7 requirements for a successful implementation of OKR

Since our launch in 2014, we have learned a lot about implementing OKR in organizations. Here are some of our learnings, based on our experience with hundreds of customers. That includes organizations across all industries, with 50 to 5.000 employees, both startups and mature enterprises.

More than 85% of our customers have already achieved a successful rollout. However, the route to success has been very different. We’ve seen companies with 50 users struggle, while others with 1.000+ employees implement it successfully in a month or two. And of course vice versa.

When analyzing the process together with our customers, we found 7 requirements for a smooth & successful organization-wide rollout of Objectives & Key Results. This is what we found.

Ensure backing from Senior Leadership

An important benefit of OKR is increased transparency. Transparency is a powerful driver of engagement, ownership and alignment. The impact and benefits of OKR therefore increase exponentially, the more people in your organization use it.

When implementing OKR in a specific team or department, backing from your departmental or team head could be sufficient. But for rolling out OKR organization-wide, backing from senior leadership – the CEO included – is an absolute must.

OKR can be a big change for an organization, especially for the traditional, hierarchical enterprise. Without the commitment of senior leadership, OKR is likely to fail. That doesn’t mean an organization cannot start working with it if the CEO isn’t convinced yet. We have customers that had a team leader implementing OKR in his team, after which the enthusiasm quickly spread to the rest of the organization. Once the CEO saw the positive results he was soon sold on it as well and approved the organization-wide rollout. However, it’s the CEO’s and senior leadership’s commitment that is required for the organization-wide rollout. Although this route can be also successful, involving C-level right from the start can fast-track your implementation.

To ensure their backing:

Get buy-in from the organization

When kicking-off the implementation process you will see that some people embrace OKR right from the start, where others show resistance. Most organizations have developed a healthy skepticism about company-wide changes and even though OKR professes a non-judgmental approach, it might not look like that at the start.

As with any organizational change, getting everyone enthusiastic might be difficult and it’s also not necessary. Skepticism is ok and, as said, can even be healthy. However, clearly outlining the organization’s reasons for implementing OKR is crucial. OKR can be a great improvement for every employee. After all, in a tool like Perdoo every employee will be able to see how he or she fits into the bigger picture, and see what everyone else in the organization – including his or her manager – is working on. Getting across “what’s in it for them” can smoothen and speed up the implementation.

To get buy-in from the organization:

  • Have senior leadership openly support OKR (a great way to do this is to set up their profiles and OKRs first in your Perdoo account. You’ll see that everyone will be excited to visit for instance the CEO’s profile and see what his OKRs are)
  • Schedule an All Hands-meeting to kick-off the implementation and outline the benefits of OKR (our Success Managers can help you with this)
  • Share success stories of other organizations

Define your approach

We’ve seen 3 different options. Which options fits you best depends on the characteristics of your organization, its culture, experience with OKR, and the level of commitment from senior leadership.

The options are:

  • An organization-wide roll-out, right from the start: Works great if your organization is already a bit familiar with OKR or goal management in general. Otherwise it requires that the benefits of OKR are clear to everyone and you have a culture that is open to change. Younger companies, regardless of their size, qualify more easily for such an approach than the more mature or traditional companies. In our experience we also feel that the maximum number of employees you can have for an immediate full roll-out is around 1.000 employees. Note that this approach doesn’t mean everyone should get access all at once. It’s still advisable to first setup the accounts and OKRs of senior leadership, then quickly roll it out to all the departmental heads and team leaders, and from there to all individuals. It does mean that all this is done in a very short timeframe (for instance 1 month). A great approach to not lose momentum.
  • A 2-stage roll-out, starting with a “pilot” team after which everyone will join: Instead of a fast roll-out you’ll start with a team that pilots what the best approach for the organization should be. You’ll allow this pilot team 1 quarter to collect the first learnings (TIP: let them start with smaller timeframes, like 1 month, to learn faster). Once the approach is clear, everyone else can join. This is a slightly safer approach than the above and you can still have the entire organization up-and-running in 3-6 months.
  • A gradual roll-out, starting with a small team and scaling up over time:In this approach you’ll set up an enrollment schedule. Start again with a small team of around 5%-10% or your organization. But instead of rolling it out to everyone in the next step, you gradually add more teams and departments. The downside here is that you’ll need more time (3-9 months, depending on size). However, if you feel uncertainty or expect resistance from your team, this could be the best option for you.

It is important to know that there is no right or wrong. You’ll have to decide what you think fits the organization best. Should you decide to go for a different approach not mentioned above: let us know in the comments below! Our team is always keen to learn from our customers.

Whatever the approach will be, we always recommend to first setup the accounts, profiles and OKRs of senior leadership and the company. This shows everyone that the organization is serious about it, and you’ll see that many people find it super exciting to look at the OKRs of the company and the CEO. From here it should go to the departmental and team heads who can then set up their groups and group OKRs, and then roll it out to their teams and departments (or squads, tribes, etc.).

Having rolled out OKR in the organization does not mean everyone is able to draft good OKRs yet, for that the organization needs a bit more time. See below under “Allow everyone some time to train their OKR ‘muscle’” for more detail.

Have a clear timeline & appoint an ambassador

As with any organizational change, it is important to let someone lead the project. Appoint an ambassador who is responsible for rolling out OKR and the first line of contact if questions arise within the organization. Our Success Managers will work together with your ambassador and he will ensure to transfer his knowledge to that person – so you’ll have it on the inside.

It is also important to have a clear timeline. Not just for the implementation but also for the OKR process. This ensures everyone is aware of what to expect when. On this timeline, you should show at least: – The enrollment schedule: when can each person expect to receive his Perdoo account and when should he have set his first OKRs? – Your organization’s OKR process: how frequent will you set OKRs, will you host mid-term OKR reviews and when should they be closed & graded?

The timeline ensure you won’t lose momentum and it will help you get buy-in from the
organization.

Allow everyone some time to train their OKR ‘muscle’

Defining good OKRs is probably one of the biggest challenges. Especially if no one in the organization has defined OKRs, or goals & milestones, for their work before. See it as a muscle: train it and you’ll quickly get better.

At the start everyone should be allowed some time to train this muscle. You’ll see that people quickly improve. To increase this learning curve it is advisable to let teams and departments sit together to review their OKRs and give feedback to each other.

Also make sure that – when defining OKRs – everyone is aware of a few simple rules that they should follow.

Keep it simple

The reason why OKR became so popular and why organizations like Google and LinkedIn have embraced it, is because it’s simple. OKR can be explained to everyone in just a few minutes. That also means that everyone in your organization, from top to bottom, is able to work with it. When implementing OKR don’t make it complicated.

One of the key pillars of our software is also simplicity. We find it important that the simplicity of the OKR concept is reflected in your tool of choice. Simplicity encourages engagement and drives long term adoption.

Just do it 🙂

Author
Henrik-Jan van der Pol

Founder and CEO of Perdoo. After his studies in corporate law he joined Pon Holdings BV as a management trainee. He then continued as a management consultant and led change & implementation projects for organizations like Heineken. In 2014, he founded Perdoo together with Jonathan.

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