There are plenty of moving parts when it comes to flying. Pilots have to manage speed, run communications for take-off and landing, and be prepared to improvise if something goes wrong. But, from the beginning, everyone has to agree to go in the same direction and measure progress against that direction. It’s the same story with Objectives and Key Results (OKRs). The direction is set by the business owners and OKRs are used to ensure everyone is contributing to progress towards that direction.
Have you thought about your business goals in 2019? What metrics or milestones would lead you to say “wow, this was a great year.” Creating OKRs will result in your business having the type of year it wants. With OKRs, business owners can encourage all employees to work towards the company’s overall objectives. Similarly, HR teams can manage and track company progress against the OKRs to ensure everyone stays on track.
To learn more about the impact OKRs can have on your business goals in 2019, we partnered with Shawn Azman, Chief of Staff and VP of Business Operations, at Gtmhub, a leading OKR technology platform that automates the tracking of OKRs for 250 companies and 110,000 employees. Gtmhub is the only solution of its kind, with true automation of progress and productivity management.
What Are OKRs?
OKRs are a popular leadership process for setting, communicating, and monitoring goals and results in organizations. OKRs were introduced in the 1980s from Andy Grove at Intel as an extension of management by objectives (MBOs). The idea was that OKRs would work better in a fast-paced, innovative environment with constant changes. Because OKRs are set with a monthly or quarterly cadence, there are more chances for corrections before an annual goal is completely out of reach.
OKRs are comprised of an objective, a clearly-defined goal, one or more key results and specific measures that can be used to track the achievement of your business goals in 2019.
Let’s look at an example. In a previous post, we discussed the importance of employee engagement and how lack thereof can result in indifferent employees who are not contributing their full effort. For many HR departments, an objective could be “increase employee happiness.” Key results for this objective could be “reduce employee churn by 6%” or “increase employee engagement by 10%.”
OKRs have gained popularity in the last decade or so, likely for two reasons:
- Google’s documented success with the practice, introduced in a Google Ventures presentation by Rick Klau.
- Measure What Matters, a book by John Doerr which outlines real company examples of how OKRs have improved different businesses.
Why Are OKRs Important For Achieving Your Business Goals in 2019?
OKRs have proven to be important and successful for three main reasons: alignment, focus, and transparency.
An OKR strategy helps align goals across an organization, ensuring that teams within a company are working together towards a primary objective, rather than forming silos. On an individual level, OKRs help entire departments and their employees make the connection between their day-to-day work and a company’s overall goal.
Gtmhub’s Shawn Azman likes to frame the importance of OKRs for a business by focusing on the question, “What is most important to our business right now?” The objectives that come from this question are usually cross-functional projects — forcing departments to work closely together.
OKRs force company leaders to have the right conversations to set overall focus. This includes choosing what tasks to say “yes” to, but also includes choosing what to say “no” to. When focused, there’s less conflict on where the organization should spend time and resources.
One of the most important principles of OKRs is that they should be visible to every employee in a company. This is to guarantee that everyone knows what the main focus is, and how their work is aligned to that objective. Visibility also helps employees feel engaged and like their work and productivity is an integral part of the company’s overall objective or company growth.
Best Practices For Establishing OKRs
A strong OKR program can’t be built overnight. Using OKRs is an iterative process that must evolve with your business. OKRs involve several stakeholders and unwavering commitment to the overall objective.
We worked with Shawn to determine a list of best practices that you can use to drive OKR success and achieve your business goals in 2019 and beyond.
Begin any OKR planning session with the question, “What’s the most important thing for us to work on in the next few months?” This list may start big, but implementing a “yes” and “no” exercise can immediately help everyone focus on the highest priority items, which in turn become your objectives. For example, a manager can ask themselves out loud “does this task contribute to our goals?”
After defining a list of objectives, the next step is to define how the objective will be achieved. The best way to do this is to define success from the start:
- Group Effort
Remember that a strong OKR strategy is a group effort. OKRs can’t be dictated by management only. There should be a healthy mix of management dictated objectives, as well as individual objectives designed by employees. Shawn agrees. “This ensures the focus, alignment, and also empowers employees to feel a part of the process.”
- Start Small & Test Your OKRs
Establishing and deploying an OKR program takes time, and it might not be perfect the first time around. One way to test your OKR program is to spend 1-2 quarters measuring performance with a few OKRs as a leadership or executive team. Once you determine that the OKRs you set were a good way to stay aligned with company goals, you can roll out the strategy to the rest of your company.
- Stay Aware
Stay aware throughout the year. OKRs aren’t just about setting goals at the beginning of a quarter, they’re about measuring the results of those goals to ensure your company is moving in the right directions. One way to do this is to look back at the end of each quarter, determine what succeeded and what failed, and using these insights to decide where to focus energy in the future.
- Communicate Clearly
Communicate OKRs to employees. First, share the purpose and methodology about OKRs to those establishing them. Then, find a way to communicate OKRs to everyone else. We recommend reviewing OKRs consistently at company and department meetings, and creating a public document where OKRs and their connection to company goals are accessible by staff. If your company is growing, it’s a good idea to use technology solutions that help with communication.
- Group Effort
A Proven Track Record
After working with several companies to create and implement OKR strategies, one of the largest benefits Shawn has witnessed is the ability for the practice to break down organizational silos.
As you grow from 10 people to 100, a lot changes internally. Individual contributors become managers and jobs once owned by a single person now have an entire team dedicated to them. This makes it easy to over-optimize for, “how can my team do better.” While this is a standard question to ask yourself, it’s important to measure team objectives against company success, too.
If one of your business goals in 2019 is to grow your small business, there are usually more projects to work on than time in the day. Earlier in your business’ OKR program, it’s okay to use a simple template to keep track of objectives and key results. But, as a company rolls out OKRs to more and more employees, the time spent manually updating and tracking OKRs becomes a problem. Most businesses want employees spending time contributing to real work, not tracking activities.
This is a common challenge that is solved by using a platform dedicated to managing OKRs.
Unlike most OKR software, Gtmhub automates key results. The platform has over 150 integrations which eliminate the need for an employee to manually copy information from one system to another. The system also has other features to help visually represent the alignment it’s created for businesses.
As a key contributor at your company, we encourage you to initiate a conversation about OKRs with your manager or team. Whether it’s an executive team initiative or a process being rolled out to your entire company, it’s a great method that could help your company reach your business goals in 2019. And remember, it’s okay to start small!