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OKR Sins – Six Common Mistakes Made When Using OKRs

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OKR mistakes

The OKR (Objectives and Key Results) method is a popular and efficient way to guide a workforce into achieving a long term goal for a company. By setting an Objective (a broad mission statement) and several Key Results (shorter, measurable assignments) great strides can be made in a quick and organized manner.

The method seems straightforward enough, but it’s easy to find yourself using it incorrectly and becoming disorganized. As intuitive as it may be, you should be careful to follow the rules and get the most out of your Objectives and Key Results.

Here are six different mistakes one can make while setting OKRs, and what you can do to avoid them.

1. Missing out on the bigger picture

The Objective you come up with should represent a goal of the entire company at large, as opposed to a side project or obscure idea. Your Key Results, correspondingly, should represent the purpose of the Objective. 

When your team is dedicated to working towards Key Results that complete an Objective, which in turn furthers the ultimate goal of the company, it aligns your workforce directly with the big picture and extracts efficient results. Per the Harvard Business Review, companies with employees who identify as being aligned with the business’ goals are more than twice as likely to be top performers. 

For instance, a toy company’s big picture objective could be, “Sell our products in every department store chain by 2022.” We would figure this is in concordance with their main aim as a business.

If your Objective is instead something that pertains specifically to a smaller team goal, it misdirects efforts and can stunt the progress your staff is making toward organizational progress. The same company’s big picture goal shouldn’t be, “Develop a cool new commercial by Q3,” if advertising isn’t the company’s purpose. Make sure your objectives aim forwards and upwards.

2. Turning your Key Results into a task list

As you can see from these examples, your Key Results should be actionable, measurable goals that can be checked off once complete. However, they hold a distinction from small tasks.

A good Key Result is something that takes time, often involves teamwork, and makes noticeable progress towards your Objective. As you plan, though, you may find yourself accidentally assigning tasks through your KR list.

Your Objective could be to pick up 10 new clients this month, but your Key Results shouldn’t be lines like, “1. Give Epsilon Industries a call, 2. Upsell Proaxis on our premium plan, 3. Let Pam know she’s working this Saturday.”

Key Results can’t be done in an afternoon; your key results should include goals your team develops a plan for – and takes action on – to help reach your final Objective.

Key Result – yes!Task – nope!
1. Secure a contract with Epsilon Industries
2. Increase premium plan subscriptions by 20%
3. Meet all weekly goals to eliminate the need for weekend shifts
1. Give Epsilon Industries a call
2. Upsell Proaxis on our premium plan
3. Let Pam know she’s working this Saturday.

3. Having too many Objectives or Key Results

Just like Key Results shouldn’t be confused with small tasks, Objectives shouldn’t be confused with Key Results.

You don’t want to overdo the OKR strategy by running too many Objectives for your team to handle. It may be tempting to quickly achieve a goal by labeling something like, “Upgrade the camera on our flagship smartphone” as an Objective, but that’s more of a Key Result that would further an Objective such as, “Debut a smartphone that leads the tech industry in its specs.”

An Objective should take time, be large in scope, and further a broader Big Picture for your company. As a suggestion, one Objective per quarter is a solid pace to track OKRs with.

Adding too many Key Results under your Objective can also hold back your team’s potential. Having 6+ KRs running at the same time can divide attention and confuse your staff on the top priority. Now, if you feel that you do need 6-8 KRs to complete your objective, make sure to only introduce them in a rolling format. 

Debut the three or four you would like your team to complete first, and as they check them off, replace each completed KR with a new one that should be done next. Priorities will be clear, and your workforce will reach the Objective in no time.

ObjectiveKey Results
Obtain a higher rank on the list of best private universities in our state1 – Allocate funds from the advertising budget to be used in the housing budget (to be revealed after completion – replace old mattresses)
2 – Sign a contract for a fast food restaurant to be built on campus
3 – Add two more campus shuttle buses to the circuit (after completion – hire new staff to ensure routes aren’t missed)
4 – Increase qualification requirements for incoming professors (after completion – research reviews of our professors online)

4.  Leaving your OKRs behind

This is a simple one — don’t forget to remind your team of the quarter’s OKR list. Whether you have it displayed in the office, you remind them in weekly meetings, or you follow up with your employees individually, working on Key Results should be a top priority for your team.

Your staff could get sidetracked on their own projects if you don’t check in on their progress or emphasize the importance of aiming towards the Objective. If the time comes for the Objective to be complete and your team members are off track in different directions, they may have forgotten that OKRs were ever the focus.

Reliable ways to keep your OKRs at the forefront include weekly updates through email or team meetings, asking about progress during one-on-ones, or even creating an incentive for completing them.

5. Your Key Results aren’t measurable

One of the defining characteristics of Key Results are their measurability; you can check them off as they’re completed, and quantifiably connect them to demonstrate the progress made towards your Objective. The best KRs are numeric, especially if their advancements are trackable with a percentage or count.

Make sure your KRs aren’t too vague, such as, “Improve technical support capabilities.” How would a workforce check that off as complete? KRs always narrow down focus to one goal that can be finished cleanly.

Do’s – Key ResultsDon’ts – Key Results
1. Increase home sales by 25% from 2020
2. Have a 10% share of clients with million-dollar properties this quarter
3. Overtake ReMax as the highest star-rated real estate company in the state
1. Sell more homes this year
2. Try to secure clients with expensive properties
3. Obtain a great reputation

6. Your Objectives are either too challenging or too simple

Making an Objective too challenging can lead to a discouraged staff and a missed opportunity to focus on more realistic endeavors. This is clear to most managers, but what about the ones who make their Objectives too easy?

There are two categories of easy Objectives. The first are Objectives that were already likely to be completed in the course of a regular work cycle; you might be part of a growing company whose Objective for the quarter is, “Increase the number of subscribers to our service.” Well, you’re picking up more subscribers every day, so there isn’t much to work towards.

On the other hand, you could create an easy Objective that’s off-topic from your company’s goals, such as, “Improve the capabilities of the remote to our Smart TV.” I’m sure that would be a cool thing to do, but it’s not the main idea of your workforce, and it certainly shouldn’t take a quarter to complete.

Remember to avoid these pitfalls, and you’ll be on your way to writing a great set of OKRs for your team. If you’ve made it this far and you still aren’t quite sure what OKRs are, click here!

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