OKRs, or objectives and key results, are a great way to set goals and track progress. They help prioritize key focus areas for the company, and ensure employees understand how their role impacts company goals and growth.
OKRs are popular with large companies like Google, as well as smaller companies—especially startups. 7Geese recently released A Practical Guide to OKRs for Companies to help companies of all sizes and stages learn how to write and roll out OKRs. Here are eight OKR goal setting best practices we found most useful:
1. Get buy-in
You may choose to use OKRs for executives, departments, or all employees. Whichever way you decide to go, it’s crucial to get buy-in from participants.
Effective HR communication should begin with why you’d like to use OKRs, and how OKRs can promote company growth. Discuss how company OKRs are aligned to department and individual OKRs.
Then review proposed OKRs as a group to ensure everyone finds them to be worthwhile and reasonable. The leadership team should review OKRs with department heads, and department leaders should review individual OKRs with their team members.
2. Set your cadence
Like SMART goals, OKRs are time-boxed to ensure that objectives are met within a reasonable timeframe. Companies may have annual OKRs to communicate company direction, with key focus areas for each quarter. It’s also reasonable to have monthly OKRs if your company moves quickly.
3. Begin with a small number of clearly defined objectives
The “O” in OKR stands for objective, or the overall outcome you want to achieve. It can be helpful to identify up to five company OKRs for the year, to force prioritization. 7Geese suggests drawing inspiration from your vision and mission statement, and from current challenges. This could include only selling reusable products, or doubling company revenue.
Similarly, departments and individuals should be focused on 3-5 objectives.
4. Pair each objective with key results
The “KR” in OKR stands for key results, which should be used as a measurable way to define success. For instance, if your marketing department’s objective is to generate 1,000 leads for a new product, the key results might include launching a new advertising campaign.
Some companies, like Google, implement “stretch goals” to challenge employees to go above and beyond expectations. So, if the company wants to set a target of 1,000 leads, they may create a stretch goal of 1,400 leads. Under those circumstances, 1,000 leads would still be considered successful.
5. Align employee OKRs with department and company OKRs
All OKRs should be aligned to ensure everyone is working toward the same overall objectives. It’s helpful to set the company OKRs at the leadership level first, then set department and individual OKRs that roll up to support company objectives and key results.
6. Be transparent about your OKRs
Communicate OKRs with employees so they understand the key focus areas for the company and for their teams, and how their role impacts those focus areas. This encourages employees to feel ownership of their individual OKRs.
7. Allow employees to participate in setting their own OKRs
Encourage autonomy and ownership by allowing employees to have a say in their own OKRs. This can allow employees to work on projects that interest them, best utilize their skill sets, and grow professionally. Their managers can help ensure alignment with department and company OKRs, and ensure that company needs are being met.
8. Report progress regularly
Regular manager check-ins should be used to report progress on OKRs, and discuss roadblocks. This information can be shared up the chain of command to track how individual OKRs are impacting progress on department and company OKRs. Everyone should be held accountable for their part in achieving company OKRs.
Revisit progress made at the end of your time-box and reflect on any changes you should make for your next cycle of OKRs.
Final thoughts on OKR goal setting
If you want to meet business goals, it’s crucial to get the whole company aligned and on-board. OKRs can help assign responsibility to each department and employee, so everyone is working toward the same goals.
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