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Learnings from implementing OKRs

OKRs are theoretically quite good for planning and communicating organisational goals and checking progress. The ideas are very simple and draw on empirical wisdom from successful companies like intel and google, thus in absence of a pre-existing system and for new companies its very easy to start using the methodology. OKRs also resonate well with teams that have driven progress iteratively. However, there’s a distinct lack of literature around failures and learnings to get into a good rhythm of planning and execution using OKRs, the available literature does a good job of selling. I would like to try to bridge this gap here, in this live document. This isn’t a primer or an introduction, so it is best if you read a decent text like Doerr’s, and then read this as a supplement.

Designing OKRs

OKRs provide an excellent method of communicating to everyone what the organisation’s short and long term priorities are. Here are some learnings/heuristics that help -

Rhythm is everything

Like most processes, the enthusiasm towards OKRs fizzles out after 1-2 monthly checks. The most probable reason why orgs lose interest is, just as when forming new habits, lack of instant gratification and high setup costs. Because OKRs sound logical, people assume they are easy to adopt, and then they are surprised that forming new habits need a lot of effort, especially in bigger organisations.

Frequent changes are detrimental

Fast growing organisations thrive by making quick decisions, and this agility sometimes comes in the way of operationalising OKRs.

Should startups then adopt OKRs ? Of course they should, and here are some ideas they can try to get the best value.

Poor leaders are often seen unilaterally changing OKRs. Good leaders I have met often recall that it’s their job to inspire, and inspiring employees to make changes to their goals frequently isn’t something they aspire to do; they spend time proving their hypothesis and build a well researched argument.

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