In our previous blog post about OKRs, we talked about the OKR process and how the process of implementation works for an organisation. Epiphany has tried OKRs for 2 quarters and I’ve compiled the thoughts of some people in our company and what they have learnt from setting company, team and individual OKRs. In this first installation, we have Terence, the founding partner of our company share with us his thoughts!
One of the biggest challenges that a startup or small company is what I like to call operational-paralysis. There’s always something else to do and you end up spending each and every day chasing deadline after deadline. Before you know it, 6 months have passed and you look back at the goals you’ve set for the year and realise that you’re not closer to achieving any of them.
In large corporations, that’s perfectly fine. Most corporations are finely-tuned machines and if every person in the company just focused on doing what is operational, it would still continue to survive. In a startup or small company however, it is important not to lose track of your larger goals. In such an environment, goals also tend to be moving targets. While the beauty of this is a startup’s ability to react quickly to changes in their market and industry, veering away from your plan unknowingly can also be very dangerous.
With this in mind, we started implementing OKRs this year. We’re still in the very early stages of getting it to work well for us but what I love about it is that it provides us with a tangible way to stay focused and evaluate our goals as the year progresses.
For me, the greatest benefit that OKRs provide us with is clarity. Sometimes, the days just seem to fly by, especially when we are caught up in different projects. After awhile, you start to wonder “Why am I doing this particular thing? What do I hope to accomplish? Why does it matter?” OKRs provide a reminder of what we set out to achieve in the first place and it helps us evaluate whether we need to change what we’re doing.
That being said, implementing OKRs have its own set of challenges. The concept is simple enough but on the ground, it does take significant effort to get everyone on board. At Epiphany, we have a set of Company-wide OKRs for the year.
From this, the teams set Annual Team OKRs which are then broken down quarterly. Every individual then sets their own OKRs for the quarter from this.
Here are some learning points from our experience so far.
1) In a fast-paced environment, things change
In our environment, things change quickly and that affects what we do on a weekly basis. Some projects and initiatives weren’t planned at the beginning of the year or quarter even. This means that the Company and Team Annual OKRs can get outdated really quickly, or some Objectives might become de-prioritised.
This means that have to do a better job of keeping the OKRs aligned and communicated across all members of our team.
2) Key results can be really difficult to identify and quantify
For some of us, our work is very operational and repetitive while for others, work can be more project or goal-based. This makes it difficult to properly identify the right key results and the accompanying metric. We’ve found that some functions are more easily OKR-ed while others find it more challenging. For example, we do Outbound Prospecting of new clients by sending luke-warm emails (pre-researched). It is easy to track the number of emails sent and meetings arranged. But for our Project Managers, many things are deadline-driven and the Key Results read more like a list of tasks, which we are trying to avoid.
3) OKRs have to be part of your culture and everyone must be involved
The OKR process is not supposed to be top-down where managers meet with you to grill you on why you didn’t achieve your objectives. (Read: KPIs) But without this whip, OKRs become an individual’s responsibility to maintain. You cannot have someone constantly nagging at the team to review and evaluate individual OKRs because to me, that defeats the whole purpose. Instead, everyone needs to discover how OKRs help them contribute to the company’s goals. The motivation to review, score and create new OKRs for the quarter has to be driven by the individual, otherwise it becomes another senseless bureaucratic exercise.
4) It takes time to do well
As with everything else, OKRs take time. It isn’t a magical silver bullet that you can implement in a week and expect powerful results. You need time for everyone to get used to it and benefit. But to make it work, you need to have a strong driver in the company to provide support and that extra push to get everyone involved.
I always tell this story about Basecamp, which we are huge fans of. When we first introduced Basecamp, no one wanted any part of using this new software that they’ve never seen before. It took 4 long months of constant nagging and reminders (“Did you put this on Basecamp? Why don’t you put this on Basecamp?”) before everyone started getting comfortable on Basecamp. Now, it’s something we use everyday.
So if you are looking to implement OKRs for your own team or company, take some time to do it well. Don’t give up just because it doesn’t seem to be working perfectly. Instead, keep at it and before you know it, everyone will be OKR-ing.
Part 1: How to Use Google’s OKRs For Your Company
Part 3: Individual OKRs as Cascaded OKRs of the Company
Part 4: Managing OKRs in a Quarter with Moving Targets