OKR

Individual Objectives: Everything you need to know

15th August 2018

Last Modified: 26th October 2018

Individual Objectives

Everything you need to know about Individual Objectives

A little bit more than a year ago we wrote about the Pros and Cons of Individual Objectives. Since then, we’ve learned that most Individual Objectives aren’t really Objectives, but we’ve also learned how—if you really do want to work with Individual Objectives—to best approach them.

Individual Objectives are tricky

First of all, we still do not encourage you to work with Individual Objectives because:

  • Individual Objectives will make your employees wonder why you are introducing OKR. They might think you just want to add another level of control. OKR is designed to do the opposite: help you move from a work environment based on control, to a work environment based on trust.
  • Individual Objectives will mostly focus employees on their own OKRs and neglect the bigger picture and the best interest of their team or company. OKR is a great tool to unite the organization behind the common Objectives of the organization and team, Individual Objectives go against that.
  • Individual Objectives add overhead and complexity, without adding much value. If you are a 100-people company and everyone owns on average 3 OKRs. That’s 300 OKRs per quarter and 1200 OKRs per year that need to be defined, tracked and updated! Spotify also started with Individual OKRs and concluded: “We noticed that we were putting energy into a process that wasn’t adding value. So we decided to ditch individual OKRs and focus on context and priorities instead. We make sure everyone knows exactly where we are going and what the current priorities are, and then we let the teams take responsibility for how to get there.”

Individual Objectives aren’t really Objectives (most of the time)

Over the past few years, I’ve learned that most Individual Objectives aren’t really Objectives. They are either Personal Development Objectives or Initiatives (e.g. tasks or projects).

Personal Development Objectives

Over the past year, we’ve learned that a lot of the Individual Objectives people create are actually Personal Development Objectives (e.g. Learn to speak German fluently). Such Objectives don’t belong in an OKR software but in an HR tool. OKR is about the organization and not about an individual employee and his or her performance. Leading HR solutions like Successfactors (for enterprises) and BambooHR (for SMBs) have therefore quickly evolved and nowadays allow you to manage personal development objectives as well as performance reviews and continuous feedback.

Initiatives

If your Individual Objective isn’t about someone’s personal development, then it’s probably about something that must be done (e.g. a project, task or milestone).

Objectives must be directional and should reflect significant steps for an organization or team. They provide focus and direction and help you decide what is a priority and what isn’t. On company-, department- and team-level you need this focus and direction, but you seldom need this on individual-level too.

When you get to the individual level, it is all about what needs to be done in order to achieve an OKR. Everything you do (e.g. Build feature X) in order to achieve an Objective (e.g. Increase engagement) is what we call Initiatives in Perdoo. If you only have OKRs, then who is going to put in the actual work to achieve those OKRs? Just buying a scale, is not going to make you lose weight.

That’s why it’s best to go from Team OKRs down to Initiatives, instead of going from Team OKRs down to Individual OKRs.

Working with real Individual Objectives

An Objective should always be owned by the people that need to focus on that Objective. So if you want the entire organization to focus on an Objective, the company should be the owner*. Perdoo always asks you to assign an individual as the lead for an Objective. This helps enforce accountability. A lead oversees an Objective, ensures it stays on track and that the Initiatives are moving the needle for the Key Results.

* Perdoo’s structure with owners and leads forces you to set up Objectives as either Company or Group Objectives, instead of having for instance only CEO Objectives in your organization. One of the most important things we’ve learned over the past years is that employees are a lot more motivated working together towards common company or team objectives, rather than helping their manager or the CEO achieve his/her Objectives.

In the case of Individual Objectives, you only want 1 person to focus on that Objective (if not, it should be a Group Objective). So if your Individual Objective:

  • isn’t a Personal Development Objective;
  • isn’t an Initiative;
  • and you only want 1 person to focus on it;

then it is a real Individual Objective.

Individual Objectives

Working with Individual Objectives in Perdoo is not as straightforward as you may expect it to be, especially because Individual Objectives in Perdoo must always have a group as its owner. However, we have good reasons for that.

First of all, we don’t promote Individual Objectives for the reasons explained at the start of this article. Second, if you decide to work with Individual Objectives you need to do this with care to not jeopardize your OKR program. Perdoo ensures you do it according to, what we believe, is the right way.

Individual Objectives for teams that only have 1 member

In some cases, people talk about an individual Objective because the “team” that should own the Objective only has 1 team member. In this case you should still set up the team for this person in Perdoo. Teams usually grow over time and, when new people join, they’ll have access to a solid history of what this team has been focusing on in the past.

Group Page History

For every Objective and Key Result that you create, you can assign an individual person as the lead which helps create accountability.

Individual Objectives for individuals that don’t have a team

The individual might not have a team but the Objective itself will always cover a certain area, most of the time a certain functional area (e.g. Product, Growth or Finance). No-one should work on a Marketing-related Objective without the Marketing team being aware of it. The Marketing team should always have a full overview of all the Marketing Objectives within a certain quarter as this enables them to prioritize and set the right focus for that quarter.

Being forced to add groups as the owner for an Objective ensures this and is also an easy way to help you organize your OKRs in a simple and efficient manner. This way of structuring work is already known to everyone since people are also being structured as teams within an organization. If you wouldn’t organize your OKRs like this, OKRs would be spread out all over the place and it would be hard to get a good overview of what’s going on within the business.

Conclusion

  • Individual Objectives that are actually Personal Development Objectives do not belong in an OKR software like Perdoo, you’re better off managing those in an HR tool.
  • Individual Objectives that are things that need to be done (e.g. projects, tasks, activities) translate to Initiatives in Perdoo and show you what different people are doing to help achieve a certain OKR.
  • Individual Objectives that really are Objectives can be set up in Perdoo, but Perdoo enforces you to set these up in a way that they are aligned with the purpose of OKR (i.e. leading your organization and teams to success) and protect you from the pitfalls of working with Individual Objectives.

2 Comments

  • Joel says:

    Great article, thank you.

    I’d love your thoughts: In the case of the small startup not for profit that I work for, we have CEO, Head of Ops and Head of Programs. These are our only three main staff (and we contract a marketing and comms person 1-ish day a week and have a few volunteers).

    We have just set up our first Company OKRs but how would you recommend we allocate them to teams if every individual is essentally their own team? So far we’ve actually proposed to add organisational initiatives and we’ll just allocate each initiative to a different person to lead.

    Thoughts?

    Thanks!

    • Rob Davies says:

      Hey Joel, great question.

      In your particular case, because you’re only 3 full-time employees it might make sense for each person to own one company OKR and keep your timeframe short to stay agile.

      Once you get to around 25 people, it makes sense to implement the annual/quarterly cadence for company and group OKRs because then you’ll have enough people to align teams to company Objectives.

      Right now, as there’s only 3 of you, the cadence of Company/Group – Annual/Quarterly doesn’t make sense, so instead you can simply use Objectives, Key Results and Initiatives to create and measure goals.

      Hope that makes sense?

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