Setting and achieving goals is a crucial part of any successful organization, yet knowing where to start is not easy. One popular goal-setting framework is OKRs (Objectives and Key Results). OKRs have a proven track record of improving employee engagement, focus, productivity, and alignment.
There is no one-size-fits-all answer when rolling out OKRs for the first time. Every organization is different and will need to tailor its approach to fit its unique culture and goals. However, there are some general strategies that all organizations can use to ensure a successful rollout.
How to roll out OKRs for the first time
Setting the stage for OKR culture
First and foremost, getting buy-in from all levels of the organization is essential. OKRs should be a team effort, not imposed only from the top down. To get everyone on board, it helps to explain the benefits of OKRs and how they can help the organization achieve its goals.
It is a good idea first to have leaders from each area develop their OKRs. This demonstrates a commitment from the leaders to get behind the framework and shows them what this new way of thinking can do. To this day, Google’s OKRs are defined by the CEO and communicated top-down. All Google OKRs are public and graded every quarter for everyone to learn and improve. These play a crucial role in positioning Google as a strategic organization and introduce a culture of transparency and self-organization from the get-go.
Establish clear objectives and goals
Once you have buy-in, it is time to start setting objectives. The purpose of objectives is to guide people in the right direction. Remember to keep them SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. And be sure to involve your team in the process; they will be more likely to buy into and support the objectives if they have had a hand in setting them.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of setting goals that are too easy or too hard when you start. One helpful technique to set goals just right is using percentage targets. For example, setting a goal to double revenue may be ideal; instead, suggest an approach where everyone sets a 25 percent target.
Having too many goals can be just as discouraging as having no goals at all. Discussing which key results should be included and which should be left out will help ensure everyone is on the same page. It is also essential to consider how the chosen key results align with a larger company and individual career goals.
Test your OKR strategy
Before starting the OKR implementation process, it is best to identify potential pitfalls so you can deal with them early on. Awareness of common issues can help you avoid a disaster and prepare you to deal with it, should it happen. For example, some employees may feel like they have a lot of individual responsibility but limited team accountability; this can create a negative team dynamic. Organizations should prepare to deal with this—and other—problematic team dynamics before launching the program.
It also makes sense to start with a pilot program. Pilot programs are great for getting feedback and testing the water in smaller, more contained environments. Employees in the pilot program can help spread the word about what they are doing and spark excitement within the rest of the organization. This can help counteract any resentment towards “the powers that be” and build trust among employees in the organization.
Recruit OKR champions
To ensure that everyone is adequately familiarized with the new process and system, it is helpful to have OKR champions – users who are knowledgeable about the tools and particularly excited about the new process. They will guide other users through the system, answer questions, and provide support.
Don’t worry if your champions are not bosses or upper management. Anyone can be an OKR champion: their role doesn’t require extra authority or responsibility. It can be beneficial to have champions from across the organization. Having multiple users act as OKR champions helps spread knowledge and decrease anxiety about the new system.
An additional bonus of having OKR champions is ensuring a smooth OKR rollout. The implementation of the system will be thorough. If there’s a risk of missing parts of the business or neglecting a particular department, champions can help ensure everyone gets covered.
Set up regular 1:1s
One-on-one meetings are a common feature in the culture of many companies today but can be frustrating for employees to deal with. They often take away time from other tasks, which are only sometimes productive; sometimes, it is hard to know precisely what the manager wants or how to provide feedback.
But despite these hurdles, 1:1s are a great way to help roll out an OKR system. Regularity of meetings helps keep the process fresh in users’ minds; it helps them identify opportunities to demonstrate progress toward their goals; and it creates a space where they can share their concerns, which can help a manager better understand the impact of their leadership style.
Finally, tracking, monitoring, and adjusting your OKRs regularly is essential. For a small organization, it would be easy to manually monitor every team member’s progress on spreadsheets. But for large-scale enterprises, automation is the way to go. Choose an OKR management software that helps visualize and track the progress of your OKRs. For instance, UpRaise’s OKR software allows you to create different visualizations, streamline processes, and showcase progress in real-time on a dashboard.
The start is never perfect.
Once you have developed an OKR strategy, tested it, and made the necessary adjustments, you are ready to deploy it. The best way to do this is to pretend you’re in charge of a new team. Create new goals and ask further questions: “How do you see our company growing?”, “What are your thoughts on our team’s progress?”, “What is one thing we can do to improve productivity?”. You can also ask people for feedback on how they see their role evolving in the new system. This will help you identify areas that need to be updated or expanded.
One of the biggest mistakes companies make when rolling out OKRs is being too ambitious with the timeline. It can take months or even a year for a larger organization to start seeing the system’s benefits. So, don’t expect results immediately, and don’t change everything—keep working at it.