Guide to Strategic OKR Planning

By on December 22, 2021

Strategic OKR planning has been mentioned as the secret of the success of many leading organizations. In fact, Google credits OKRs for the exponential growth and success experienced by the organization during its initial years. The secret doesn’t lie in company OKRs alone, but the way team Objectives and Key Results are planned and executed. Here’s an overview of strategic OKR planning so that organizations, managers, and employees can get the most out of the practice. 

What are the important elements of OKRs?

The first two important elements of OKRs are goals and metrics. The third thing is the targets that aid the functioning of the first two. Among these, Goals are the direction towards which the organization wants to go and Metrics help in monitoring employee performance and targets in relation to the goals set. These goals are set with the level of performance an organization wants to achieve as a benchmark. With company OKRs, these three parameters can be created in a way that is inspiring and tuned to measure success. Together, these three parameters aid in the growth of the organization and help employees focus on theirs, through timely reviews and performance improvement measures.

What are the six steps to define OKRs?

Organizations can utilize the elements of OKRs to boost their performance while ensuring their employees move towards their individual goals, but they have to ensure the company’s OKRs are defined adequately first. The steps to ensure proper definition are given below.

Defining the purpose and vision of the organization

For company OKRs to help organizations in achieving their goals, they should clearly define where the organization is going. This purpose is what galvanizes employees to rally behind, as it is about doing something good for the world while making a profit. The goals and mission that are only about financial concerns fail to inspire employees in the long run. Google wants to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful – and that quest has made them the most recognized search engine in the world. Tesla’s vision of accelerating the world’s transition to sustainable energy resulted in them becoming the most valuable automobile manufacturer in the world. Needless to say, a higher purpose motivates the employees and allows them to align their everyday work in the same direction that the organization wants to go in.

Establishing trust and psychological safety

The culture within the organization is as important as the vision and mission: Having lofty statements that don’t translate to everyday work can be a recipe for disaster. Employees should be able to implicitly trust their team members, managers, and leadership team, which can happen only when there exists a healthy culture inside the organization. As team members work towards common team Objectives, the focus falls on achieving the best possible outcome collectively – instead of employees trying to get lion’s share of the credit by any means necessary. Healthy culture allows team members to do this via giving and accepting constructive feedback that encourages collaboration between team members and departments.

Ensuring full support of leaders

This is a no-brainer, as the actual company vision and mission are usually set by the leadership team of the organization. In cases of established organizations where the values and mission have been set and the C-suite just okays the OKR process instead of living and breathing the values, OKR initiatives can sink faster than a wet stone thrown in a pond.

Regular strategic sessions

Strategic session at regular intervals between leaders is essential to keep the organization’s OKRs on track. These can be detailed, where the OKRs are scrutinized based on the results achieved and modified accordingly, or regular shorter ones where the progress is monitored. It is advised to have shorter strategic review sessions at least once in a quarter – and the longer version has to happen at least once a year.

Assigning OKR champions

As with any new initiative, employees are bound to be skeptical of new initiatives – especially when it is added to their list of responsibilities. On paper, the amount of feedback sessions and interaction with managers and leadership teams sounds exhausting, and employees might end up going through the motions (and causing the failure of the OKR initiative). That’s why it is important to have dedicated OKR champions (usually team managers) who clearly understand the need for their own OKRs and are firmly behind the process. They can help their team members to see and understand the value OKRs add to their everyday work and show them how simple it is to follow the process.

Ensuring regular communication

Having regular OKR review meetings as one of the top priorities not only helps employees to stay on track of their objectives but also helps them raise any red flags that can hamper work in the near future. The frequency of these meetings can vary depending on the teams, but the important factor is to have regularity (weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, etc.) These need not be detailed – even a short stand-up would serve the purpose. Also, managers need not make participation mandatory but make it clear that it would be of immense help to everyone in the team if the entire company (or team) chimes in their opinions.

Managers can also use these meetings to recognise achievements, no matter how small or big. Constant reaffirmation of good work allows employees to push harder and come up with innovative solutions.

Read this if you are not using OKRs for Quarterly strategic planning

There isn’t any set timeframe for OKR reviews – but a case can be made for quarterly cadence. The questions posed below pinpoint the issues that may crop up during the adoption of objectives and Key Results, and having the answers ready alleviates potential headaches.

  • Is the system or tool to be used to capture and manage Objectives and Key Results simple enough for employees to adopt?
  • Are monthly check-ins being conducted as one-on-ones or as team meetings?
  • Are Quarterly Business Reviews conducted during existing meetings – or are they considered as separate entities?
  • Has a dedicated time been allotted for strategic topics at Monthly/Quarterly Business Review – or will they be addressed in different meetings?

These questions allow managers to plan their OKR-related activities better, so that there aren’t any time sinks. Apart from asking these questions, managers can also focus on the 3 ‘C’s of OKR meetings: Close outs, carry-forwards, and creation of a new set.

Close Out refers to the key results that have been achieved (not objective). This requires tracking the actual progress.

Carry Forward determines if the key results will be continued in the next cycle or not. This depends on business asks that are constantly changing, and helps team leaders to see the work done by their team as constantly evolving – and not just a series of tick marks.

Creating New sets of Key results (or objectives). Based on the new information, managers can discuss with corresponding team members if new key results are to be added to achieve the objective – or if the objective in itself is relevant.

These processes can be simplified with a dedicated tool like Employee Success, where OKRs can be assigned and managed from within Jira.

The Strategic OKR planning process helps managers (and organizations as a whole) to refresh goals and objectives regularly. This not only simplifies the process of changing tracks to reflect changing market trends but also gives employees an opportunity to come up with innovative solutions. The process, when done right, can offer immense learning opportunities that are grounded in key performance indicators per quarter for both the organization and its employees, pushing them to do better day in and day out.

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