You're wrong about OKRs - Experts explain common OKR myths
As there are so many myths and misconceptions about OKRs, we wanted to help set the record straight. See a Tl;dr and the full-length expert answers below!
Tl;dr - common myths surrounding OKRs
- OKRs are just for tech and product-based companies
- OKRs should be linked to performance management
- OKRs are for everyone...
- OKRs are easy and simple to do well
- OKRs should be set top-down
- OKRs should be linked to bonuses and financial compensation
- OKRs are a way to get better results from bad teams and bad people
- OKRs will solve poor strategy
Kenneth Paul Lewis, Co-Founder, and Director at OKR International, Angel Investor, and Leadership Coach
- OKRs are only for IT or Tech Companies: Today Government agencies, brick and mortar companies, legacy organisations, institutions, and communities are using OKRs
- OKRs are for performance management: OKRs are not to measure individual performance. They help set, track, refine, and achieve the organisation's goals. Performance management is for talent and compensation management
- Do it as Google did it: An organisation’s culture, people, and practices are different. Google has been doing it for decades. If you are starting with OKRs now, figure out what kind of OKR framework best suits you and fine-tune the practice along the way
Paul Niven, Global OKR Coach & OKR Author
There is one that trumps all others: That OKRs are simple. Yes, conceptually the model is easy to understand, after all, there are just four words: Objectives and Key Results. But in order to glean the many benefits the system has to offer you must implement with care. That requires (among many things): Training your teams to write technically-proficient OKRs, assigning Champions and Ambassadors to guide the program both logistically and philosophically, and instituting strong governance processes to ensure a consistent and effective rollout.
Christina Wodtke, Radical Focus Author, OKR Expert, Consultant & Stanford Lecturer
That they are a way to get better results from bad teams and bad people. Or from the employee point of view that they are a way for management to continue squeezing more productivity out of people until they bled dry. You can see how one might lead to the other. OKRs really should make everybody's life better. The manager should be able to communicate more effectively what work really matters the most and employees should understand where to spend their time whenever they find it.
Allan Kelly, Agile OKR Coach & OKR Author
- OKRs are MBO (management by objective) by a different name
- OKRs are decided from above and passed down - the return of command and control!
- OKRs are additional things that happen in addition to existing, regular, work
- OKRs should be linked to bonuses and financial compensation
Richard Russell, OKR & Leadership Coach
Writing goals in the OKR format will change everything even if we change nothing else. This impression can be so strong that I like to tell my clients that “OKRs don’t work”. The truth is that management is what causes the change, and OKRs only help insofar as they change how management works.
Mukom Tamon, Chief Excellence Officer™️ Academy, OKRs, 4DX & Lean Six Sigma expert (@perfexcellent)
- Key Results are how you will achieve the Objective
- That a Key Result must always be both an outcome and lagging indicator - “Outcomes over outputs” is correct but incomplete
- The idea of “input OKRs” - there's little point or value in defining OKRs around a team’s inputs (inputs being the things that an organisation uses to produce its outputs and outcomes)
Saba Ghafari, OKR Coach & Organisational Development Professional
- If you achieve 70% of your targets, you did well and OKRs targets should not be achieved more than 90% otherwise your targets are set wrong. The truth is your thresholds should be defined by you, others won’t work for you
- One’s KR is another one’s objective
- OKRs should/should not be used as a performance management tool. This one is really tricky. There isn’t a unique rule, in this case, to be used for all companies. It should be decided in each company considering all aspects like your business goals, culture, complexity, etc
Carsten Ley, OKR Goal-Setting Coach
- That OKRs are simple, yes the methodology is simple to understand and have clear rules on how to develop & implement OKRs, however, the change management and regular process is tricky and different for every company
- That agility means there is no plan or framework and that target can be changed any time within the three months
- That OKRs are fully developed bottom-up by asking first the teams what could be the targets and results for the companies. This can only work in highly educated and engaged work environments. Normally there is a top-down (management proposes) and bottom-up (teams give feedback or other / more ideas) mix
Madeleine Silva, OKR Coach & Trainer
- OKRs are just for big companies like Google
- Try to copy and paste what Google does
- OKRs can/should be used for everything
- You should connect your OKRs directly with performance reviews
Bart Den Haak, Consultant & OKR Author
One misconception is that leaders believe OKRs are only a tool to improve focus and alignment. Although these are nice side-effects of OKRs (or any goal-setting system for that matter), the true power of OKRs is about strategy execution by using behaviour change. Unfortunately, there aren’t that many companies with a good strategy defined. Hence, the reason why so many companies abandon OKRs, because they don’t reap the true benefits.
Brad Dunn, Chief Product Officer & OKR book Author
People think it's a silver bullet to all their problems and that it will fix things like autonomy and empowerment. All it is really is a way to document the outcomes you want to hit - nothing more. It can be a great motivator and help you clarify your goals, but it is a very small part of the puzzle when it comes to building a great organisation with an excellent culture. Don’t expect miracles.
Paul Barker, OKR & Strategy Coach
- “OKRs will solve our strategy.” It won’t. OKRs need to align to your strategy; strategy is the starting point
- “OKRs will make our people more efficient.” It doesn’t. It’s not a productivity tool; rather, it clarifies the “why” behind the “what” and then teams should be empowered to execute in their own way
- “OKRs will replace my task list.” It shouldn’t. Key Results are often articulated as tasks - one of the reasons is because teams don’t have a space to place their tasks. Make tasks and initiatives part of your process if you need to, but keep them out of Key Results
- “If we get the right tool, we don’t need someone driving it.” Tools will make the good things better and the bad things worse. The right tool is not a replacement for the right process - get the process right first, then implement the tools
- “We’ll get OKRs up and running throughout the organisation in the next quarter.” It won’t work the first time. The methodology is adaptable - that means you have to adapt it. Start small and iterate, then grow
Mike Burrows, Lean, Agile, and Kanban Pioneer
- That they will replace KPIs
- That they can be tied to personal performance compensation
- That they are easy to create and implement
Khalil Medina, CEO & OKR Coach
OKRs is to have order (it's not, it's to achieve more)
Christina Lange, OKR Coach & Speaker
“OKR is only for Tech Companies”. That is still a quote I hear sometimes, and I’m shocked. It’s not about just copy and pasting a silicon-valley thingie.
Cansel Sörgens, Business Coach, OKR Coach & Trainer
It breaks my heart every time I see OKR sets written like perfect project plans, and sophisticated to-do lists. Also, all the metrics can be tempting and OKR can quickly turn into a Command & Control system, if not implemented and used with care. Renaming old systems, with hip and trendy ones, without changing anything else, is just a waste of money.
Jean-Luc Koning, OKR & Systemic Coach, Founder of OkrConsulting.fr
As ThereBeGiants pus it in their OKR Annual Report, it is worth bearing in mind that having a large number of OKRs doesn’t necessarily lead to greater business success. The greater the number of OKRs, the greater the amount of alignment needed when planning activities for the next period. This takes up significant amounts of time and could limit the agility many organisations look to OKRs to provide for them. If the level of effort required to run OKRs is greater than the value their use provides, then people will quickly start to opt out and OKRs will lose momentum. We are convinced that starting with a limited number of OKRs, demonstrating their success, and allowing people to develop their confidence, knowledge, and skill with them first, leads to better results in the long term.
Mark Richard, OKR Coach
It’s easy to confuse OKR with Management by Objectives (MBO), and it’s fair even to say that MBO was an early influence. So beware of its dysfunctions! Focusing too much on targets and not enough on how they are met is a recipe for pain.
Interested in hearing more from our experts? You can see the full list of blogs from series one here.
Interested in strategy execution more so than OKRs? We have a strategy execution blog series to read here.