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Learn How to Implement OKRs the Right Way

Your team is probably doing OKRs all wrong. Learn how to implement OKRs the right way and watch your team reach new heights.

A person in a yellow and green jacket standing on a mountain peak covered in snow.

Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) are all the rage these days, owing to their potential to provide clarity, alignment, and engagement across an organization. But many teams are using them incorrectly.

During a recent Starling event, long-time leader and coach to the C-suite Joelle Kaufman shared how to use OKRs as a tool to motivate our teams and hold each other accountable. Here’s what we learned about implementing OKRs the right way:

The Big Picture: Team Objectives vs. Performance Measurement

OKRs are a powerful tool for measuring progress, learning from setbacks, and refining a team’s approach over time. They can create a team culture of learning and experimentation that fosters motivation, engagement, and high performance.

That said, one of the biggest lessons we learned from Joelle was that OKRs should NOT be used for performance measurement. Andy Grove, the “Father of OKR” once even said as much. Missing an objective or falling short on a key result should be seen as an opportunity for learning, not punishment. Using OKRs for performance measurement stifles creativity and diminishes risk-taking in ways that negatively impact the results.

How to Set Objectives

When setting objectives, align them with your organization’s mission and vision AND provide a jolt of excitement. Joelle says, “An objective needs to be an ambition. Inspiration. It's clear. It's repeatable.” Use objectives to inspire and motivate.

Include your team in the work of setting objectives. Joelle suggests a two-part process where the team first gathers for a brainstorming session and then reconvenes in a day or two after having time to reflect to make final choices.

This process should prompt some difficult decisions. We can’t say yes to everything. Setting objectives means choosing what to focus on and what to put aside for now. Joelle suggests tracking no more than three objectives at any given time—if you have more than that, you haven’t made the hard decisions.

How to Craft Key Results

For each objective, Joelle recommends asking a simple question: ”What would have to happen for that to be true?” Your answers will form the basis of your key results.

Key results need to be specific, measurable, and time-bound. They should be milestones that steer you closer to meeting your objectives. Similar to your objectives, these results should be ambitious and encourage the team to stretch themselves and take risks to meet them. If the team falls short, it’s okay – what can we learn that will allow us to do better in the next cycle?

For each objective, you should aim for 4-6 key results.

And remember, don’t use performance against these key results for individual performance management!

Keeping OKRs Top of Mind

Talk about your OKRs regularly with the team. Everyone needs to know the team's goals and how their work helps achieve them. The cadence of these conversations will vary, but consider reviewing metrics for key results on a weekly basis as a group.

Putting It All Together

Implementing OKRs is about nurturing a culture of achievement, accountability, and continuous learning. By avoiding the misstep of using OKRs as performance metrics and instead embracing them as tools for reflection and growth, organizations can foster an environment where teams are empowered to innovate, take risks, and drive toward shared objectives with clarity and enthusiasm.

Looking for some inspiration with your OKRs? Workboard has some great examples organized by function.



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