11. January 2019

10 Myths About OKRs (Part 1)

Konstantin Schaller

10 Myths About Implementing OKRs At Large Companies (Part 1)

The interest in OKRs has seen tremendous growth over the last couple of months, not least thanks to the publication of the excellent Measure What Matters by John Doerr. I would even venure to say that OKRs are one of the hottest topics within the Management 3.0 area right now.

As a quick reminder: OKRs stand for "Objectives" and "Key Results". OKRs are essentially a goal-setting and planning process which is used widely by Silicon Valley companies such as Google or LinkedIn. What's so great about OKRs is that they are extremely intuitive, results-oriented and fit neatly within an agile context.

In the following two posts I'd like to share my experience with implementing OKRs at large companies here in Germany - and dispel some of the myths which I frequently encounter when discussing OKRs.

The first five myths revolve around how to get started (Part 1); the remaining five myths concern the question of impact and scale (Part 2). So let's do, in fact, get started:

-Myths about how to get started-

Myth 1: You don't need to get started without proper C-suite support

Sure enough, it's nice to have someone from the C-suite support you from the get go. In my experience, however, there's no need for that, at least initially. Just about any SVP or VP can decide to pilot OKRs for his teams. The OKR "proof of concept" will, if successful, begin to spread across other departments, divisions and, eventually, up to the C-suite (more of that in Part 2).

Myth 2: You need to involve your entire team right from the start

In my experience it's best to start experimenting with OKRs at the VP/SVP level. Don't make it a bottom-up exercise from the outset. Otherwise you'll just end up confusing everyone. As a leadership team, you need to figure out for yourself what OKRs are all about before you start spreading the good news to your teams. That said, as you gain more experience and move toward greater OKR maturity, you will definitely want to include more and more of your team members directly in the process of defining and refining your OKRs.

Myth 3: Writing OKRs is a piece of cake

Writing poor OKRs is a piece of cake, that's certainly true. Honestly, here's one of the biggest mistakes I see over and over again: Starting by jotting down key results intead of truly reflecting on your objectives. You want an honest discussion about your priorities, about your key themes for the quarter. OKRs are a strategic tool and help you align and focus your efforts. You're not going to get that if you start with possible key results and then simply regroup them in order to get your three to five objectives. This misses the point of the entire exercise.

Myth 4: There will be skeptics everywhere

As a matter of fact, you'll likely encounter surprisingly little resistance to introducing OKRs - at least as along as you're clear how your company will benefit from them. Sure enough, there will be some skeptics who don't initially understand just why your company needs "yet another" management tool. In my experience, however, most of this skepticism vanishes after the initial OKR pilot, typically because of the unprecedented clarity and guidance OKRs provide.

Myth 5: You won't get anywhere without a shiny OKR software

OKRs aren't about tooling. Please resist the urge to start looking into a possible OKR software right from the start. Excel, PowerPoint and maybe Trello/Jira is all that you need as you get started with OKRs. I believe we all intuitively understand this yet, curiously enough, this point keeps coming up.

Watch out for Myths 6-10 to come shortly!

Got feedback or questions? Feel free to contact me (konstantin.schaller@smp-ag.de)

Thanks Holger for your support with this article!