Improving OKR transparency & alignment - Expert advice
When you talk about OKRs, it's not uncommon for certain keywords, including transparency and alignment to swiftly follow. Transparency in the OKR process helps create dialogue and makes company objectives clear, and focusing on alignment creates a 360 view of business goals, eliminating siloed working and addressing shortcomings.
10 top tips for improving alignment & transparency - Tl;dr
- Some people can’t handle transparency until they have seen proof that it will be safe for them to be transparent
- Participation creates ownership
- Know who will be building on your work and who you are building on
- During the OKR cycle, use regular check-in meetings in a meaningful way, so that alignment between teams can still happen within a cycle
- One place (Excel, or a more fancy tool) where everyone in the company visualizes their OKRs
- Ensure that leaders and team members have the same understanding of “Why” and to “What end”
- Visibility is not the same thing as transparency. Transparency is achieved through well-defined objectives that tell every single person in the organisation and teams where is our focus and why
- Answering the questions "Why now?" and "Why these" should be an essential part of the OKR Definition
- Use OKR management platforms with a 360 view and full transparency
- Have your team participate in the drafting of KRs. Your Objectives may indeed be defined by the leadership team in a top-down manner. But if you really seek alignment and transparency, there’s nothing better than having people in charge of moving the needle
Richard Russell, OKR & Leadership Coach
Start with transparency, especially during the setting process. This is why it helps for teams to set OKRs over a common period of a week or two - it gives chance for people to align. Share OKRs widely, and embed them in conversations and communications. Discuss potential OKRs while meeting about future plans. Misalignment will be detected naturally as others set theirs and note conflicts or missing dependencies.
Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good though.
Some misalignment is unavoidable or too hard to sort out quickly, especially in a fast-growing or highly political organisation. Let it be, and give the organisation time to sort it out. OKRs will help bring attention to it, but misalignment is not a show-stopper.
Some people can’t handle transparency until they have seen proof that it will be safe for them to be transparent. Lead by example, and let the organisation and individuals adapt as they need.
Nikhil Maini, Global OKR Coach, OKR International
OKRs should be a social process. The best one can get from OKRs fundamentally comes from involving people across the board - especially whilst alignment is underway. You can get an overview of the existing OKR templates which are editable, these will help while forming OKRs for your organisation. Transparency and alignment feed into each other. When teams are transparent they will know where interdependencies are being called out and when teams are aligned - it's because of transparency. The solution is simple - ‘Participation creates ownership’
Allan Kelly, Agile OKR Coach & Author
Know the company purpose, mission, and strategy - and any missions or strategy more local to you. Ensure you can explain how each OKR contributes.
Know who will be building on your work and who you are building on. Have someone from your team talk to those people and understand expectations all round
When you have drafted your OKRs you might show them to stakeholders and get their feedback, be prepared to iterate but remember these are your team's OKRs, don’t blindly copy down what they say should be your goals
Nora Pfützenreuter, Agile Coach
Prior to the OKR planning phase, communicate the company's strategy and upcoming focus openly to everyone, so teams can align their goals easily and get an understanding of the bigger “why”. During the planning of the OKRs, foster transparency and alignment between teams for example via using a shared whiteboard (tool), having sharing and feedback sessions, or even cross-team collaboration. During the OKR cycle, use regular check-in meetings in a meaningful way, so that alignment between teams can still happen within a cycle.
Andreea Havrișciuc, OKR Coach
Transparency & alignment are so obviously needed and expected that we tend to overlook them when we first implement OKRs.
To make sure we put the right focus in the beginning, I like to apply one of the five core properties of Kanban that establish a stable flow of work - make the process explicit.
What does this look like for the first OKR cycle?
Make transparency & alignment explicit!
- Have your own SPOC
- One place (Excel, or a more fancy tool) where everyone in the company visualizes their OKRs.
- Have meetings called exactly like that, "Alignment", to better shape the importance of aligning and to create the time and space for your teams to actually align. Over time, this approach will be absorbed and will happen implicitly based on needs.
- Educate. Educate. Educate. - patiently explain why radical transparency, why is important to make our work visible, what risks we minimize when having a proper alignment, why we want transparency & alignment embedded in our culture
- Always lead by example - if you want transparency, show transparency, starting with the board & leadership OKRs
Wear your OKRs on your sleeve!
Ellen Duwe, OKR Coach
The short answer is: improve transparency by being transparent about everything that isn't.
In other words:
Transparency and alignment during the first OKR cycle can be improved by creating a common ground on which the team’s OKR practice can grow.
Following are a few of my top tips:
- Ensure that leaders and team members have the same understanding of “Why” and to “What end” they’re working with OKR
- Be clear on the priority of OKR goals in relation to other commitments, especially “short notice tasks”
- Check if the OKR team can in fact influence the achievement of the annual goals / Goals they’re working toward. If their influence is not clear, take extra time to define the aspects of the Goal that the team can focus their OKR on
- Enable OKR teams to make decisions on their own - define the areas they can decide on
- Block 1 hour per week for the OKR team to come together and discuss their progress on the OKR goals
Madeleine Silva, OKR Coach & Trainer
During setting and creating OKR, we should plan two meetings that promote transparency and alignment.
The first meeting is to receive feedback on the corporate OKR that we've just created. In order to get insight from the other teams, it might help to receive any improvement and also help the team to feel heard.
After we draft our team OKR, it's important to have a meeting where each team leader presents the OKR in order to promote alignment and understand how they connect to each other.
Sienam Lulla, OKR Coach, OKR Edge
The trick to achieving transparency and alignment is simple - start with a single OKR for the company and each team. A limited set of OKRs on a single tool, visible to all, makes it quicker to plan, align and execute.
Take the time away from writing too many OKRs and redirect that effort into the objective wording. Visibility is not the same thing as transparency. Transparency is achieved through well-defined objectives that tell every single person in the organisation and teams where is our focus and why.
The tool in question should ideally be one that everyone has been comfortable using before. It should enable visibility of real-time edits and persistent asynchronous communication. Agree on it as the ONE. Nothing is worse than one team capturing OKRs on PowerPoint, another on email, and another on a spreadsheet and then everyone spending countless hours connecting the dots.
Teams should be spending less time trying to learn and navigate OKRs, and more time on building the critical 360 alignment muscle.
Natalija Hellesoe, Organisational Dev Coach & OKR Expert
No matter if you are in your first OKR cycle or your 20th - to improve alignment and transparency, it is crucial to have a shared understanding of why you are choosing the OKRs you have prioritised, how these contribute to the long-term goals, and why they matter in relation to the current situation. So basically answering the questions "Why now?" and "Why these" should be an essential part of the OKR Definition and the communication/alignment afterward.
Another important aspect to improve alignment is to make sure that ACTUAL conversations happen - so refrain from just sharing your OKRs and instead have a discussion about them. Don't just publish the results, but talk about them and the story behind the decisions with your colleagues. And invite feedback from different perspectives!
Tomek Dabrowski, OKR & Agile Coach
OKR is not only about the way you structure a goal. OKR is a process behind too. This process is the thing you should be focusing on to bring transparency. It is crucial to agree on your heartbeat for OKRs at the beginning. Having regular check-ins with teams and leaders is a must if you want to be aligned.
Felix Handler, OKR & Sustainability Coach
Start with few(er) goals in the beginning and learn together around those. Also, operations and IT can ask themselves how they can pay into it or empower/enable (other) teams to better pay into those. E.g. do an impact analysis.
Monica Batsleer, Senior Partner of OKR Matrix
Alignment and transparency are some of the main achievements when implementing OKRs respecting some precautions from the beginning and can be reached from the first actions:
- During the setting phase, ensure the participation of all stakeholders who will be responsible for OKRs, allowing everyone to be represented and to bring their vision into the definition of strategic OKRs
- Create and use exchanges forums for the definition of OKRs for each cycle
- Ensure that transparency and alignment are basic premises to be adopted throughout the Governance of the Management Model using OKRs
- Use OKRs to communicate the organisation's strategy and which OKRs should be pursued in each cycle
- Use OKR management platforms with a 360 view and full transparency
- Maintain the discipline of check-in meetings and cycle turn rituals, and communication
Christina Lange, OKR Coach & Speaker
Be bold and speak about it even at a very early stage. Hiding the learnings and experience e.g. a pilot entity made could lead to rumours and resistance. Instead: make it public. Even if just a few teams are participating, give others who are curious the possibility to join e.g. the alignment meeting as an observer.
Cansel Sörgens, OKR Coach & Trainer
I believe the visionary and strategic alignment needs to be settled before the OKR cycle starts. An agreement on a mid-term goal, and strategic focus for the next 12-18 months, including the mid-term impact metrics (Business KPIs) is IMO an essential prerequisite for healthy OKRs. Every team has great ideas but to which ones will they say yes and no, depends on the visionary and strategic alignment. So a workshop to define the mid-term goal/strategy is my first step actually. Then, after all the teams have defined their OKRs based on that mid-term goal, I facilitate an Alignment Workshop, where teams can listen and give feedback to each other. In this workshop, teams can identify dependencies, duplicates, and synergies.
Elie Casamitjana, Founder & CEO, OKRmentors
One of OKRs main benefits is to help organisations align on what the strategy is and associated key priorities to focus on. In practice, it is done in various ways: OKRs give clarity and where the organisation wants to go, and how it defines success. The first step is to make them known and understood by everyone. Usually, it comes from top leadership explaining the Why, What & How and introducing OKRs to the organisation. Then, let the teams define their own OKRs as contributions to the organisation’s OKR.
This will help build consistency in the action plan of every team involved and improve alignment. When creating their OKRs, teams can share OKRs so they work together on certain outcomes. Eventually, foresee some discussions to have vertical and horizontal alignment. Then, to bring transparency & nurture alignment, various tools and actions are recommended during the cycle. First, make OKRs of everyone available for everyone. There, OKR softwares can be good. Else (especially for small organisations) a shared document can also work. And last but not least, communication, communication, and again communication. Leverage all existing communication channels to get people engaged with OKR. CEO emails, Town halls, Department getaways, Dedicated slack channel, etc.
Thomaz Ribas, OKR Trainer
Many organisations use their org chart as a structure to create OKRs, since working in silos is the way they have worked for years. That can be a trap against transparency and alignment. Before answering “What are my team/department OKRs?”, there is a more important question to be answered:
“What are the company OKRs, and who needs to work together to achieve those?”
Foster cross-team communication while answering the above question, and ask yourself: “Who depends on me and on whom do I depend?”
Carsten Ley, OKR Coach
The teams should develop OKRs in workshops (functional or cross-functional) and use common documentation (OKR tool or shared excel) and transparent communication (group chat) to have everybody onboard anytime.
Bart Den Haak, OKR Consultant & OKR Author
The first OKR cycle is for learning. Don’t expect things to go smoothly. One important thing is to be transparent about your progress. Here are some tips:
- Communicate your OKR progress broadly
- Update your stakeholders once per week via email or slack
- Indicate progress and your current obstacles. If you don’t make any progress, also report that
- Don’t delete stale KRs. Keep them for learning. Creating new ones is fine
- Invite your managers to your weekly check-ins. Check-ins are an open event for everybody with an interest in what you do
- As leaders, communicate progress on your company OKRs once per month
Jean-Luc Koning, OKR & Systemic Coach
Two things come to mind.
First, have your team participate in the drafting of KRs. Your Objectives may indeed be defined by the leadership team in a top-down manner. But if you really seek alignment and transparency, there’s nothing better than having people in charge of moving the needle (ultimately the ones accountable for the actions that will help progress towards the KRs) contribute to the definition of the KRs themselves. Drafting KRs is a bottom-up endeavour.
Second, make your OKRs easily accessible to anyone. They should live in a place where you can go to with a single click. Besides, publish your OKRs and track their progression in a way it is simple for everyone to see and interpret how things are developing. Are we moving in the right direction? Can one be confident we are going to reach our target by the end of the cycle? Don’t hesitate to make use of very simple visuals to materialise answers to those questions. Why not use a red-green-yellow colour convention or a progression bar. Don’t get caught up in a too “advanced” tool that features all the bells and whistles but where it’s rather cumbersome at best to get a clear picture of where we’re at.
Brett Knowles, Global OKR Coach & Consultant
Transparency and alignment are one of the core covenants and key success factors for OKRs. Here are some tricks to build this in early and maintain it:
- Begin practicing alignment and transparency early and throughout the process. For example, when you are creating your areas OKRs run a “ show and tell” meeting in which you invite all areas of your organisation so that they can see what your objectives are and you can reach agreements with them around where you need support from them and they need support from you.
- Use the above point to create service level agreements - or better yet shared objectives and or key results to ensure transparency and Partnerships going forward
- Implement your OKRs in a system that allows complete access and transparency ( except for those few private OKRs) so that people can see the entire organisation performance and interpret for themselves the implication in their areas
- Invite a full scope of people to your OKR Performance Meetings so that they can observe and participate as required/ desired.
Walter G Ferrer, Transformation Expert
Collaboration tools like Slack offer channels to amplify engagement. Provide an “anonymous Hotline” and recognise human nature prevents questions at times based on how it may be perceived. Make them feel secure, and comfortable with not knowing the cultural impacts of OKR, techniques to translate the abstract to meaningful terms, etc.
Ronaldo Menezes, OKR Coach
Create a secure environment for your team to feel secure, and safe to collaborate and express their opinions without judgments. Be a good listener and use the fails to learn, this will help you to improve transparency when you talk about OKRs.
Another thing that can help you here, is to talk about confidence level (how confident the team feel to achieve the OKR?) instead percent progress when you talk about your OKR progress during OKR checkins.
Share your OKRs in a place where everyone can easily see them and try to mention them in meetings that are already part of the team's routine. For example, reviewing your OKRs at Sprint Review meetings can be a good start to verifying that a sprint's deliverables align with one or more OKRs. This will help to create a new behaviour in your team too!
Keep things simple! Start with a few OKRs, one per team is a good start for the first cycles.