OKR best practices: Tips and tools for successful implementation

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Setting and tracking Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) is quickly becoming the standard way to set goals and measure progress. But, it can be tricky to get started without proper guidance. That's why we've put together this guide on the best practices for implementing OKRs.

By following these guidelines, you'll be able to create effective OKRs that help you stay on track and achieve your goals. So let's get started!

What is an OKR?

An OKRs, or Objectives and Key Result, is a system that provides a framework for setting measurable goals and tracking progress. It's a way to ensure that everyone in an organisation is aligned around common objectives and knows what they need to do to achieve them.

But, setting up OKRs can be daunting for business owners who are new to the concept.

Why implement OKRs?

If you're still on the fence about implementing OKRs, here are three reasons why you should give them a try:

OKRs help you focus on what's important

When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. With OKRs in place, you can better prioritise and focus on the most important outcomes.

OKRs help keep you on track

Measuring progress against specific Objectives and Key Results helps ensure that you're staying on track and meeting your goals. It also discourages multitasking by surfacing strategic risks early in the quarter.

OKRs improve communication and collaboration

OKRs provide a common language for focus. This makes it easier for teams to understand each other and work collaboratively towards common goals.

What are best practices for implementing OKRs?

There's no one-size-fits-all answer for implementing OKRs, as the best way to do so will vary from company to company. However, there are a few OKR best practices that can help make the process smoother.

1. Start with the leadership team

Here's a simple implementation schedule:

  • First quarter: Only the leadership team uses OKRs at the company level.
  • Second quarter: Leadership and departments have OKRs.
  • Third quarter: Leadership, departments, and teams are all using OKRs.

Understanding how to write and track OKRs often takes a couple of cycles to master. This is because most teams are switching from a focus on projects (outputs) to now having to put goals (outcomes) at the centre.

There's a lot to unlearn, and it can take some effort to avoid replicating the past roadmap in the form of OKRs.

This is why it's best to start small at the top of the company and increase the number of teams involved at the start of each quarter. This will allow you to find your champions and figure out the best way to adopt the OKR framework to your needs.

2. Limit the number of competing OKRs

OKRs are all about focus. The more Objectives and Key Results are in a plan, the harder it will be for people to know what truly matters. One thing that helps is to explain to your team that OKRs should not contain business as usual. Instead, you should consider breaking down your team's effort in different buckets.

In any given week, a team could spend:

  • 70% of their time on achieving the OKRs
  • 20% of their time on business-as-usual stuff
  • 10% of their time on other things

The OKRs should only capture the things that truly need to change during the quarter. Are you trying to improve retention? Do you want to significantly boost performance? Are conversions a priority?

A rule of thumb: each OKRs plan (company, department, teams) should have 2-3 Objectives and 3-4 KRs per Objective. That means that a typical OKR plan should have 6 to 12 Key Results being tracked.

Tability's Plan Editor has a scoring system and tips to help you create good OKR plans 👇

3. Don't aim for a perfect strategy

Markets and technologies move quickly and you'll never be able to write down the perfect plan. Here's how writing OKRs should go:

  1. Agree on the Objectives
  2. Agree on the type of KRs for each Objective (but don't lock the targets yet)
  3. Agree on the targets

Time and time again teams end up wasting many hours by jumping straight to step 3. But, it's not going to help much to spend 30 minutes arguing if leads should increase 8% or 12% when your biggest problem is churn.

Don't lose track of the North Star.

3. Align, then cascade OKRs

The book Measure What Matters introduced an appealing model for cascading OKRs from the top of a company all the way to the individuals. But what looks great in theory is costly to do in practice.

It's best to start by letting teams align to the top-level OKRs without having to trickle down each parent OKR. This will save many hours, and the Strategy Map in Tability will help you visualise all your org's goals in one place.

You can still get the benefit of a cascading model by subsequently connecting relevant KRs. That approach will produce a Cascading Map allowing you to focus on a specific KR to see how other teams contribute to it.

Zoom in on a specic KR to see its dependencies

4. Make it safe to report bad news

Better teams report more mistakes" – Adam Grant

OKRs work best when people are able to signal risks early. This is how you can quickly rally teams around problems to fix things before it's too late.

You want to avoid situations where teams end up obfuscating difficulties until the very end of the quarter.

5. Use simple but clear language for your Objectives

What do you want your company to achieve by the end of the quarter? Objectives should be statements that are clear and inspiring for the teams that will be involved. They may include metrics, but it's often best to keep those for the Key Results. For example, "achieve amazing organic growth through SEO" or "deliver a true product-led onboarding" could be Objectives in your company. Make sure that the OKRs are aligned with the company's strategy to maximise impact at the end of the quarter.

It's also important to involve as much of the team as possible in setting and agreeing on the Objectives. This helps ensure that everyone is on board with the goals and understands their role in achieving them.

Knowing how to write good Objectives is critical to success, as they'll become the North Star for your teams.

6. Make your Key Results measurable

Key Results (KRs) are the specific ways by which you'll measure how far you are from reaching your objectives. They should be achievable, quantifiable and time-bound – follow the SMART approach to set clear and measurable KRs. For example, "increase website traffic by 50% in the next two months" can be a KR for SEO and "reduce customer support calls by 25% within three months" will probably pair well with your Customer Success Objectives.

Good Key Results should be proxies for success – they will help your team gauge their confidence week after week, and adjust their efforts as needed.

7. Assign each Key Result to specific team members

Achieving OKRs is a collective effort that requires the intense focus and collaboration of many teams. There will be many meetings, projects, emails, spec, bugs and adjustments needed to make progress on the OKRs.

As a result, it is quite easy for people to get lost in their work and drift away from their goals.

KR owners are here to keep track of progress on the OKRs, and help their organisation stay accountable. But be careful to not give too much work to your team! Check-ins fatigue can happen quickly and no one should have more than 6 KRs to update in any given week.

How to find all Key Results without owners

You can use Tability filters to identify KRs in your org that aren't attached to an owner.

  1. Go to Filters > Key Results
  2. Click on the button "Filter +"
  3. Select Insights > Without owner
Find all the KRs without owner

8. Track progress every week

Setting good goals is important, but it won't be of much help if you don't have a process to review progress on the OKRs periodically.

Weekly OKR check-ins will help everyone keep in mind what's important (focus), but it will also help your teams achieve their results faster by surfacing issues early. This ensures that goals are always relevant and challenging, yet still achievable. OKRs check-ins will keep stakeholders in the loop and increase your ability to see true progress.

Check-ins will help you see when progress is slowing

OKRs check-ins are what make OKRs effective, and it is critical to have a good cadence of updates in place. You can use Tability to automate 80% of the OKRs-tracking and get actionable insights for your plans.

9. Limit the use of "at risk"/yellow statuses

Your check-ins should have a confidence level attached to them:

  • Green = on track
  • Yellow = at risk
  • Red = off track

Make it a rule that you can't have more than 2 yellows in a row.

The 3rd check-in needs to be either green or red. Adopting this rule will help everyone confront risks earlier instead of hedging their opinions for too long.

10. Don't panic when Key Results go red

There can be many reasons why a KR just went red:

  • You might be tracking a metric that you can't control
  • You might have set a goal that was too ambitious
  • Priorities might have shifted
  • That could be a rippling effect from other areas.

The answer is almost never lazyness - and approaching these questions with an open mind will often help you uncover new ways to increase productivity.

How do I roll out OKRs?

The best way to roll out OKRs is by starting small and gradually scaling up. Trying to do too much too soon will just lead to frustration and confusion, and it won't be long before people start to resent the system.

Ideally, you would want to get buy-in from the top. Bottom-up collaboration is a big part of the framework, but in the early days it's best to drive adoption from the top to increase your chances of success. Once you have buy-in from leadership, you can start piloting them with a small team.

From there, you can gradually roll OKRs out to more teams, and eventually the entire organisation. The key is to take it slow and make sure that everyone is on board and understands how the system works.

How can I measure OKR success?

So, you've got your Objectives and Key Results all set up. But how do you actually measure whether or not you're achieving your goals?

Here are a few things to keep in mind when measuring the success of your OKRs:

  • Use a realistic scoring system. You may have heard of Google's specific grading system, but it might make things confusing for your team.
  • Set realistic goals that challenge you and your team but are still achievable. If your goals are too easy, you're not pushing yourself enough. But if they're too hard, you'll see your team getting demotivated — no one likes to see a dashboard that is red all of them.
  • Commit to the weekly OKRs check-ins. Having a great cadence of updates and reflections is what helps teams refine their strategy and accelerate success.
  • Celebrate when you hit milestones. This will help you stay motivated and on track.
  • Adjust your goals as necessary based on what you learn along the way. Don't be afraid to change course if something isn't working out the way you planned.

FAQs on implementing OKRs

Here are a few frequently asked questions that will help you get started:

  • What is the recommended timeframe for setting and achieving OKRs? At a company level, you can have annual OKRs updated monthly. At a team level, you should have quarterly OKRs updated weekly.
  • What are some examples of OKRs? Browse our OKRs library to find 100+ examples of Objectives and Key Results
  • How can I ensure that my team is aligned with my OKRs? Finding misaligned OKRs is not always a bad thing! Just make sure that there are frequent touchpoints to review the OKRs.
  • What are some common mistakes people make when implementing OKRs? Rushing the process, aiming for perfection, having too many OKRs, not keeping track of progress. Those are the top mistakes that teams make when they adopt OKRs.

It's ok if some of your Key Results are outputs rather than outcomes. What matters is that you start with something simple, learn from the process and iterate. You'll quickly get better as you get some practice.

Check out our 15 rules and 4 OKR principles for detailed recommendations.

What's next?

So there you have it—a few best practices for rolling out OKRs in your organisation. Keep in mind that OKRs should be ambitious yet achievable, and they should be reviewed and updated on a regular basis.

If you want to be successful with OKRs, it's important to get buy-in from everyone in your organisation. Make sure everyone understands what OKRs are and how they work, and get their input on what goals should be included.

Rolling out OKRs can be a big change for an organisation, but if done correctly, it can be a very positive one. With proper planning and execution, OKRs will help your organisation achieve its goals faster and improve its overall performance.

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Sten Pittet

Co-founder and CEO, Tability

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