The Objective Key Results framework is a great way for your company or team to say "no" to what isn’t important right now.
OKRs are the ultimate enabler of laser focus and can grow with your ambitions, so that they always fit what you are aiming for.
You can use them for individuals, small teams and big companies. And, they connect great with the concept of successful self organisation.
Unfortunately, very often OKRs are set in a way that doesn’t include all layers of the company.
When that happens, you run the risk of using OKRs that are not grounded in reality and that don’t resonate with needs of the individuals and teams in your company.
The results will be: OKRs that aren’t used, OKRs that are laser focusing on the wrong priorities, or even a different focus that lingers in the shadows of your organisation.
How do you prevent this from happening?
By running inclusive OKR workshops in your company, that involves teams and individuals.
Not just one workshop, but workshops at different levels of the organization and in different settings.
The more you involve people on every level, the more impact you will have.
In this post, we’ll look at how to run an OKR workshop:
We’ll examine what the ideal result would be and what potential pitfalls or risks are.
Starting with OKRs can be daunting. It can be difficult to start and implement a focus for the whole company.
While there is no ‘one size fits all’, setting a focus for your company with OKRs starts with:
Most important is to gather feedback from the whole company, so that every team and individual buys into these OKRs.
In an ideal workshop, the OKRs reflect the sentiment and opinions of your employees. As a result, teams and individuals are able to use them to their benefit. Let me show you an example.
The team lead of your customer support team gets input that the resolution time on tickets is too slow. Quicker resolution time leads to happier customers who then spend more.
The team lead takes this input to the OKR workshop and shares it. As a result, the team creates an Objective around support and speed. Moreover, the Key Results focus on speed in the whole company.
Now the customer support team can build on that Objective and create their own Key Results. This enables them to focus on what is important in their own team, while having the company support them.
Ok that’s great but how do you get started?
How do you run an OKR workshop at company level?
How do you make sure everyone working at the company is on the same page?
Getting everyone on the same page is not easy, especially if you’re a big company with many employees.
Still, there are things you can do to prepare and efficiently run an OKR workshop at company level.
The checklist is pretty long but rest assured, you’ll have a downloadable checklist that you can use for future reference at the end of this post.
In advance of the first OKR workshop, get all of your employees to submit the Objective that they think the company should focus on.
In larger companies, it might be hard to get a 100% buy-in but it’s still worth a try and, assuming employees have not completely lost faith in the organization, they will appreciate being asked.
This could be as easy as setting up a Trello or using a tool like Feature Upvote where employees can add the Objective they think the company should focus on and/or upvote the Objectives they think are most relevant.
Or you could hire an external consultant or assign someone internally to identify the company Objectives that should be explored during the first company-level workshop. Note, however, that this option is more subjective and less inclusive. Further down the line, this could be a problem. But more on that later.
Meetings are rarely efficient when there’s more than a handful of people participating.
When it comes to OKR workshops, this is especially true because a lot of debating needs to take place before a decision is made.
In traditional organizations, the temptation is to invite only senior executives to participate. Food for thought: does this approach make sense for your organization or do you want to include other voices?
Running an OKR workshop at company level without the CEO is largely useless because, at the end of the day, the CEO needs to be fully onboard with the company Objective.
This should be standard practice for every meeting. You want people to be focused on the job at hand.
This first part of the meeting should take two hours or less.
Write down all of the most promising Objectives on Post-its and start organizing them on a wall.
One Objective = one Post-it.
Try to find patterns. Get rid or combine duplicates.
Are there recurring themes?
What are employees trying to say?
Do their proposals suggest they are worried about something specific?
Don’t hesitate to move things around to explore different perspectives.
Once the team is pretty much happy with how things look on the board, start ranking Objectives.
Discuss and debate which Objectives should take priority and why.
Decide which ones the company will work towards.
Choose a maximum of three.
Remember that Objectives should be high-level, ambitious qualitative statements that people can get behind.
At this point, you are not focused on tasks or granular outcomes.
Once you’ve chosen the three Objectives you’re aiming for at company-level, take a 30 minute break.
Give everyone one in the room the chance to think about something else before you dive into the Key Results.
Now that you have company Objectives to strive for, get everyone to brainstorm ideas for metrics that could measure the progress towards those objectives.
At this point, the goal is to get everyone to contribute freely.
To ensure that everyone is comfortable sharing without being interrupted or contradicted, ask people to write down all of their ideas on Post-its for the next 10 minutes.
Again, one idea = one Post-it.
After 10 minutes, get the whole team to discuss the proposed ideas and agree on 2 or 3 metrics.
Christina Wodtke recommends choosing a usage metric, a revenue metric, and a satisfaction metric for the Key Results.
While acknowledging that’s not always possible, she explains that having two revenue metrics could mean a company has an unbalanced approach to success.
In addition, it could lead employees behaving in a way that’s not beneficial to the company in the long term.
Once you’ve chosen the metrics that you will monitor to measure your progress towards the company Objectives, it’s time to aim for a specific value and turn those metrics into Key Results.
A Key Result should be ambitious, time-bound and measurable.
Atlassian’s approach to Key Results is that, if you feel totally confident you can hit a Key Result, you should increase the target by approximately 30%. On the other hand, if you're not at all sure you'll hit the target, the Key Result is probably set just right.
Christina Wodtke’s recommendation?
You should have only 50 percent confidence that you can make them.
Before leaving the room, it’s important that every one is happy with the company OKRs for the next quarter.
You will be sharing these OKRs with the rest of the company. They need to make sense.
Are the company Objectives inspirational and ambitious? Will employees be excited about working towards these goals?
Are the Key Results ambitious as well?
Are they aligned with the company Objectives?
Can they keep employees focused and excited for a full quarter?
Once the company-wide OKRs feel right to everyone in the room, it’s time to share the company vision with the rest of the employees.
Running an OKR workshop at company-level is just the first step.
Now you need to make sure all the company employees know about the company OKRs and monitor the progress made towards those objectives.
How do you do that?
Once the company has set Objectives and Key Results, each team should have a workshop to see to which of these they can contribute.
They should look at how they can contribute to an Objective and set their own Key Results.
Team leads set an OKR workshop for their team and are mindful of the following:
For this workshop, you can adapt the checklist described above for company-wide OKRs.
You’ll want to keep the company-wide OKRs in mind but also give the team an opportunity to propose and vote on new ideas.
It’s crucial that team leads involve their whole team because their work will be directly influenced.
The last step is the hardest. How can you help your reports or colleagues to distill OKRs into personal OKRs? How do you translate aspirational goals into concrete action? And how can employees connect their daily goals and targets to this?
While you can use the workshop format for this part, it’s much more personal to help your colleagues or reports one by one.
Once you’ve performed this exercise on an individual basis, making it small and personal, it’s a good idea to get the individuals in your team to share their OKRs with one another.
There are different ways you can ask individuals to share their OKRs and thus encourage transparency and accountability.
One, during the team OKR workshop, you could set aside 30 minutes or so where each team member shares their individual OKRs.
Two, you could run a dedicated OKR workshop where team members share their personal OKRs.
Three, you could document individual OKRs in a trusted system like Holaspirit and make them visible for everyone in that tool.
Four, you could do a combination of or all of the above!
No matter what option you choose, it’s important that, as soon as OKRs are set, you schedule a time to review those OKRs further down the line.
As we’ve seen, setting OKRs is not easy. It requires company-wide commitment and buy-in.
OKR-setting workshops are the beginning of your OKR cycle. They are not a goal in itself. It’s crucial to review OKRs on a regular basis, adapt and start the OKR-setting process over again.
This is how you learn and get everyone on board.
If you set and forget OKRs, no one will believe you when you talk about the company’s vision. Individuals will think it’s another managerial gimmick and won’t be motivated to perform.
On the other hand, if you make it a habit to schedule an OKR review meeting at the end of each OKR workshop, everyone will feel involved and get onboard more quickly.
The question then becomes: how do you review OKRs and keep people motivated in the long run?
Well, that’s a question for another blog post in a few weeks.
In the meantime, why don’t you download our “How to Run an OKR Workshop” checklist.