Adopting the OKR practice in a company

In the last article, we answered one of the most frequently asked questions about OKR: how long does it take for a company or any individual to overcome the challenges and reap the benefits of OKR?

It was one of the many questions that were being asked to us when we were invited to talk about OKR in Glints Talk 3 (if you missed it, the full recap of the talk can be found here). We were pleasantly surprised to see the number of questions we received during the Q&A session, which suggested a strong interest from the audience in OKR. However, there were only so much we could answer because of the time limitation.

We decided to pick one question and explained about it in the previous article. More specifically, we showed a new perspective when talking about OKR: adopting OKR practice means we’re building a new habit. Then we explained the concept of progress, which includes the theory about the Plateau of Latent Potential based on the insight from James Clear’s book: Atomic Habits.

We got a positive reaction to that edition. In fact, many have asked us to answer more.

Thus, we answered more burning questions about OKR in this edition, specifically those that revolve around how to adopt the OKR practice in a company.

Let’s get to it.

Question 1: How to build or create employee’s perception about OKR that it is a positive thing (a safe-space, if you will) for everyone involved to encourage growth and collaboration review? In my organization, a few employees perceive OKR practice, especially the OKR review, as worrisome.

Answer: When employees perceive OKR or specifically OKR review as worrisome, it is usually because they didn’t yet have a complete understanding of OKR. For example, they see OKR as a performance evaluation tool.

OKR should be about measuring progress, not someone’s performance. A proper and complete understanding of OKR is necessary before implementing it. We also encourage to adopt OKR gradually (start with a small number of teams, then only expand confidently to cover the whole organization).

To build a safe space for OKR review, please nurture these 2 conditions at all times:

  • Constructive conversation => when one’s score is low (or not as expected), let’s focus on the logical explanation behind the score and how the team can encourage a better outcome — instead of throwing unnecessary criticism or blame.
  • Openness toward challenge => manager can challenge the team member’s OKR, and vice versa. (Yes, we encourage the team member to share constructive feedback towards the manager’s OKR).

Question 2: When and when not to use OKR?

Answer: OKR can (and do) work for companies from different industries and sizes. We have seen it properly integrated into companies’ execution discipline. From our small network of OKR coaches (in United States, India, Indonesia, and China), the range of companies include small (a team of fewer than 20 people, e.g. Inspigo and Principia Lab of Indonesia), medium (e.g. Chumbak of India), and large enterprises (e.g. and Google of USA; Baidu of China).

We’d advise an organization not to adopt OKR if the leadership team wasn’t yet ready for a higher level of transparency. We understood that in some companies, transparency might not be the best ingredient for their business. OKR requires a high level of transparency; and in fact, creates and grows more transparency over time.

We expect the leadership team to set a good example for everyone involved. Thus, the first thing we need to do is ensuring they support the transparent nature of OKR. In other words, they need to be willing to open their OKR to the public.

After all, OKR is a leadership exercise. We wouldn’t recommend an organization to adopt OKR if OKR is assumed to be the responsibility of an HR department.

Question 3: You said that OKR should be transparent, but, sometimes there are things that are considered as sensitive, such as finding a replacement for a C-level position. What do you think we should do in that case?

Answer: In that case, we’d advise the CEO to create another OKR (private) for this purpose. It’s recommended that this private OKR is to be opened to others who are relevant (e.g. another C-level individual). The idea is to help you focus and accountable to your team; in this case, your C-level group minus the one you’re planning to replace.

The other (non-private) OKR of yours should be treated regularly: open to your employees, aligns properly with the top-line OKR, and so on — just like the other OKRs in the company.

Note: Human Resources or Human Capital often face a similar situation in which they require to maintain 2 sets of OKRs: private and public. It’s because of the nature of their work which requires an extra level of confidentiality.

Chapter 6 in Measure What Matters (John Doerr’s book) also discussed the occasional need to create a private OKR.


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