The ultimate OKRs guide - how to use them in a pandemic

The ultimate OKRs guide - how to use them in a pandemic

COVID-19 continues to place unprecedented pressure on many businesses across all industries. With uncertainty across all areas of our daily lives, consumers and end users are less visible and more risk averse than ever. There’s also increasing uncertainty about the future of commerce, so the outlook is bleak for many. 

But all's not lost in the world of business! Many companies are using this time of change as an opportunity to pivot, transform or adopt new ways of working. Countless employees have transitioned to remote working and found, to their surprise, that they’re happier and more productive than ever. Businesses with a digital presence are most likely to succeed amid the challenges, especially those who are agile and able to adapt to constant changes.

There’s a shared secret between many companies who are thriving despite the COVID-19 pandemic and it focuses on three simple letters: O-K-R.

OKRs vs. COVID-19

Many of our existing clients were unsure about exactly how OKRs could help them when they first approached us. Some had tried an OKRs approach before and found that it didn’t yield the results they had hoped for. Others understood the theory of OKRs, but had little experience of how to implement and sustain them in practice. 

With the pandemic forcing offices to shut and businesses to go remote, teams needed transparency more than ever, but clients told us that they didn’t know how OKRs could help them achieve this.

So, we guided them through the process of understanding and implementing OKRs into their businesses. We shared insight into the common challenges and pitfalls many organisations face when trying to move to an OKRs framework. And, we showcased examples of how other like-minded companies had made the transition and what worked for them.

OKRs help businesses become:

  • More transparent
  • Better aligned across teams and functions
  • Less focused on meetings
  • More focused on outcomes vs output
  • More efficient and collaborative

In fact, those companies who had implemented OKRs into their workflow prior to COVID-19 have been better equipped than most to adapt to remote working and the pressures of the pandemic.

This is why we’ve put together our ultimate guide to OKRs in a post-pandemic world. We want to help organisations to use OKRs so they can work better, smarter and more successfully amid the challenges of COVID-19.

How to implement OKRs successfully

Implementing OKRs can be a challenge

1. Start with finding an OKR “owner”

OKR owners

Who’s going to own your OKRs journey? This is the very first decision you’ll need to make if you want to implement OKRs successfully. Someone in the business needs to be a driving force behind the transition to an OKRs approach. 

They should understand why OKRs matter, how to implement them successfully and how to manage processes and reporting linked to the framework. They’ll be clear on what needs to be done to make sure that OKRs become an inherent part of every team’s identity. Visibility will be key to them and they’ll facilitate collaboration and transparency between teams and functions.

If you’re a business leader looking to implement OKRs, you’ll need to appoint and work closely with an OKR “owner” who has the capacity to undertake management of the software. They’ll need your support to effect the cultural and operational change needed to make your transition a success. 

This OKR owner will be a lynchpin between teams; coordinating training and support for employees as they get to grips with this new approach, being accountable for regular status reports and giving gentle nudges to teams when it’s time to update their progress against Initiatives. Ownership is the first step towards successful OKRs implementation. 

2. Pilot OKRs in a small part of your business

Pilot OKRs

Pick a team within your company. They should be progressive, reasonably tech savvy and up for change. This team will become your OKRs test team in the short-term. 

Your OKR owner will work closely with the test team to help them understand why OKRs are important.They’ll educate and train them on the software, methodology and objectives related to an OKRs approach. Product and technology teams tend to possess skills and mindsets that are ripe for OKR trial runs, so they’re a good place to begin.

As your test team begins to get more familiar with OKRs, they’ll be able to trial the framework on a small scale with real objectives. First, they’ll need visibility of your company goals (so as a business leader, you’ll need to share these with the team). Then, they’ll define Objectives and Key Results that are linked to these in the context of their team’s function/purpose. They’ll also come up with small scale Initiatives (mini tests) to help them achieve each Key Result. 

As they test out OKRs in practice, they’ll see the value OKRs deliver first-hand. The team may begin to scale out the OKRs approach to more areas and start sharing their insights and experience with other teams. 

If everything goes well, your test team will have become a group of OKRs ambassadors with proven experience of using OKR software to help achieve your company goals. You’ll then be ready to scale out the OKRs approach to the wider business.

3. Ensure teams have autonomy with OKRs

OKR autonomy

If yours is a hierarchical business, you’re going to need to throw some of that structure out of the window. The real value of OKRs is that teams have the autonomy to set and manage them on their own. Whilst it’s critical that senior leaders support and encourage teams as they set their OKRs, this is not the same as micro-managing them. 

This spirit of autonomy will need to flow from the top down - so mindset change is a critical first step before you try to implement OKRs into your business. If your senior leaders buy into this and they’re able to take a step back and allow their workforce to try (and fail) without fear, you’ll have a far greater chance of succeeding in implementing OKRs and seeing better outcomes.

4. You won't get it right first time, don't worry!

OKR learning

A big mistake many companies make when implementing OKRs into their business is to expect success straight away. This is a recipe for disappointment and isn’t realistic for even the most progressive and advanced teams. 

It’s also particularly unrealistic to expect overnight success given the current pandemic, where many teams are working remotely and businesses are coping with significant change already.

Implementing OKRs requires patience and optimism in the short-term - test, fail, learn and do it better next time. If you repeat this cycle, you’ll learn quickly and begin to fail less. 

Don’t give up! When OKRs become embedded in your inherent ways of working and processes, they’ll become second nature and the value will follow.

Your commitment to implementing OKRs will be worth the effort and will have a positive impact on your business. OKRs are ideal if you value transparency, alignment and efficiency, at a time where businesses are under more pressure than ever.  

5. OKRs can be deceptively hard in practice, and that's ok!

OKR confusion

So, all of this sounds great in theory, but how does it work in practice?  Here’s an example OKR showing how a product team for a large retail company might respond to the COVID-19 pandemic…

Company Strategy

A company will have many longer-term goals they want to achieve. Here's one that's relevant today:

  • Increase profitability by 5% by end of FY21.
    As many retailers have experienced, we've seen that COVID-19 has caused our customers to begin purchasing exclusively online. Our retail company has historically catered predominantly to offline customers and our online offering is limited. This is causing us to lose sales and revenue as our users move to online competitors instead.
Objective

An Objective related to the Company Strategy that the Product Team might tackle:

  • Launch an online marketplace in 2020.
Key Results

This Objective might be measured using the following mix of Key Results and KPIs:

  1. Increase website traffic by 20%.
  2. Keep cost per acquisition below £10.
  3. 10% conversion rate for online marketplace by end of Q4 2020.
Initiatives

Initiatives can be used to help teams achieve their OKRs. If we looked at Key Result #3:

  1. Conduct a consumer research study to identify gaps in competitor offerings.
  2. Build a simple prototype to outline ideal user journey.
  3. Present prototype to stakeholder group to obtain feedback/buy-in.
  4. Test prototype with real users.
  5. Create v1 MVP of ‘add to basket’ functionality based on prototype feedback.

In this way, the team now has a clear first step (Objective) that will help them support the company’s Strategy of increasing profitability. They know what they need to do to get there and can now begin to allocate tasks and roles that align to their Objective.

Usually, a team should aim to prioritise a maximum of three Objectives. Any more than that and the project becomes too large, too risk heavy and too likely to fail.

6. Using OKR software can make it easier to manage

OKR software

OKR software is the simplest and most effective way to manage your OKRs. At Just3Things, we’ve evolved our OKRs software based on real users’ needs. We’ve proven the value of the system and work closely with our clients to train and support them.

There are alternatives to using dedicated OKR software. Even a spreadsheet can give you great results. However, dedicated software can help manage your data in ways that can be quite labour intensive in a spreadsheet.

Whichever solution you choose, this will provide great transparency across your organisation as anyone can see the intentions of any team and their progress against OKRs in real-time. Fewer meetings and more visibility mean better efficiency for your business.

For advice beyond these tips get in touch!

In light of COVID-19, we’re able to on-board, train and support our clients remotely. We’ve got case studies, OKR guides and expertise to help you get the very best from your OKR software and implement this proven way of working into your existing projects and operational processes. 

Our approach centres on minimal risk, an agile ‘test and learn’ integration and ongoing education about why OKRs matter and how to integrate them successfully. 

We’d love to chat to you and understand the challenges that COVID-19 is placing on your business. OKRs can do more than keep your business afloat during these trying times - they can help you to thrive.

We have free, no-commitment remote demos of our OKRs software, so let’s begin the journey to improving transparency, alignment and efficiency within your business.

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