OKR Planning: How to Avoid These Common Pitfalls
For many years now, many companies and organizations have found success by implementing a powerful management and strategy framework called OKRs, or Objectives and Key Results. In short, the OKR framework identifies larger and sometimes lofty goals or directions. It breaks them down into shorter, more measurable key results that can help company leaders and employees better understand the direction and importance of each of their tasks.
Although this powerful framework has shown its worth over the years, it is no silver bullet. Success can certainly be achieved in other ways but, more importantly, achieving success with OKR planning depends on proper understanding and implementation. By misusing the framework, shortcomings are bound to appear. Here are three common OKR pitfalls and how a strategic planner might avoid them.
Taking Language Seriously
The main function of OKR planning is to break bigger goals into smaller, more manageable tasks or results. This may seem like a simple idea, but without careful and precise language, this framework can become nothing more than flashy rhetoric.
Empty platitudes that boil down to “work harder” or “get more done” do nothing to describe the specific work that needs to get done, and much less to motivate and guide workers. Planning should be representative of the real tasks that need to be performed and of the people that will be performing these tasks. Otherwise, messaging coming from people disconnected from the actual process could be at best useless, and at worst harmful.
Language matters! It’s important to take the time to make sure the objectives and key results are carefully chosen to be useful, understandable, and relevant to all affected parties is a key requisite for success.
One of the big benefits of using OKR planning is how direct alignment efforts can be. Company values and purpose can and should be big reasons for people to want to work with a certain organization, but they can also become alienating or disillusioning if those same values aren’t reflected in day-to-day tasks.
The overarching “objectives” of your OKR planning probably shouldn’t just be your company values copy and pasted. Objectives are a great way to tie company direction and company values together in a visible manner. Key results are a great way of showing how smaller tasks work towards these overarching beliefs. When done carefully, OKR planning shows workers exactly how their hard work and effort goes towards the same values they want to promote and uphold.
Measurability and Accountability
Finally, in order to make sure planning doesn’t just become rhetoric, OKRs should be measurable and as transparent as possible. Including explicit numbers and figures not only allows you to track processes in a real, tangible way, but it also communicates that these goals aren’t just arbitrary messaging. “There is a specific checkpoint that we are trying to reach as a team”. When objectives are more abstract and less figure-specific, key results can include specific numbers in order to make goals more tangible. One way or another, it’s good to know exactly what everybody is working towards.
Of course, there is no complete or perfect list of rules to follow or mistakes to avoid. These are three common pitfalls to look out for and avoid, but as a general rule of thumb: it’s important to remember the authentic purpose behind your objectives, and to be realistic and transparent with how you’ll achieve those objectives.
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