And because OKRs are often employee driven, employees have more control over their work. It becomes less of a top down environment of “Here is what you have to do,” and more of “How are you coming along with the goals you’ve set?”
How does my contribution matter to the company?
When you are in a small company, it’s easy to understand how every role and employee factors into the company objectives. Yet this gets a little fuzzy in large organizations. And if you don’t understand how your work relates to other, it can be difficult to stay motivated.
OKRs solve this with ‘cascading goals’. This is where a company sets its own objectives and key results, and then each department/team sets their objective based on this. This could also happen at an individual level, allowing employees to relate their work to the company’s objectives.
Are the expectations on me realistic?
Finally, depending on your role, you might be asking if the quotas your company are demanding of you are reasonable. For example, if you are in marketing, you may set a goal of delivering 240 inbound leads. Or maybe you are an outbound sales rep and you want to call 40 prospects a day. Whatever your expectation, is isn’t always easy to predict immediately if it is a fair and reasonable goal.
The best set OKRs are enough that you work your butt off to try to achieve them, yet they aren’t completely out of reach. After a quarter you can then evaluate goals and adjust where necessary.
Remember, this is about creating a process for aiming high, not one that punishes those who fail.