4 practical problems to address before OKR alignment

By on November 24, 2016

The popularity of OKR methodology is on the rise as many companies seek to understand and adopt it for their goal setting. Given the lack of a credible & universally accepted body of knowledge around OKRs, some practical problems arise at the time of adoption. While we have seen in a previous article that alignment is of vital importance in OKRs, we haven’t actually elaborated on how this alignment should happen.

Even after looking at this seminar by Rick Klau on how Google uses OKRs there are more questions than answers around this agile goal setting approach. In this post we try to answer 4 queries often encountered when talking about OKR alignment.


One of the facts to keep in mind before we delve deeper into the details – OKRs are supposed to facilitate the goal setting process and not get in your way. Teams adopt objectives & key results to match their processes & cultural threads, there is no one size fits all guideline. So before you fall prey to any of these myths of OKRs, take a step back and see for yourself if what is being suggested makes sense for your team.

#FAQ 1 – Should all lower level OKRs be aligned?

Guideline: This is one of the most common questions asked in OKR workshops. Teams who have tried their hand at adopting OKRs can easily tell that practically, it is quite difficult to have all your lower level OKRs align with higher level ones. Especially so when you have tweaked the goal setting guidelines to suit your culture a bit.

For example, some of the companies actively encourage team members to set one individual OKR that has nothing to do with team or company goals. Idea is, it would help each person to focus on one area where her personal interest vests. This results in blending of the personal & work space, culminating in higher engagement & better productivity. In fact, addition of one personal OKR (which is not aligned) might eventually lead to better success rates in all the other OKRs (that are aligned with the top level).

Our recommendation – Not all lower level OKRs need to be aligned with the ones at top. It is absolutely ok to have goals that are completely personal in nature.

#FAQ 2 – Can a OKR of one objective align with another objective or can one KR have multiple responsible users?

Guideline:  There are different ways OKRs work. Quite a few OKR software allow aligning Key result of an objective to another objective. Or even assigning one KR to multiple team members. While companies prefer flexible solutions (under the guise that they may want to use such feature in future), it is important to figure out if it is really a use case. It can certainly be, but very few companies do this sort of alignment. Answer this simple question & decide for yourself – does it make sense for you?

Our recommendation – Keeping the alignment simple is going to work in your favor in the long run. In our experience, multiple accountable users on a single KR are as bad as no accountability.

#FAQ 3 – Should my Manager’s OKRs be my objectives?

Guideline: In the seminar above Rick explains how Key Result of the team manager becomes Objective of a department head. And then Key results of department head’s objective becomes objectives of his subordinate. This has been the traditional approach for cascading goals in organisations. There is no black & white here. Sometimes this approach helps, many a time it doesn’t. It totally depends on what suits you.

Our recommendation – Use knowledge of your own work culture & take a call for what might be the best for your team. We, as a team, tend to stay away from this approach & let individuals align their goals to the company/team goals rather than their direct managers’.

#FAQ 4 – Can I align one of the individual objectives directly with a top level company objective?

Guideline: Team OKRs is just another level of goals to ensure the accountability is fairly distributed to all the functions. It also maintains separation of concerns from a strategic point of view. But this might not be necessary at all, for a startup. After all, startups don’t even have different teams.

Now for a company who has over 2000 employees, it becomes imperative to have multiple levels of teams – Departments, Sub departments, Divisions, Teams and so on. Such a company in fact will have multiple levels of team objectives sandwiched between company & individual OKRs.

Our recommendation – It is perfectly fine to align individual goals directly with the company ones.

These 4 questions are just the tip of the iceberg. As the OKR adoption increases, there are number of other practical problems that need solving. If you’ve faced any of these or others, let us know in comments.

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