Achieving organizational agility with Objectives and Key Results

May 15, 2020
2:00 pm - 2:45 pm

Achieving organizational agility with Objectives and Key Results

Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) have been well known for decades now, and John Doerr’s book on Measuring What Matters became a hit immediately after it was published. However, while OKRs as a concept seems logical and straightforward, many companies struggle with implementing this concept in an aligned and inspirational way. As an Agile coach implementing OKRs in multiple large organizations, I experience three major anti-patterns:

Anti-pattern: Implementing OKRs top-down. OKRs are not KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) which are top-down arbitrary numbers provided by management to each employee at the beginning of a long-term period (usually a year). OKRs are set by teams, not individuals, and aligned with organizational objectives. In that, OKRs are inspirational and encourage teams to set up the objectives that motivate them and inspire self-organizing teams to make a difference.

Anti-pattern: Using OKRs to measure performance and define compensation. Unlike KPIs which are used to measure performance and influence compensation and promotions, OKRs should not be related to performance in any way. Numbers are easy to game, and connecting OKRs to performance would negate their purpose. OKRs need to be aspirational and hard to achieve so that teams challenge themselves to continuously grow and become high-performing. This is the reason OKRs are self-graded, not measured by managers.

Anti-pattern: Focusing OKRs on activities, not results. Frequently, OKRs are focused on activities or tasks, e.g. provide 100 training sessions, hire 300 employees, create a Playbook covering 50 topics. While sometimes there is a reason for task-based key results, in most cases, the objective is either customer-related (e.g. customer satisfaction), business objective (e.g. revenue growth), employee-related (e.g. retention data), or a related goal. In either case, it forces teams to pivot if the initial set of activities does not bring the intended result and fail forward to pursue the goal. (OKR example

During the workshop, we will be playing OKR-setting games and co-creating the OKR Manifesto We will experience in practice how to avoid common mistakes and set up cascading OKRs bottom-up by empowering teams, aligning divisions, and keeping the organizational objectives in focus – all of this while keeping employees motivated and inspired. Finally, we will discuss how OKRs empower teams to self-organize while achieving shared goals within a scaled agile environment.