OKR Best Practices and Tips

While the OKR structure is fairly simple, that doesn’t mean they are easy to implement. 

To write a goal in the form of an OKR, you need to engage in a critical thinking exercise: 

  • what are we solving? 
  • why does it matter? 
  • how will we know we are succeeding?

So as a team goal-setting method, OKR is effective mainly because of the discussion process leading up to writing OKRs.

The team also needs to learn to use the proper language and business terms for the goal-setting process, practice having effective discussions and agree on a regular weekly check-in agenda. That is why usually it takes 2-4 quarters for companies to start using OKRs the right way. 

In this article, we will not discuss how to write Objectives and Key Results but focus on how to manage the OKR processes to make them work for your teams. You will learn more about OKR best practices to shorten the learning curve.

Learn to Set Good OKRs and Align Them from the Start

Finalize OKRs Before the Quarter Starts

Start setting your OKRs before the quarter begins! This is especially important for Company level Objectives. But writing Team OKRs can also take a lot of time, planning, and agreement (especially if it is your first time setting them). You will also need time to discuss the initiatives and plans you are going to set in motion to drive progress on the Key Results. This is why it is best to start planning 2-4 weeks ahead of the start of the quarter. That way you are ready to go when it starts.

Communicate Objectives

Communicate the Objectives with the rest of the company and discuss why they are important. Leaders should meet together and discuss what should be the main quarterly directions and focus areas for the whole organization. From there, department/team managers should introduce their teams to the Company level Objectives and get their feedback and ideas on achieving them.

Including teams in discussing Company level Objectives is not a motivational perk, it’s a necessary step to validate the Objectives. Teams should discuss their own roles in achieving the overarching Objectives, and write their contributing Team OKRs for a quarter. This is possible only if the high level Objectives are clear from the execution perspective. If they are not, teams should have the freedom to tell you so, and that should lead to clarification or even revision of the Company level Objectives. 

Align Team OKRs with Company Objectives. 

Often people get excited coming up with new ideas when it comes to OKRs. But it is important not to forget why you are setting them in the first place: Alignment! Make sure that the majority of OKRs at the Team level connect to Company Objectives. This way everyone moves in a unified direction. OKR software that provides a Hierarchy view would let you see all your goals and how they connect in an easy-to-view format.

Use OKR Examples

There are a lot of wrong ways to write OKRs. Namely, a lot of people confuse OKRs with Key Performance Indicators and project management. If you write OKRs in the wrong way, you will not see all of those OKR benefits that were promised to you when you first got excited about the methodology. 

So when you are first learning, it can be good to have some examples to reference. We recommend OKRexamples.co, it has hundreds of examples of OKRs for different teams. If you are using Weekdone to track your Objectives and Key Results, you can see examples when adding OKRs with the OKR Wizard tool. It’s a very simple and straightforward way to add your first OKRs.

We also have more elaborate OKR examples that show how the teams developed these OKRs: the discussion process, the reasoning, and the action planning. 

Execute your OKRs

Implement a Weekly Process

Obviously, if there is no executional activity, there will be no progress on Key Results. So it is important to align your weekly activities to your Objectives. This helps employees engage with OKRs as they work, and make sure their activities help move the company forward. You can read more on this in the Weekly Check-ins section.

Hold a Team OKR Weekly Check-In

Team members need to set new weekly plans as well as update the Team KRs on an ongoing basis – preferably every week. During an OKR check-in, the team reviews every team member’s weekly plans and makes sure their plans are being completed. During this quick meeting (shouldn’t take you longer than 15-20 minutes) you can also agree on what you need to accomplish next week to move your OKRs forward. Read how to run a successful weekly check-in here: The Team OKR Weekly Check In

Review Your OKRs with Your Company

Organize Monthly OKR Reviews

It’s absolutely necessary to continuously discuss Team OKRs while there is still time to regroup and brainstorm for new initiatives to drive Key Results. That is why teams should review their OKRs every month from a bigger picture perspective and write down any lessons learned. Team Managers should synthesize this information and share these learnings at the company-wide review. 

We recommend organizing company-wide monthly OKR reviews where each team manager presents learnings and challenges based on the current Team OKR progress. There is a good chance that these learnings will help to connect the dots across different areas and lead to major improvements. 

Hold a company-wide review at the end of the quarter

Hold company-wide reviews at the end of the quarter. It is important to make sure everyone takes part in the review process. That way everyone can see how far the team has come. We have a detailed article on how to run a successful company-wide quarterly review

It may also be helpful to work with an OKR coach to see how it went and what you can do better when setting OKRs again next. It is also good practice to hold a review in the middle of the quarter as well. This way you can make sure everyone is on the same page, and address any problems before it is too late. 

When you use Weekdone for your OKR tracking and Weekly Check-ins, OKR coaching is included!

Set Next Quarter’s OKRs 2-4 Weeks Before it Starts

You need to start planning your next quarter’s OKRs 2-4 weeks before it starts. The monthly Team reviews and company-wide quarterly review will provide you with a lot of useful information for this as you will be discussing wins and failures that you experienced during the quarter. As you start planning, look at the list of major learning from the previous 90 days so that you can use OKRs more effectively in the coming quarter.

You will develop your own best practices over time

Creativity blossoms in the sweet spot between too much chaos and too much order, and OKRs offer a standardised yet flexible goal-setting process to establish and nurture that creative environment. 

As people learn to communicate with each other about the outcomes they want to achieve and how these outcomes will drive the company forward, you will see a major shift in accountability and engagement. 

We wrote these tips to help you through your first OKR quarters but you will develop your own best practices, processes and structures to achieve the greatest work satisfaction and the most innovative teamwork. 

Remember that any new goal-setting methodology is stressful to implement because people generally don’t appreciate change. But if you really want to improve your business, you should take the time and plan this out. OKRs will help you transform your organization but only if you take the time to learn the outcome-driven management and proper alignment process.  

One last word of advice. Traditionally, both managers and employees would call any small task, any project, any KPI target “a goal” which is extremely confusing and leads to intellectual stupor. Learning the meaning and the difference between these various goal-setting concepts will help to achieve clarity on your priorities and improve the quality of communication.