Common OKR management mistakes and how to avoid them

We all know goals must be specific and measurable. OKRs are one of the essential methodologies to guarantee effectiveness in results since it’s a management approach that sets goals while creating guidance and engagement. 

The OKR methodology was assembled by former Intel CEO Andrew Grove and became well known in 1999 when it was operationalized by Google. Soon after, it conquered many other Silicon Valley companies.

Although on the surface OKRs seem like a simple framework, there are a lot of nuances to consider. If you are working with this methodology for the first time, many things can go wrong while your business is still getting into the rhythm. 

We compiled some of the most common mistakes made when working with OKRs and what you can do to avoid making them in the first place.

Main mistakes when working with OKRs

  • Mistake #1: Setting unachievable objectives

It’s one thing to be ambitious and set somewhat aggressive business goals. However, impossible to achieve ones can lead to frustration. The idea is to challenge employees to push their own limits, not discourage them entirely.

How to avoid this: Work with your employees to set challenging but achievable goals. That way, they are part of the process and even if they’re not 100% successful, they’re still making progress without feeling like they’ve completely failed.

  • Mistake #2: Not designating a DRI (directly responsible individual)

The DRI is responsible for completing OKRs. Failure to hold one person accountable for progress on OKRs can lead to blaming and a lack of discipline. 

How to avoid this: Assign this task to one person only and hold them accountable for achieving the goal. This is especially important for team OKRs, so take the time ensuring a DRI is nominated.

  • Mistake #3: Top-down objectives only

Setting goals from the top down can kill motivation and creativity, so make sure some of your goals are bottom-up. Giving employees a degree of autonomy can foster independence and opportunities, as well as generate some ideas from the front lines that are downright ingenious.

How to avoid it: Make sure you work closely with your employees and encourage them to structure their OKRs so that all objectives support the business goals. Making OKR set-up a collaborative process drives adoption and engagement.

  • Mistake #4: Too many objectives

Another vital purpose of OKRs is to ensure priorities are on the right track. If you set too many goals, the OKR framework will work against you. When your team allocates focus and resources to competing priorities, you create confusion and stagnation. 

How to avoid it: Part of the strategy of defining OKRs is deciding what goals will have the most impact on your business. They are most effective when you take the time to identify key goals to focus on and align your team from there.

  • Mistake #5: Getting your OKR components wrong 

One of the main mistakes when working with OKRs is not comprehending how the components combine. If you don’t understand the key elements and their differences, you won’t be able to follow the method effectively. 

How to avoid it: Take time to understand each of the components. Objectives have to be inspirational and qualitative, declaring your intent. Key results, on the other hand, should be quantitative. 

  • Mistake #6: Using OKRs for micromanagement 

OKRs serve the purpose of aligning your company towards a common goal; engaging teams and individuals to push their limits. If you’re using OKRs as a weapon to force productivity, then you’re misusing the method.

How to avoid it: Make it clear that you or the executive team won’t have enough insight into the details of each department’s capabilities and start setting and managing OKRs collaboratively, so your work won’t be always top-down. 

Google’s OKR method:

The method gained popularity when it leveraged Google’s growth – the company went from around 40 employees in 1999 to over 60,000 today, showing that OKR methodology can be used both by small businesses and large corporations.

John Doerr, one of the most successful technology investors of all time, created the formula that helped Google set goals:

I will (Objectives) measured by (Key Results).

That is, in OKRs we have two main components:

  • Objectives (O): A concise statement of the company’s desired direction. A good goal is vividly described so people can imagine how impactful achieving it will be.
  • Key Results (KR): goals with a direct impact on the achievement of the objective if it is successfully achieved.

The objective is qualitative and the KRs (most often between 2 and 5 for each objective) are quantitative.

While objectives are concise and aspirational so that they stick in the employee’s mind, key results indicate whether the objective has been achieved by the end of the period – typically quarterly for tactical OKRs and annually for strategic OKRs.

They are used as a very effective management and communication tool, as they help to create focus and align the effort of the entire team around a challenging objective.

Always ask where the company is and where they want to go, then define how you will know you’ve arrived at your destination.

Did any of these common OKR mistakes resonate with you? Are you still preparing to make the first move and start working with OKRs in your company?

Check out our services on coaching and consulting for performance and prepare to apply skilled management techniques and escalate your business faster.

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