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.
Ensure backing from Senior Leadership
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:
- Provide an introductory OKR presentation, clearly outlining the benefits and business impact for your organization
- Present a case study to give leadership an idea on timing, budget, and impact (we can connect you to one of our customers in the same industry or country)
- Let them all together and openly express a clear commitment
Get buy-in from the rest of the organization
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:
- Ensure senior leadership openly supports 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 the CEO’s profile and see what his OKRs are)
- Schedule an all-hands meeting to kick off the OKR implementation and outline the benefits of the framework (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 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. Note that this approach doesn’t mean everyone should get access all at once. It’s still advisable to first set up 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 rollout, starting with a “pilot” team after which everyone will join: Instead of a fast rollout, you can start with a team that pilots OKR to work out the best approach for the rest of the organization. The pilot team uses 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 first and you can still have the entire organization up-and-running in 3-6 months.
- A gradual rollout, starting with a small team and scaling up over time: In this approach, an enrollment schedule is set up, starting again with a small team of around 5%-10% or your organization. Instead of rolling it out to everyone in after the pilot, 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 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.
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 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 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 cadence: how frequently will you set OKRs, will you update OKRs regularly, will you host mid-term OKR reviews, and when should they be closed & graded?
The timeline ensures 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’
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.
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.