When working with OKRs for the first time, you may unknowingly make a lot of OKR mistakes in the adoption process. Although on the surface OKRs can seem simple, there are many nuances to consider when implementing OKRs in your organization.
Ever wonder why so many OKR books, consultants, and software vendors exist? It’s because OKRs are an ongoing discipline that require planning and management. Without careful consideration, OKR mistakes can become rife and plenty.
Today, we’re sharing a few of the most common OKR mistakes so you can save time, avoid headaches, and quickly gain the benefits of OKRs.
Mistake #1: Getting your OKR components wrong
By far one of the biggest OKR mistakes is not understanding how the components work together. If you don't clearly understand the key components and their differences, you won’t be able to follow the OKR method effectively. As a refresher, there are two parts of an OKR: the objective and the key results.
How to overcome it: To grasp how OKR components work collectively, you must first understand them individually. Objectives need to be inspirational, qualitative, and declare your intent about what you want to achieve. Key results, on the other hand, should be quantitative and demonstrate how you will measure progress against your objectives. For each objective, you typically will have 3-5 key results. Tasks are the day-to-day activities that you complete to achieve your key results.
Want to learn more about the basics of OKRs? Read What are OKRs?
Mistake #2: Not writing stretch goals
OKRs provide a framework for execution toward a goal. The point of having this framework is to align strategy and execution so you can do more of the right things in less time. If your goals are business as usual or being just above average, then you’re not getting the full value of OKRs.
How to overcome it: You can easily overcome this OKR mistake by thinking big and pushing the limits of your capabilities with creating OKR goals. An example of a stretch goal would be to launch an app that reaches number one in your product category within three months. This would be considered a stretch goal as its ambitious and difficult, but still in the realm of possibility with sufficient creativity.
Mistake #3: Overestimating your capabilities
In contrast, setting goals that are too ambitious can easily become another OKR mistake. If your OKRs are unrealistic, your team can run into problems like:
- Instantly recognizing the goal as unachievable so they don’t put in the effort from the beginning
- Becoming demoralized if goals are consistently unachieved
- Bad behavior such as cutting corners, lying, or shifting responsibilities just to complete a goal
How to overcome it: The answer is to set goals that push your team’s limits, are realistic, and ideally backed in past performance data. This way, you can create goals that are challenging yet attainable.
Mistake #4: Setting too many objectives
Another key purpose of OKRs is to ensure you get your priorities right. Part of this process involves deciding what you need to focus on — the objectives that will make the biggest impact on your business.
If you set too many objectives, then the OKR framework will start working against you, turning into a costly OKR mistake. Instead of radical progress, you will create stagnation as your team splits focus and resources across competing priorities.
How to overcome it: OKRs work best when you take the time to identify the most critical objectives and align your team from there. This can involve ensuring alignment with the company vision and goals, ensuring a collaborative team approach, and regularly reviewing and adjusting your OKRs to make sure they're still relevant and focused on what matters.
Mistake #5: Confusing KPIs and OKRs
Another OKR mistake is using KPIs and OKRs interchangeably. Your key performance indicators (KPIs) and your objectives and key results (OKRs) are related but serve different purposes. Your KPIs, in many cases, will be the metrics used when defining what your key results are.
For instance, if you have the objective to “create an unforgettable customer experience,” one of your key results may be to increase your net promoter score (a KPI) by two points.
How to overcome it: Clearly distinguish the roles and purposes of OKRs and KPIs. Understand that KPIs measure ongoing performance, while OKRs are forward-looking goals. While you can align your KPIs with OKRs by using KPIs to define key results, it's important to acknowledge that not all KPIs can become key results.
Learn more about OKRs vs KPIs
Mistake #6: Underestimating OKR adoption
Like with any change in your organization, the process of adopting OKRs must be thoroughly planned and executed correctly. There are several ways OKRs can go wrong (that’s the reason you’re reading this article), but adoption doesn’t have to be one of them.
How to overcome it: It’s useful to have an OKR champion within your organization. Having someone responsible for OKR implementation means a greater likelihood of consistency and follow through, reducing OKR mistakes along the way.
If you need help, OKR consultants can also be a beneficial resource when you’re in the early stages of your OKR journey.
Mistake #7: Poor OKR management
To get the benefits of OKRs, there is a level of work and management needed across your organization. But if your company makes the OKR mistake of not tracking achievement, the challenging "set it and forget it” syndrome can occur. In turn, OKRs can become another management gimmick.
How to overcome it: There are several things you can do to improve your OKR management, including holding weekly check-ins to monitor progress, using a confidence-based scoring system to identify hurdles, and creating a habit of OKRs through language, software, and processes.
Mistake #8: Setting OKRs without your team
One of the great things about OKRs is they bridge the strategy execution gap in organizations. As a leader, you have the strongest grasp on strategy, but you might not be following all the finer details of the day-to-day execution. So, if you’re setting OKRs for your team and making the OKR mistake of not involving them in the process, it can cause some challenges. You might not have all the details on their work and you run the risk of setting unrealistic goals.
In addition, you miss the easy opportunity to boost employee engagement by having your team involved in defining what to work on. Setting top down or cascading OKRs has its uses in some environments, but the best practice is to set OKRs in collaboration with your team.
How to overcome it: Involve your teams in the OKR planning process by engaging them, facilitating two-way communication, and empowering OKR ownership. This helps create collaborative OKRs that acknowledge the challenges and opportunities your teams face daily, while motivating them to be accountable and work toward their goals.
Mistake #9: Misalignment among your departments
Your OKRs need to align your entire organization toward your most critical objectives. The dynamic nature of modern business means individual departments often don’t have the capacity to achieve goals singlehandedly.
Sales, for instance, requires a powerful marketing engine in addition to the legal team giving them enough flexibility to close deals. If your teams have competing priorities, objectives won’t be achieved.
How to overcome it: You'll need to ensure your OKRs are defined and assigned in a way that each department is working harmoniously towards the same key objectives.
Want to learn more about OKRs by team? Read our article on OKR examples
Mistake #10: Not using software
If you’re running a quick experiment with OKRs, it’s okay to manage the process with common collaboration tools such as Google Sheets or Excel. But once you’ve fully bought into OKRs, you need OKR software to make the process run smoothly. Without software, this OKR mistake can affect your ability to:
- Access performance data to track progress against OKRs
- Easily manage your OKR program to ensure adoption and use
- Create transparency of OKRs – a lack of which causes misalignment
How to overcome it: There are a lot of great OKR software options on the market that can fit your company size and budget. Read our OKR Software Buyer’s Guide to learn more about what to look for in a technology partner, so you can choose the OKR software that best suits your organizational needs.
Mistake #11: Setting the wrong cadence
When looking at an OKR cadence, it represents the timeframe in which you aim to achieve your objectives. A common OKR mistake companies make is to work solely on an annual cadence.
This is less effective than a quarterly cadence because:
- Your business environment is constantly changing which means the objective you initially set may become irrelevant as time goes on
- Working on a faster cadence forces you to get more done in less time
- A faster cadence allows your team to collect wins with greater regularity, boosting engagement
Some companies opt for even shorter cadences such as six weeks, but this may not be effective for all companies.
How to overcome it: As a best practice, aim for a quarterly cadence to start and iterate from there.
Mistake #13: Delegating OKRs to HR
Since OKRs can be part of a performance management process, some companies will make the OKR mistake of delegating the management of OKRs to their HR department. As we’ve discussed, OKRs need to encompass strategy and execution, in addition to performance management, so delegating to one department to handle just won’t work.
How to overcome it: Create and manage your OKRs at all levels of the organization — from senior executives down to individuals in each department. Without doing so, you will not be able to identify the critical objectives, in addition to gaining an accurate sense of your company's capabilities.
Mistake #14: Not balancing adaptability and commitment
Getting the most out of OKRs requires being both adaptable and committed, depending on the current circumstances. For instance, when introducing OKRs, there’s a good chance you won’t deploy the method correctly and set optimal OKRs.
And in constantly changing business environments, your OKRs may need to evolve so your company can better maneuver against competitors. In these cases, not taking an adaptive approach to your OKRs could be a grave OKR mistake, where you risk working on the wrong things, demoralizing your team, and potentially losing market share.
Conversely, at some point you will need to be committed to the OKRs you set. Changing OKRs too quickly and not being persistent enough toward an objective means you won’t fully unlock the value of working toward ambitious goals.
How to overcome it: Make the most of your OKR goals by balancing short-term adaptability with long-term commitment. When first implementing OKRs, learn from and iterate them gradually. Moreover, take note of changing business environments and adjust OKRs when necessary. With each change, communicate the importance of being committed to your OKRs for alignment and long-term success. Striking this balance can help you reach milestone while remaining flexible amidst market changes.
Mistake #15: Having unrealistic expectations
OKRs increase alignment and bridge the strategy to execution gap, but they can’t (alone) solve the deeper problems your business may have. Having the wrong strategy, lacking key personnel, and being disrupted by innovative upstarts aren’t things OKRs can solve — at least in a direct way.
How to overcome it: To maximize the effectiveness of OKRs, use them alongside other business strategies (e.g., operational excellence, talent management and development). A holistic, integrated approach to business issues while striving for ambitious goals can help you overcome hurdles and drive positive outcomes.
Mistake #16: Overcomplicating OKRs
OKRs aren’t a simple or easy method to get right — particularly for larger organizations with many moving parts. But that doesn’t mean you should overcomplicate and stall the adoption of OKRs.
An OKR mistake some organizations make is to fall into a perfectionist mindset, bloating the OKR implementation with various layers of approvals, meetings, and over analysis.
How to overcome it: Although there is depth to the OKR method, you don’t need to do everything all at once and you should accept that OKR adoption won’t be perfect in the beginning. For starters, keep the OKR process simple and straightforward, while providing training and support to those involved.
Mistake #17: Blaming the method
At the opposite end of perfectionism is adopting OKRs too quickly. Some companies make the OKR mistake of jumping in headfirst, but this may lead to unsatisfactory results – either in the form of failing to meet unrealistic expectations or simply using the method incorrectly. It then becomes easy to dismiss the OKR method as simply ineffective.
How to overcome it: For starters, make sure you understand what the OKR method can do for you, including its principles and best practices. Apply these through a small-scale pilot involving a specific team or department. This can help you experiment, learn, and iterate the OKR method within your organization. If you're still struggling with OKR implementation, consider hiring a consultant or leveraging software to get the most out of the method.
Mistake #18: A lack of organizational transparency
OKRs thrive in organizations that are transparent. If there’s a lack of transparency in company-wide objectives and key data sources, it can lead to:
- Poor clarity about who’s working on what, potentially leading to duplicated effort
- Low alignment between teams, reducing collaboration toward broader objectives
- Losing the value of a data driven culture in terms of accountability and engagement
How to overcome it: Revamp your culture, processes, and technology to become more transparent. This are essential components of an effective OKR strategy.
Mistake #19: Not using OKRs for learning
OKRs are often compared to a compass or GPS system for organizations. The framework helps clarify direction and accelerate momentum, but there will be detours and adaptations that need to be made along the way. Turning a blind eye to these changes can cause the complete breakdown and failure of OKRs within your organization.
How to overcome it: To chart the correct course, your team will need to be constantly learning — both from weekly meetings and end of quarter reviews. The key learning takeaways then need to be used to adjust your OKRs for the next quarter so you can be even more effective.
Mistake #20: Using OKRs for micromanagement instead of empowerment
The purpose of OKRs is to align your company toward a common goal; empowering teams and individuals to push the limit of their potential. If you're making the OKR mistake of using OKRs as a weapon to force productivity, then you’re misusing the method and will likely not gain its full benefits.
In addition, it’s unlikely you or the executive team will have enough insight into the details of each department's capabilities. If you set and manage all the OKRs from the top down, there’s a good chance your team will end up working on the wrong things or not working toward realistic goals.
How to overcome it: Empower teams to set collaborative and aligned OKRs. Provide context on the company's vision and strategy and foster a culture of learning and adaptation. This helps you drive motivation and innovation while getting the most out of OKRs.
Moving beyond OKR mistakes
Like with any management method, implementing OKRs must be done in the right way to be effective. Managing change, choosing the right technology, and getting external help are a few ways you can make OKR adoption more seamless.
Although there are many management approaches you can take to increase your team's efficiency, OKRs as a framework can truly give you an extra edge over competitors — especially when actively working to overcome the OKR mistakes mentioned above. When done properly, OKRs have the power to clarify focus, align organization and tap into the creative power of every member of your team.
Quantive is your bridge between strategy and execution. Founded on the objectives and key results (OKR) methodology, our Strategy Execution Platform is where businesses plan successful strategy, focus and align teams to it, and stay on the leading edge of progress by avoiding the common OKR mistakes that come with OKR implementation.
As your company looks to achieve the best possible results, you need a modern approach to run your business and change your business. The Modern Operating Model brings strategy, teams, and data together to help make decisions faster, optimize operations, and drive better business outcomes.
Whether you’re a large enterprise facing competitive disruption or a small business leading the innovative charge, Quantive helps get you where you want to go.
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