Why are OKRs difficult to implement in reality? - JobsRnR

Why are OKRs difficult to implement in reality?

As we reign in the new year of 2019, a clean and shiny slate awaits us. It is a time for resolutions and improvements, a time to set your goals and kickstart into a productive year. That’s how it works: you start your year off with goals in mind, and the new beginning acts as the ‘trigger’ to push you off into working towards them – we’ve all been there.

So let’s set the scene: you and your team decide to sit down and look through what can be improved, and you’ll implement a way to ultimately assess these goals and your team’s progress. 

Google has utilised a simple yet extremely effective management tool called ‘Object and Key Results’, OKR for short. It is modern and is set apart from most traditional management tools because it adds an element of reviewing and tracking. What this does is it ensures that all members of the team are engaged and driven towards the same objective, yet gives each person the freedom to use their own approach to achieve each key result.

With our own personal new year resolutions, we like to write down a list in January, but by the time the first month is over, that resolution is completely forgotten and we revert to our old habits. Companies are similar and tend to set large yearly goals at the start of the year, for which by the end of January, or February if you’re lucky, most of the team will have forgotten. OKRs utilises weekly goal check-ups to increase accountability and make sure everyone is equally engaged and committed to meeting their key results to contribute to the achievement of the overall objectives.  

But as with many management tools, there needs to be a keen understanding of the purpose of using such a metric system for it to actually work. Here are the reasons why OKRs are difficult to implement in reality:

1.     OKRs don’t work if the goals are not ambitious or aggressive.

The objectives within an OKR are often ambitious and aggressive, in the sense that the goal should be challenging, and requires every member of that team to think creatively. Unlike KPIs, which are often used to further an ongoing project, an OKR is implemented in cases of a change in overall direction or carrying out a larger vision. The key idea here is that KPIs and OKRs differs in the reason for goal setting.

If a team were to find itself reaching 100% completion on every OKR, then it defeats the purpose of the metric system. An OKR is supposed to be reachable, but demanding; the point is to push your entire team into improving their performance.

2.     The ‘KR’ in ‘OKR’ are not tasks.

Having established that KPIs and OKRs are very different, one main mistake that people make is not understanding that key results are not tasks. Making your key result ‘Post a photo a day on Instagram’ to meet the objective of ‘Improve social media engagement’ is counterintuitive and defeats the purpose of an OKR altogether! A key result is not a thing to do. A key result is a thing that your team works together to reach. Ultimately, your team should have a certain autonomy and be able to exercise creativity. It is important to realise that a lot of action does not equate to a lot of results.

3.     OKRs require frequent updates on progress for it to work.

In order for an OKR to work, it requires constant update on progress and subsequently, dedication from everyone involved. There needs to be a quantifiable way of coming up with a percentage grading for each objective at every review, and each review needs to be constant. The second that progress is not updated – for example, if the team forgets, or are not committed to assessing their own progress – then a gap emerges, and the momentum slackens. Reviewing is so important because it keeps the momentum going.

If by the time a new OKR is to be set, but previous ones have not been updated, then there just is no point for using such a system. The point of an OKR is to increase FOCUS in every single member of your team.

The effectiveness of such a management tool is evident in the names of the companies that have used them: Google, Facebook, Intel, LinkedIn, Twitter. Though difficult to implement and sometimes misconceived, OKRs offer a modern and efficient way of increasing productivity and engagement within a company.