Beware of these 9 most common myths about OKRs

By on November 19, 2016

Adoption of Objectives & Key Results, an agile goal setting approach, is on the rise. OKRs are spreading outside the silicon valley, with technology companies worldwide leading the band. In comparison to other goals management techniques such as MBO, OKRs is a new kid on the block.

For obvious reasons, the body of knowledge surrounding OKRs is tiny. And since very few companies have actually implemented OKRs, its difficult to find the right people. Naturally, there are many myths that scare teams away from adopting OKRs.

In this article, we explore some of these most common myths:

Myth #1 Waste of time, I’d rather act than plan

Failing to plan is a plan to fail, we all know – is easier said than done. Many overzealous individuals live under the impression that goal setting is a waste of time. For them, the size of this waste becomes unacceptable especially for methodologies like OKRs.

This is contrary to the facts. Finding out why behind every what makes the difference between a huge success and a sloppy effort. Avoid temptation of aimless actions. Make sure you know where you want to go before you start the journey.

Myth #2 Quarterly planning isn’t a right fit for us

Another common myth that people readily accept – we need to move faster than that. or the opposite, that our industry moves slowly and quarterly OKRs are not for us.

Many of the above might actually be genuine reasons for not following a quarterly planning frequency. But do remember, like any other technique – OKRs come with certain recommendations. We want to stress the fact that, these are guidelines & not compulsions. OKRs don’t stop you from adopting a different planning cadence.

Myth #3 OKRs won’t work for our size

One question that is frequently heard when talking about OKRs is about the size of the company. OKRs work only for giants like Google, LinkedIn and Zynga – not for our size.

Did you know Google adopted OKRs when they were a 40 member startup? So when next time someone tries to talk you out of using OKRs, owing to your size tell them to do a fact check first. Startups to billion dollar MNCs, companies of all sizes have improved themselves with OKRs.

Myth #4 Our projects are our goals

Some people ask why do teams need goals besides their ongoing projects. That is analogous to saying my day to day job is my long term goal in life.

This reasoning is ridiculous, one cannot build a winning team if there aren’t any larger than life goals. Rather, chances are high that someone who says ‘my projects are my goals’ is actively disengaged from work.

Myth #5 Each & every OKR should be aligned

Alignment is an important part of OKRs. Teams who are just beginning to adopt this goal setting approach, take this too literally. Linking of company to team to individual OKRs should happen, but for what makes sense.

Do internalize the fact that alignment helps when it is reasonable to use it. There might be cases where forcing the alignment would be no more than blind following of guidelines. e.g. some teams let individuals identify OKRs at personal level & pursue them. These are not at all related to their work. Thus it wouldn’t be wise to align them with team or company OKRs.

Myth #6 Each & every OKR should be ambitious

OKRs should be SMART. While A stands for Ambitious, few people realize that it provides direction than pronounce a gospel truth. As you start writing OKRs, you realize it is not prudent to set each one as a stretch goal.

It is ok for some OKRs to be operational in nature. They may not be ambitious, but are still important. Idea is to ensure an overall ambitious aim rather than make every step ambitious.

Myth #7 Entire company should be using OKRs

At times, companies with intricate structure & a good number of employees try to adopt OKRs in one go. There may be cultural & logistical challenges in doing so. If not done properly, eventual failure leads to complete rejection of OKRs.

It may be reasonable to take a step back & start adopting OKRs team by team. Even if some teams are reluctant to adopt or fail to adopt, the teams that are successful can continue to reap benefits from their reliance on OKRs.

Myth #8 Grading OKRs is work of genius

Grading of OKRs is often a question for discussion. According to OKRs, the grading method should be simple. Rate each key result between 0 to 10 and average the grades at objective level.

Sheer simplicity. No complicated formulae, no weightages. If your OKR grading process makes you think more than 2-3 minutes, you are doing it wrong.

Myth #9 OKRs need an expensive system of records

Given the various guidelines for using OKRs, many teams assume that an intricate system is required to manage them. While some level of flexibility does help, the OKR software you use need not be expensive.

If you are looking to start OKR adoption at your team, don’t fall prey to these myths. Final word of advice – OKRs is a methodology. It guides you in making decisions. On its own, it doesn’t guarantee success or failure, that is up to you.

Any tool or technique is as good as people that are using it.

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