7 steps to successfully implement OKRs
OKRs are brilliant - but ironically, the key to success is don't start with OKRs
If you hear this from a CEO or CxO role: “Yes, our employees are doing OKRs”, you might want to short-the-stock as their OKR implementation will most likely fail.
OKRs are brilliant for strategy execution. However, to be successful you need to start your OKR implementation with the CEO and leadership team.
Ironically, OKRs are not the best starting point. Before adopting OKRs, you first need to make sure your leadership team is aligned on and evolving the strategy tree.
implement OKRs - the strategy tree
Best practice is to align your OKRs to the strategy tree, per this extract from the leadership cycle:
#stratapp allows the flexibility to hang OKRs off any level in the strategy tree.
#stratapp is the best OKR software app in the world right now, bringing strategy + OKRs + execution into one seamless digital workspace:
Of course, as good as they are, not all of your strategy execution needs to be done through OKRs. #stratapp has been designed with this real-world insight front of mind.
Therefore, you can execute strategy in a way that best suits your business. You don’t have to change your business to suit the app. This makes your time-to-value on #stratapp just days, rather than months or quarters.
#stratapp is powered by @org-design, so it works seamlessly for 5 to 500,000 employees.
step #1 - start with the strategy tree
Step #1 is to start with the strategy tree and the leadership team.
We define the leadership team as the top 10 to 15 in the organization - fewer for smaller companies.
We start with the strategy tree and the leadership team because most leaders know where they are heading and strategy execution rarely meets expectations.
step #2 - evolve the strategy tree, be agile
You don’t need the strategy tree to be perfect. You just need to start.
Step #2 is to switch from static strategy documents, spreadsheets, email and chat groups, to collaborating in real-time off the strategy tree. Collaboration without chaos. Collaboration with context and structure.
Once the leadership team master this, you are then ready to move onto OKRs.
OKRs are brilliant - but you don’t stop doing strategy
Makes sense right? Whilst OKRs drive strategy execution for the next quarter (or whatever OKR cycle you choose), you are still evolving your strategy for the next 12 to 36 months, right? Of course you are, as you should be.
This real-world attribute fundamentally sets #stratapp apart from the plethora of single-use-OKR-apps:
- The strategy tree is alive and interactive, and is powered by the 6 elements of collaboration*. You can continue to evolve the strategy without losing alignment and engagement at all levels of the organization.
- Execution of the OKRs takes place in the same digital workspace. OKRs are not just a pretty dashboard of targets and roll-up calculations to track people. OKR execution is actually taking place inside #stratapp, also powered by the 6 elements of collaboration. This rapidly elevates performance and culture, not to mention sustaining OKR adoption - empowering leaders at all levels with the opportunity to proactively lead, supporting their teams where it matters most. You also see the rising stars, without the distortion of hierarchy.
*The 6 elements of collaboration elegantly combined into one digital workspace are:
- social with structure & context
- live meeting notes, files & links
- ideas & challenges for crowdsourcing innovation
- initiative/project workboards
- sub-tasks, tasks & personal workspace
- risk management
step #3 - Workshop A - one digital workspace
In this 60min hands-on Workshop A, you aim to have the leadership team comfortable with working in one digital workspace with respect to strategy, which means:
- creating and evolving the strategy tree (remembering step #2)
- powering the strategy tree with 6 elements of collaboration in one digital workspace
- understanding security/confidentiality and how to leverage @org-design
- running meetings and meeting actions - with context and structure
Just like learning a new language or preparing for a big sporting event, the leadership team then jump in and commit to doing this daily for the 7-21 days following Workshop A.
Note, at this step #3 we still have the OKRs module in #stratapp turned off, so there is no problem adding other people from outside of the leadership team to collaborate on meetings/tasks/initiatives and the strategy tree.
step #4 - Workshop B - big bang value
After 7-21 days mastering one digital workspace, your leadership team will start to see several new opportunities for big bang value.
Step #4 is to embrace these insights by running an expansive Workshop B to:
- Shape those ideas and opportunities
- Share global best practices (we, or our partners, aim to add value here without compromising the confidentiality or IP of other clients)
Workshop B aligns the leadership team on evolving their one digital workspace. Thus providing clarity and consensus, before moving onto the next phase of adding the OKR methodology and cascading OKRs org-wide.
implement OKRs - regrouping
With solid alignment of the leadership team and real-time collaboration in one digital workspace, your organization is now ready to embrace the brilliant OKR methodology for strategy execution.
If you conclude that alignment and real-time collaboration has not yet been achieved, you may decide to regroup and apply one or both of these strategy pages inside #stratapp:
- our why - Simon Sinek’s framework for establishing a solid belief foundation
- direction - Professor Roger Martin’s framework for setting a direction, so that the leadership team and management can shape the strategy tree and strategy execution
In #stratapp, you can turn pages on/off by team or individual - you don’t have to change your business to suit the app - so you don’t have to apply these “our why” and “direction” pages as part of regrouping.
The approach to achieving alignment is up to you, as you know what will work best for your leadership team.
implement OKRs - run the first period with the leadership team only
Although OKRs are all about engaging everyone, success starts at the top.
Therefore, starting with the leadership team is the primary focus of steps 1 to 5.
step #5 - start with the leadership team
With the leadership team now aligned on the strategy tree and thriving together in one digital workspace, the next step is to agree OKRs for the first period.
Most organizations opt for a quarterly OKR cycle, however early-stage companies may prefer monthly.
For your first OKR period, we recommend:
- Starting with no more than 2x OKRs and 2-4x key results per OKR
- Allocating ownership of each objective and key result to different members of the leadership team
- Adding all leadership team members on each objective and key result card - you won’t do this later, but for this first OKR period it is important
- Keeping the security level on each to the lowest level, where you’re able to do so
Each objective and key result card will then be powered by the 6 elements of collaboration in #stratapp.
This may involve adding employees who are outside of the leadership team. As mentioned above, you can collaborate effectively without yet publishing the OKR module outside of the leadership team. This is another real-world attribute of #stratapp.
how many OKRs?
How many OKRs should we set each month or quarter? Less is more, as explained here.
implement OKRs - progressively
The trick here is not to announce you are “rolling out OKRs”, as that tends to create a mixed reaction from employees. Most people who are new to OKRs misunderstand the methodology and why it is so brilliant for the organization, and for them as individuals.
We recommend you go for an approach that is less threatening and more aspirational:
the leadership team have recently been collaborating in one digital workspace for strategy + execution + collaboration, and now we want to progressively open that up to the whole company, so we can evolve ideas, planning, strategy formation and strategy execution together
step #6 - cascading one digital workspace
We recommend cascading your rollout of the one digital workspace in 5 stages:
- rollout stage 1 - leadership team - top 10 to 15 people (fewer for small companies)
- rollout stage 2 - expand to 25 (count includes the leadership team)
- rollout stage 3 - expand to 50
- rollout stage 4 - expand to 250
- rollout stage 5 - org-wide
We recommend allowing 2 to 3 weeks in between each rollout stage.
At each rollout stage you turn on the ideation, OKR and strategy modules. For people you add before their rollout stage, you would typically limit their access to social and workspace - which in themselves are a game changer for elevating culture, collaboration and performance.
This progressive rollout approach solves three aspects:
- Leaders at each level in the organization get to lead by example - not just at the easy beginning, but all of the way through to successful adoption and having a positive impact on strategy execution
- Context, collaboration and cadence improves progressively - learning as you go
- When employees are added, there is “movement at the station” - an old saying from Australian sheep and cattle farmers - that is, a reason to be there and engage
step #7 - OKR consultants skilled in change
When it comes to cascading OKRs, most larger companies will hire an OKR coach who has a background in change management consulting.
If you feel that’s the right choice for your organization, we recommend engaging the consultant just before rollout stage 3; of the 5 rollout stages listed at step #6 above.
Stages 1 and 2 beforehand will give you great insight to the challenges you may or may not be facing, and the profile of consultant you need to hire.
implement OKRs - remuneration
Most practitioners, including the father of OKRs, Intel’s Andy Grove, and the pioneers since, firmly believe that remuneration should be decoupled from OKRs.
At #stratapp, we share the same view.
You want people to take risks and to strive for objectives that are ambitious and motivating. That’s how you transform organizations, create new markets and innovate beyond what competitors believe is possible.
We discuss this further in the difference between OKRs vs KPIs vs remuneration.