OKRs: 5 metrics mistakes to avoid

It takes more than enthusiasm to implement a successful OKR program. Consider these common pitfalls – and how to avoid them
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“An effective goal-setting system starts with disciplined thinking at the top, with leaders who invest the time and energy to choose what counts, ” writes John Doerr, OKR expert, in Measure What Matters. This gets to the heart of implementing effective OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) into an organization: It requires a thoughtful process supported and promoted from leadership.

For leaders to run a successful OKR program and create meaningful metrics to track progress, it takes more than general knowledge or simple excitement. OKRs are a methodology rooted in collaboration and transparency. They are most effective when they are transparent and visible to an entire organization, and managed and updated on a regular basis.

[ Want more insight on OKRs? Read OKRs and KPIs: 6 counterintuitive tips for leaders. ] 

5 common OKR mistakes

We’ve identified five common mistakes leaders run into when setting up their OKRs and metrics for the first time. They are the opposite of what we call the “superpowers” of any great OKR program – the FACTS: Focus, Align, Commit, Track, Stretch.

Avoid these mistakes, and your organization will be on a path toward greater transparency, accountability, and engagement.

1. Not focusing on what matters most

One of the biggest challenges many organizations face when creating their OKRs is having too many key results (KRs). The trick is to not get overwhelmed with mundane tasks. It’s a well-known fact that when everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. Keep your KRs to three to five per objective, and just say no to busywork.

2. Not aligning on the most important things

When individuals, teams, and the organization aren’t aligned on the important needs for each quarter and the approach to goal-setting is only top-down and inflexible, redundancy, inefficiency, and lack of results are very likely. Instead, strive for a balanced approach to goal setting with top-down and bottom-up alignment – this offers the added benefit of ensuring autonomy and engagement with team members across the organization.

3. Not committing with intent

OKRs aren’t designed to be created and forgotten but to be baked into the culture of your organization. When people across an organization make public commitments related to the most important things, they tend to stay committed. It’s tough to back away from a commitment once you’ve made a “social contract” to follow through on it. These public commitments also make it very easy to facilitate meaningful conversations up, down, and across the organization.

4. Failing to track and facilitate a continuous reassessment process

The best-run programs are those where teams and individuals visit their OKRs frequently. It’s hard to see progress if you don’t create a regular cadence for tracking, revising, and/or adapting your goals in a given quarter. This cadence allows for knowledge sharing, real-time learning, and reflecting on what’s working or not working, and it enables your organization to become more agile, inspired, and collaborative in a natural way.

5. Missing the opportunity to stretch

OKRs are at the center of true performance enablement. OKRs should inspire individuals and organizations to excel by doing much more than they thought possible. When employees are encouraged to stretch and are afforded the freedom to fail, organizations end up with a very productive, motivated, and engaged workforce. A great question to ask yourself when setting OKRs is “What would amazing look like?” When employees have the ability to work toward that “amazing,” great results will happen for the employee and the entire organization.

A final note: Learning what not to do is often as valuable as learning what to do. Avoiding these common mistakes will ensure that your OKR program is valuable and consistently leveraged throughout your organization.

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Andrea Lagan is Chief Operating Officer at Betterworks. Andrea is a customer experience veteran with nearly 25 years’ experience. She has successfully led teams responsible for driving business growth, customer retention, and exceptional customer experiences.