Objectives and Key Results or OKR will be used by most start-ups at some point to set goals. It’s certainly pushed by most incubators and accelerators. It certainly worked out pretty well for Google, LinkedIn, Spotify and thousands of others! Plus not having a strategy and good goal setting is obviously a bad idea.
“I’ve read ‘the book’ – Measure What Matters“ is a phrase I hear almost daily, as it’s the starting point for OKR learning for most. What I’d like to share with you is what’s not in the book, and is what I’ve learned from starting 2 SaaS companies, exiting one, and from coaching lots of start-up leadership teams on how to plan and manage OKR.
When Small, KISS – Keep It Simple *
It’s easy to get excited about creating OKRs for the company, every team and individual, with a vision of systemising your growth. My advice is don’t. When you’re small keep it simple and have the fewest number of OKRs you can justify – perhaps just one – “Achieve Product Market Fit”, “as measured by” MRR, Growth Rate, and Retention Key Results. Agree the Activities or Initiatives you’re going to do each week to achieve this OKR, and at the end of the week share your wins.
As You Get Traction
As you get traction, allow teams to propose other ‘game changing’ ambitious OKRs that align with your company OKR. Avoid teams describing BAU Objectives or their activities in their Key Results, like doing sprints and talking to customers. Instead work out what teams expect to change by doing these activities. More Weekly Active Users. higher conversion from free to paid, increased release velocity. You get the idea.
Agree & Keep The Cadence
Religiously keep to a weekly cadence. Update progress and confidence of your OKRs and describe what your week looks like on a Monday, along with trying to remove any issues. On a Friday have a short meeting to share what went well only – good news only. Every month do a deeper OKR and Initiative dive to make sure you’re aligned, and every quarter to an OKR re-set, either continuing OKRs to the next period with new targets or create new ones.
Keep OKR Management Simple & Lightweight
When you’re small OKR Management can be done in a spreadsheet or simple software. As you grow it becomes much easier with software and will form a pillar of how you approach the wider challenge and opportunity of ‘performance management’. But when you’re small, don’t worry too much about that.
As you scale and new talent arrives they might have been exposed to OKRs before or perhaps not. If they have, do not assume they have used them correctly. It’s common for companies to have used OKR as their to-do lists – big sigh!
Also, appoint an OKR Lead as your go-to trainer and OKR QA. They will ensure everyone uses OKRs well and consistently from quarter to quarter.
Lead By Example
You need to not only share your OKRs at meetings like Town Halls, but you need to share any challenges. Part of succeeding with OKR is to make ambition a default and failure a learning experience.
Make OKRs Cultural
Goal setting feels like a different topic to culture creation but they are related. Ambition, dealing with failure, trust, autonomy, ownership, teamwork, and agility are also anchored in culture as well as process. OKRs need culture and culture needs OKR.