While there is quite some information on the internet on how to write OKRs, less exists on setting objectives. Our short Guide to writing great OKRs offers a good start. Most of these articles list a set of requirements that each Objective and Key Result has to meet. That can be very helpful when drafting your OKRs, and I would definitely recommend you to follow them. A successful OKR implementation, however, also requires you make sure your organization or team is setting Objectives correctly.
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Objectives are destinations that you set out for your organization or team. They need to inspire everyone working on them. But your team also needs to buy into them. You have to agree that these are indeed the right things to do at this moment. You have to believe they provide business value and that management is committed to them.
Imagine, for instance, a company setting objectives for Q4 to become a great place to work (a key result could be to get certified by greatplacetowork.com). Even though it could be a great objective, it’s probably hard to buy into for the employees if the employee turnover is skyrocketing. Better would be to fix the turnover problem first: setting an objective for Q4 to “fix the employee turnover problem” (an ambitious key result would be to reduce it by 50%). Once this problem is fixed, you can focus on becoming a great place to work.
Here are a few simple things you can when setting objectives to ensure they’re the right ones:
The best objectives are objectives that drive the organization forward. They should ultimately get you closer to your vision and/or help you realize your mission. If this connection is clear, it’s easy for people to see the bigger picture—which automatically improves their understanding of the objective’s importance.
In the Industrial Age, the manager was often seen as the person who knew everything and was best equipped to make decisions. Those days are over. It’s the people closer to the ball who have unique insights into what’s going on, either within the business or in the market. Use this knowledge!
With modern tools it’s easy to collect input. Ask your team to suggest 1 or 2 objectives for the upcoming period. Discuss the most popular suggestions with management and try to make at least one of them a company- or team-level objective.
When picking objectives, you could easily get over-excited. Objectives should be inspirational, yes. They should also be ambitious. But they must be attainable within the timeframe you’ve set them for. Back to the example above: a company that has severe cultural problems and high employee turnover should not expect to be able to turn the company around and become an awesome place to work within one quarter.
Instead, the company should be focusing on tackling the most pressing of these problems first. Unrealistic objectives are what they are: unrealistic. People will know and stop believing in them. As a consequence, they won’t be committed to its success.