Success of an OKR program isn’t by chance. It requires deliberate and persistent effort. As an OKR coach who has been working with the framework for 5 years, I’ve led hundreds of hours in successful implementations across a variety of industries. From major international airports and automotive, to fintech and ecommerce, I can identify early signs that an OKR program will be successful in just one meeting. Here are the key factors I look for in these initial interactions:

Executive involvement

Executive leadership often drives the decision to implement OKR for the company. This decision is an important first step and only signals the beginning of the OKR program. The logistical implementation is the responsibility of the Ambassador. Executive leadership on the other hand needs to be involved to translate the strategy into OKRs, approve quarterly OKRs, and reinforce the importance of progress in meetings and company-wide communications. If leadership doesn’t continue to communicate they care, then no one else will. 

  • Is Executive leadership present?
  • Are they engaged and asking questions?
  • Do they appear committed to including OKR into meetings (all-hands, leadership meetings)?

Strong Ambassador

An Ambassador is the person tasked with managing the education, rollout and ongoing operations of the OKR program. They are an internal OKR expert who needs to make sure employees understand the framework and implement it into their routine – knowing when to create, update, and close OKRs. This person needs to establish a system of accountability that communicates clear expectations, so it’s imperative that they have the proper operational experience and right approach to manage this company-wide endeavor.

  • Does the Ambassador have previous project management or operations experience? 
  • Are they organized and disciplined?
  • Do they feel empowered, confident and not overwhelmed by the task at hand?

Goals-first approach

OKR is about taking the company strategy and converting it into results. The aim is to break the status quo and grow. In order to do this, it’s important that the company has strategic goals to provide direction. These goals then inspire teams to determine how best they can impact the company goals. In the spirit of transparency, alignment and cross-functional collaboration, goals are public by default. The focus then should always be on the company and team goals, instead of private individual performance, personal development, or people management. 

  • Are there strategic company goals?
  • Are team goals about pushing the company forward instead of personal development?
  • Is the focus on information transparency instead of private personal information?

Team engagement

Leadership sets the strategic goals and it’s the responsibility of teams to determine how they will achieve the results. This creates a sense of autonomy and ownership since 50% of the goals are then bottom-up. It then becomes important that teams embrace this role and fully commit to the process. The quality of their goals and participation matters. Progress is only possible if teams are willing to learn something new, adapt, and thoughtfully contribute. 

  • Are teams taking the time to reflect on the business and create thoughtful goals? 
  • Are they open to change and the new workflow?
  • Are efforts being made to understand the framework and language?

It’s important that an OKR program starts off on the right foot so that it’s poised for success. If the answers to any of these questions is “no,” then there’s an opportunity to quickly address the weakness. If you don’t create a solid foundation, failure of your OKR program is, unfortunately, inevitable.