Benefits of setting OKRs for the individual contributor

Table of contents

In today's fast-paced work environments, individual contributors face numerous challenges in effectively managing their workload and priorities. Amidst competing tasks and requests, focusing on key objectives can often be daunting. While managers and leadership typically have a good sense of general direction, individual contributors focus on deliverables and output. They work off of a to-do list or a task board and take on many requests ad hoc. 

However, Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) offer a solution by providing a structured framework for prioritisation and empowerment. In this article, we will delve into the empowering nature of OKRs for individual contributors, exploring how they serve as more than just goal-setting tools. By understanding the power of contextualisation within OKRs, individuals can navigate their workload with confidence and clarity, ensuring that their efforts align with organisational objectives.

Individual contributor meaning

First off, what is an individual contributor? Individual contributors contribute to the organisation's objectives without a managerial or leadership position. Unlike managers who oversee teams and departments, individual contributors are specialists in their respective fields, engineering, design, writing, or other disciplines.

Individual contributors operate in non-leadership roles, focusing on executing tasks and projects within their expertise. Contrary to managers who oversee and coordinate teams, individual contributors immerse themselves in hands-on work, bringing their skills and knowledge to fruition. 

Individual contributors can be found in a variety of industries and roles. For example, a software engineer who works on a specific product feature can be considered an individual contributor. Similarly, a designer who creates designs for a company's marketing campaign without managing a team can also be an individual contributor. Other examples of individual contributor roles might be:

  • Software Engineer
  • Graphic Designer
  • Content Writer
  • Research Scientist
  • Financial Analyst
  • Marketing Specialist
  • Sales Representative
  • Data Analyst
  • Customer Support Specialist
  • Quality Assurance Tester

(Need some examples? Check out our OKR examples organised by function)

Why your individual contributors might be hating on OKRs

OKRs often get a bad rap with individual contributors. It's an added workload on top of what they already have to produce daily, as well as a lot of admin work they might think you should be doing as a manager, not them. While individual contributors may not necessarily hate OKRs, there are certain challenges and frustrations they might experience with the implementation or use of OKRs:

  1. Lack of Clarity: If OKRs are not communicated effectively or are unclear, individual contributors may struggle to understand how their tasks contribute to broader organisational objectives. This can lead to confusion and a disconnect from the organisation's overall goals.
  2. Overwhelming Workload: In some cases, OKRs can feel like a chore. Without proper implementation and processes set up beforehand, you could place tedious aspects of tracking OKRs can be placed on the individual contributor. 
  3. Mistaking OKRs as performance management: As a management tool, OKRs can be seen as a form of performance management. When done right, it should give your team a way to analyse and improve. Done wrong, they will feel pressured to hit metrics, and their job is in danger if they aren't reaching their goals.

These are just a few of the many reasons why your team may be rejecting OKRs. Getting full buy-in from the team isn't easy, but there are many ways to ensure your team gets the most out of their OKRs

Start by finding out what your team needs

We've covered some common complaints here with OKRs, but does it resonate with your team and your experience? Maybe not. 

One thing you can do before setting off on this OKR journey, is sending out an employee engagement survey. Ask questions anonymously to your team asking what they need and what they are struggling with in their workspace and what they need to succeed.

OKRs can often be a solution. By understanding pain points first, you can see if 1. Are OKRs what we really need? and 2. How can I sell the team on the benefits of OKRs based on their pain points?

Beyond just gauging the suitability of OKRs, engaging in this dialogue with your team fosters a culture of transparency and inclusivity. It demonstrates a genuine commitment to addressing their concerns and aligning organizational objectives with their individual needs. By actively involving your team in the decision-making process, you not only enhance their sense of ownership but also cultivate a shared understanding of the challenges at hand. This collaborative approach lays the groundwork for a more resilient and adaptable workforce, better equipped to navigate the complexities of today's dynamic business landscape.

Empowering the individual contributor with the power to prioritise

OKRs serve as more than goal-setting tools for individual contributors; they provide a framework for prioritisation and empowerment. One often overlooked aspect of OKRs is their ability to contextualise the power of saying "no." 

Lawrence Walsh of There Be Giants says that this is a big thing that individual contributors love. "Everybody has been in the situation where you have people coming to you and saying, can you do this now? And [you're] already working 120%, but you have no context to say no other than kind of your own well being," he explains, "the big thing that individual contributors love is OKRs contextualize the ability to say no."

OKRs give everyone a receipt on what they all agreed on is the priority for the quarter. When a manager or leadership comes to you and asks for a unrelated task or request that will affect your performance in your ageed-upon OKRs, then you can use that to contexualise the request and how it will alter business success. 

Walsh continues, "you won't believe the amount of times those leaders then go, actually, yeah, you're right. We can park it until the next quarter and we'll turn this new initiative into an OKR in Q2, for example. For now, focus on what it is that we originally set out."

The big thing that individual contributors love is OKRs contextualize the ability to say no.

This common language helps contexualise requests in a way that eliviates overwork and helps individual contributors focus on what's most important. OKRs empower individuals to prioritise effectively by providing a clear framework for decision-making. By aligning new requests with established OKRs, individuals can make informed decisions about where to allocate their time and resources, ensuring that agreed-upon priorities remain at the forefront.

A clear sense of individual contributor progress and success

OKRs foster a culture of continuous improvement by setting ambitious yet achievable goals and encouraging individual contributors to stretch themselves and strive for excellence. At its core, OKRs are a form of feedback loop; you should consistently check in, revise your goals, and analyse your progress. While OKRs are a way to go from A to B with your goals, they're a valuable knowledge source. The fact is, you'll only know how things will go once you try them. By tracking goals, you'll gather a lot of data on how things should be done and how you can adjust to improve. 

This consistent feedback loop allows your individual contributor to become an expert on how to move the needle in this specific part of the company. This ownership will allow them to focus on the outcome more than the output and start to get more creative in their solutions.

When goals are reached, it also gives a sense of pride and accomplishment that they might not get from just completing a list of tasks. OKRs give a clear sense of impact on business goals. 

On the other hand, if you're worried about your team not hitting their goals, you can even have two targets: a safe goal and a stretch goal. This gives an expectation that they should be reaching for a higher goal while also giving a safety net in case there are hiccups along the way. Don't forget that this isn't a performance review, and individual contributors should not fear reporting bad news — this is crucial for real development, and failures should be celebrated as much as successes.


In conclusion, OKRs play a pivotal role in empowering individual contributors within organisations. OKRs enable individuals to navigate their workload with confidence and clarity by providing a clear framework for prioritisation and decision-making. The ability to contextualise new requests within the framework of existing OKRs empowers individuals to communicate their capacity effectively and maintain focus on key objectives. As organisations strive for success in today's competitive landscape, harnessing the power of OKRs is essential for fostering a culture of accountability, ownership, and continuous improvement among individual contributors.

Author photo

Bryan Schuldt

Co-Founder, Tability

Share this post
Weekly insights for outcome-driven teams
Subscribe to our newsletter to get actionable insights in your inbox.
Related articles
More articles →