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, including 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 of OKR. However, the route to success has been very different for each organization. We’ve seen companies with 50 employees struggle, while others with 1.000+ employees implement OKR successfully in a month or two. And of course vice versa.
When analyzing the OKR implementation process together with our customers, we found 7 key requirements for a smooth & successful organization-wide rollout.
The impact and benefits of OKR increase exponentially, the more people in your organization use it. An important benefit of OKR is increased transparency. Transparency is a powerful driver of engagement, ownership, and alignment.
When starting the OKR implementation in a specific team or department, backing from your departmental or team head is often all that’s needed. However, 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. OKR requires everyone across an organization to think differently about how they and others work. Without the commitment of senior leadership, the change needed in how the entire organization thinks will be missing and OKR is likely to fail. This doesn’t mean an organization cannot start working with OKR if the CEO isn’t convinced yet. We have customers with a team leader who implemented 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 OKR 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 OKR implementation.
To ensure the backing of senior management:
When kicking off the OKR implementation process some people will embrace OKR right from the start, while others will present 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 okay and 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 they fit into the bigger picture, and see what everyone else in the organization—including their manager—is working on. Getting across “what’s in it for me” can smoothen and speed up the OKR implementation.
To get buy-in from the organization:
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:
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 all employees will suddenly be writing great OKRs. The organization needs a bit more time for that. See below under “Allow everyone some time to train their OKR muscle’” for more detail.
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 to transfer our knowledge to that person—so you’ll have an expert on the inside.
It is also important to have a clear timeline. Not just for the OKR 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 timeline ensures you won’t lose momentum and it will help you get buy-in from the organization.
Writing great 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.
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.