How to scale OKRs - Expert advice
Scaling OKRs at any company size can be a tough task, it can even be overwhelming if not done correctly. It requires a lot of time, effort, and bravery. To help you along the way, we asked some of the most experienced experts in the OKR field for their best practice tips and advice.
Below we have a Tl;dr of some top tips, alongside the full-length answers from experts!
Top tips to scale OKRs effectively - Tl;dr:
- Clearly define business strategy and the reason for using OKRs
- Don't underestimate the value of Review & Retrospective
- Focus on team OKRs, all aligned to the corporate strategy
- Start by involving the CEO & CXO Level - Their commitment and consensus is key
- Ensure OKRs don’t cascade but align
- Set up an OKR discussion group to share OKR culture across the organisation and encourage organic demand
- Start small: Start with (a) pilot OKR team(s) and learn from their experiences, then invite more teams in step by step
- Choose software that enables transparency, collaboration, alignment, focus and has good customer success suppor
- Don't let HR run the OKR program. It should be the CEO, CoS or a CXO leading it
- Start with single team/volunteer/an island that radiates into the organisation - Not with a big bang.
- and many more tips below
Allan Kelly, Agile OKR Coach & Author
- Start small, don’t do the whole organisation in one go, get a few teams doing OKRs and learn as an organisation
- Avoid any attempts to masterplan the OKRs from the top, embrace emergent alignment (central planning doesn’t scale)
- Accept some failures will occur, in OKRs and alignment, learn from the best and encourage everyone to learn from their earlier attempts
Andreea Havrișciuc, Head of Agile, METRO.digital
You need BELIEVERS
- Leaders that deeply understand the benefit of measuring outcomes and drive the change throughout the organisation
- A community of experts that is available to guide, facilitate, explain and remind people and teams how to create value
- Teams that understand the value of alignment and practice it at all levels
- People that don't underestimate the value of incremental progress (Check-in), honest evaluation (Review) and transformational change (Retrospective)
Sienam Lulla, OKR Coach, OKR Edge
Nail it before you scale it.
It's a framework, not a rigid methodology so invest time in learning, experimenting, making OKRs your own, and then achieving consistency in executing. Ideally, scale should follow when there is organic FOMO in business units or teams that aren't on OKRs just yet. It's like the woman from the ‘Harry met Sally’ diner scene says “I’ll have what she's having”. Once OKRs become a part of the DNA of the pilot group, measurable business, and cultural transformation is inevitable. For instance, their ENPS may have improved significantly as employees begin to see how their work contributes to the larger company-level outcomes.
Use these wins to influence adoption in additional cohorts. Never enforce.
Mukom Tamon, Chief Excellence Officer, OKR & Lean Six Sigma Expert
- Create a great strategy
- Eliminate company OKRs
- Then focus on team OKRs, all aligned to the corporate strategy
Without a company OKR to align to, we cut out all the time spent aligning, we eliminate the temptation to cascade.
Natalija Hellesoe, Organsational Dev Coach & OKR Expert
It is crucial for successful OKR implementations that different teams can adapt the concept to their needs to make it valuable. So make sure you consciously decide which parts of the OKR system design really need to be standardised across the organisation (e.g. the cycle length) to make it work and where you can leave wiggle room to the teams (e.g frequency and format of the check-ins).
Nikhil Maini, Global OKR Coach, OKR International
- Start by involving the CEO & CXO Level. Their commitment and consensus is key
- Understand the Vision, Mission, Values, Purpose & Strategy of the organisation
- Understand the cultural context of the country the client operates in. What worked in China will not work in Germany, necessarily
- Create a robust communication plan to enrol the first few layers within the organisation
- The CEO must participate and be present as a show of faith when teams are trying to align to the organisation’s OKRs
- Implement and Scale in a T-Shape. First, cover the entire organisation’s breath (involve all functions) - then stagger your implementation across levels over a period of time
- Start by focusing on the process first - then build the muscle to aspire for more outcomes
- Ensure OKRs don’t cascade but align. Look for bottom-up as well as cross alignment between teams
- Avoid taking OKRs down to the individual levels. OKRs are best served as a collective
- Create Champions or Shepherds after a couple of cycles are done with. You will know the Champion material by then
Christina Lange, OKR Coach & Speaker
- It needs your brain work: Acknowledging that’s a framework that needs to be adapted by you in the organisation. Whether you go for a big bang or if you onboard just a few teams every cycle in the journey. Reflect on what fits best for you. However, being bold never hurt anyone
- You are not alone! Create a (temporary) change team which helps you accelerate learning and to speed up
- Be prepared for windy weather: You will see some things you weren’t aware of e.g., which teams work or not work together. But that’s ok. That’s exactly what helps you to improve
Richard Russell, OKR & Leadership Coach
- Start with the leaders of a relatively self-contained business unit or product team
- Work downwards from there, following strategic priorities rather than the org chart
- Work across and upwards by looking at organic demand as other similar units want to adopt OKRs
- Set up an OKR discussion group to share OKR culture across the organisation and encourage organic demand
- Don’t try to force OKRs on leaders or organisational units who do not (yet) see the benefits for themselves
Cansel Sörgens, OKR Coach & Trainer
Don’t scale OKR! # of teams ≠ # of OKRs
The worst thing you can do is match the number of OKR with the number of teams. The more teams in an organisation the more “Shared OKRs” you should have instead of OKR per team. Find the teams that naturally collaborate anyways to create E2E value for the same type of customers with the same (sub-) product/service with the same strategic goal. Let them align around shared OKRs. This means teams won’t need to write their own OKR but rather share an OKR set with other teams. Some teams might work together on some of the Key Results, while some might own one single KR.
Long story short, think about how to descale OKR instead of scaling it.
Kenneth Paul Lewis, Co-Founder, and Director at OKR International
- Start with a certain team, section, unit or level first. Run a pilot for 1 or 2 quarters
- The best team to start with is the leadership team
- Less is more. Heck! Start with one OKR and get the organisation to align bottom-up to it. See the magic happen
- Create a Centre of Excellence or an OKR office that has an OKR expert, the OKR program lead and the OKR Champions
- This OKR office should be the first to be in on Top-down goals and is responsible for sharing bottom up learnings
- Choose software that enables transparency, collaboration, alignment, focus and has good customer success support
- Don't get to Individual OKRs if you don't need to. Keep OKRs as much as possible as a collective/team goal. Assign initiatives to team members
- Keep the check-in frequency flexible based on the type of team and their work dynamics
- Don't forget having a town hall with everyone every quarter to share the goals. And don't forget to end the quarter with an All Hands Retrospective
- Watch out for many island OKRs (OKRs that don't link anywhere). And watch out for Strategic OKRs that aren't well linked either
- Preferably don't let HR run the OKR program. It should be the CEO, CoS or a CXO leading it
Sandra Pretzer, OKR Trainer & Coach
- Have a compelling “Why OKRs” message that’s consistent with the changes in structure and behaviour you’re making and asking for
- Start small: Start with (a) pilot OKR team(s) and learn from their experiences, then invite more teams in step by step: Learn and adapt
- Hire an OKR Expert to coach and consult you during the first OKR cycles
- Empower existing OKR teams / OKR pilot teams to share their experience and what benefits they got from working with OKRs
- Train enough OKR Masters to onboard and coach new OKR teams
- Go and see where in your organisation OKRs actually make sense (where customer value is being created) and scale OKRs there. A common misconception is that every single person in the entire company has to work with OKRs, that’s not the case. OKRs make sense in a complex environment and when dealing with complex situations. That doesn’t mean to exclude people who would like to participate from working with OKRs simply because their job is e.g. in the payroll department. They could be a powerful OKR Master for instance
- Never stop reflecting the current architecture. Situations change, so your scaled OKR architecture will need a little refresher once in a while too!
Elie Casamitjana, Founder & CEO, OKRmentors
- Just start, it doesn’t have to be perfect right away: The most important thing to successfully scale the OKR framework is to get started. While your company’s OKRs may not be optimised in the first or second or even the third quarter – the most important part is to have something to work on and improve. Organisation-wide OKR implementation isn’t a one-off thing, it’s a continuous process.
- Appoint people to lead the change: Implementing OKRs throughout a large organisation is a strategic process and comes with cultural change. To bring this level of change, it’s critical to build a dedicated team that successfully works on OKR implementation along with C-level executives as well as other individuals throughout the organisation.
- Find the strategy adapted to your organisation: all at once, horizontal roll out or vertical roll out, there are different ways of implementing OKRs throughout your organisation. Make sure you check out the different options and consider what is best in regards to your management methods and your level of expertise with OKRs. The larger the organisation, the more the deployment should be done in a progressive manner.
- Make sure everyone is on board: This might be the most important point as there is no change possible without the full collaboration of all your staff members. It’s key that they are fully onboard, understand, and participate in the process. You can organise seminars, workshops, as well as discussions to not only help different departments learn what OKRs are but also allow them to gain insights into how to create quality OKRs. Prioritise teaching them how to create, track, update, report, share and align OKRs.
Madeleine Silva, OKR Coach & Trainer
It's really important to understand that deploying OKRs is not a mechanic system, so our journey won't be a straight line.
We should be open to keep learning, “adopt and adapt,” and keep the purpose in mind. For example LinkedIn adapts OKR for the best way for the organisation. Keep in mind why you want to adopt OKR in the business. Sometimes we need to go back to these basics in order to make adjustments that are more convenient for the company.
Remember if you decide to deploy OKRs, you should understand not all the departments need to use them. Maybe some departments will keep working with another method. During the kick-off ceremony, it's important to create the vision and build a sense of urgency in order to understand why we should get involved in this project. Recognise, quick wins and remember to learn and adapt.
Bart Den Haak, OKR Consultant & OKR Author
Have a business/product strategy first! Scaling OKRs is not easy. Therefore, I suggest getting it right in a small setup first. For example, start using them in the executive team first. Or do a pilot with one of your most high-performing teams. Then learn how to use them in this setting. Give it some cycles. Once you’ve learned about how to apply them in your context/culture, you are ready to scale them. Go to the next team. One step at a time. Don’t fall into the trap of demanding that all your teams need OKRs. Some teams really don’t. Always try to keep the process as lean as possible. If it takes your more than a week to set OKRs, retrospect, and improve. In my book Moving the Needle with Lean OKRs I explain more about how you can roll-our OKRs in larger organisations..
Jean-Luc Koning, OKR & Systemic Coach
- Start small. Identify and work with one or two pilot teams first
- Start with highly motivated people. Pick and choose only motivated people who will be ready to pass on the torch and who will eventually play the role of internal coaches to their colleagues
- Start cross-functional. Show right from the beginning that OKRs are not limited to silos
- Start from the top. If the company leadership team is committed to the success of the pilot phase and communicates regularly and transparently about it, there's a good chance ownership by a large number of teams will be smooth when rolling out
- Start by learning. All along the pilot phase, collect what's working and what's not working as you will have to take into account these ingredients when scaling OKRs across the organisation
Thomaz Ribas, OKR Trainer
It is tempting to use the organisational chart to scale OKRs. Do we have 250 teams? Then let’s create 250 OKR sets. The problem with this strategy is that it leads to local optimisation.
Instead of having hundreds or thousands of team-level OKRs at first, identify which “team of teams” work on common problems or opportunities, in a way that multiple teams define shared goals. This is an effective way to avoid an overload of OKRs and (what’s worse) a bunch of OKRs disconnected from client’s and business needs. Another important piece of advice is having a cohesive team to champion the scale. After working with different large customers, this became a crucial factor and a pre-requirement in our OKR programs. When there is an internally empowered team that leads the agenda and helps teams scale, chances of success increase.
Carsten Ley, OKR Coach
Start with one or two layers first and do not try to scale in the first quarter on the entire organisation and build a cross-functional OKR champion team to facilitate and advocate the change management towards OKRs.
Felix Handler, OKR & Sustainability Coach
Start with single team/volunteer/an island that radiates into the organisation. Not with a big bang. This way the next teams can already profit from learnings. One article that got me thinking was that OKRs are networks and not hierarchies. It is a bit of both but not only focusing on leadership but also other teams to give you orientation is a good mindset into this. Also: try not to scale goals, scale learning. A metric from Google might also be interesting: OKR sets are successful if (more) teams try to copy them / take them over for their own ambitions as well.
Teams need some orientation to not feel lost in the process and some bigger context to orient their own work onto. Otherwise, they only optimise locally and do not create synergies with other teams’ goals.
Rida Qureshi, OKR Coach, OKR Institute, and OKR Management
The prerequisite for scaling OKRs organisation-wide is to have a successful pilot. And the requisite for scaling OKRs is to onboard everyone starting from the executive level until the first line of employees. The process must start with a formal announcement of implementing OKRs organisation-wide, stating the value it will bring to the organisation and seeking commitment from everyone. OKR coaches must be deployed to help teams to understand the framework and guide them through the implementation process. Cadences must be defined and followed by every team in a disciplined manner.
Brett Knowles, Global OKR Coach & Consultant
Here are some tips to aid you in implementing OKRs across large organisations:
- The OKRs should be clearly linked to that area's strategy and strategic priorities
- In the ideal world, you will have the opportunity of setting the OKRs at the corporate level before cascading them down or rolling them across the organisation. (In our experience, this occurs many times, but certainly not in all opportunities. Often an organisation will want to pilot OKRs in some portion of the organisation to test their value inside that organisation, and therefore you're not starting at the top of the organisation.)
- When you are not starting at the top of the organisation, work with the team to decipher their connection with the corporate level strategy. This interpretation will be the “ Northstar” for the scope of the organisation you're working on. (Note: there is nothing new here. The leadership team within that scope of your organisation is already responsible for interpreting the corporate strategy within their area. you merely need to capture that assessment.)
- Carefully set the boundaries to the area for which you are setting up the OKRs to protect yourself against scope creep. That said, it is critical to note that no Department ever works on their own, and as you Cascade or roll OKRs across the organisation you always need to consider cross-functional objectives and key results
- Involvement is critical, especially with respect to the previous point - make sure you have participation from the closely associated areas
- As you build each area, maintain both a document with that organisations “OKR Best Practices (guidelines)” and a data dictionary so that where common KRs are required, everyone is pulling from the same source
- Establish three internal Community of Practice that caters to the three levels of participation: Managers, Champions, and Users
- Communicate, communicate, communicate
Walter G Ferrer, Transformation Expert
- Always Train from the top (i.e., Board, C-suite, and so on), over-communicate to ensure transparency, and ensure leaders state their commitment and remain consistent on their OKR behaviours
- Build a community of practice/centre of excellence
- Understand your rockstar facilitators and change experts, turn them into OKR coaches, look at agile coaches for the skill profile. Enlist Chief of Staff/COOs
- Develop them through executive coaching programs independent of their tenure or seniority. They will be OUR NINJAS!
Ellen Duwe, OKR & Transformation Expert
- Implement OKRs from top to bottom. Start with one hierarchical level at a time. In a perfect world, management goes first in using transparent OKR goals to achieve high-level strategic goals. After 6 months or so, the level below management starts working with OKRs, and after another 6 months, the level below them. That way, you ensure higher levels of support for OKRs. And leaders actually know how OKRs work and are more likely to be able sparing partners for their teams
- If a top-down implementation is not the way to go at your organisation, scale OKRs along your customer journey by using OKR to work cross-functionally between Marketing and Sales, for example
- Plan time for teams to review and comment on the other teams’ OKR during the “drifting phase”
- Use a software solution that allows for company-wide transparency
Ronaldo Menezes, OKR & Agile Coach
- Make sure that top management is clear about the company's purpose and, based on this, build strategic pillars involving strategic representatives from each area and CEO
- Be clear about what problems OKRs will solve in your company
- Start by implementing OKRs in smaller areas and use lessons learned to create cases that can be used to disseminate OKRs in new areas
- Select and train HR Key users in the use and dissemination of OKRs with top management
Monica Batsleer, Senior Partner of OKR Matrix
We have been recommending some precautions which may have a big impact on the implementation of OKRs in Large Organisations. In the past, most companies implemented processes in a massive way, all at once to avoid different cultures and if I could at least cite 1 tip of what NOT to do, this would be it.
Yes, the decision can be corporate, but the implementation must consider subcultures, whether regional, business model, or existing practices. People need to understand OKR implementation as an evolutionary process to actively participate in it and have a clear understanding of the expected goals. The implementation process must be carried out in stages, preferably in layers, where heads and managers can act as multipliers and mentors as OKR permeates the company.
OKR must be adopted as an organisational process and not as a project: it must be incorporated into governance and connect with other strategic and people management processes. It must be clear that any changes require close monitoring by the Change Managers to accelerate the transformation and act on points of resistance or difficulty.