That’s why many companies have turned to OKRs not just as a tool for setting goals, but as a way of encouraging employee engagement.
How OKRs Can Help
Designed as a goal-setting system, OKRs ensure transparent decision-making and can show employees how the work they do every day contributes to a larger goal. They align company-level goals with team and personal goals, breaking them down into manageable tasks. Done correctly, OKRs help to focus everyone’s efforts towards the goals that matter the most.
OKRs can be broken into two parts. First are objectives, larger moonshot goals designed to motivate your teams to strive for bigger and better results. They should be qualitative and aspirational. The second type are key results which are smaller, quantifiable steps to take to reach the objectives. Both should be aligned with the company’s values and open to all. Invite your employees to participate in setting OKRs - they’ll feel included and it will help engagement.
Here are four ways OKRs keep teams aligned and engaged throughout the year.
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1. They give employees a sense of purpose.
One of the biggest motivation killers is not knowing what you’re striving so hard for at work. Employees who are just completing tasks as they are assigned, without understanding what these tasks are for or how they fit into the overarching plan, are more likely to be detached and perfunctory.
On the other hand, motivated employees understand what they’re working towards and that their work matters to the organization. They feel more connected to the company and confident that they’re contributing. That’s why linking work with individual projects and company goals will help give your team context as well as a sense of purpose.
However, linking work to larger goals isn’t easy to do on your own. OKRs cut that barrier by linking output, smaller tasks like key results, to outcomes, or larger objectives that drive company goals, and doing it in a way that is visible and easy to understand. The very structure of OKRs ensures that each objective is supported by at least three to five key results, which are in turn broken into smaller tasks. This is what we refer to as an OKR hierarchy.
Tip: If you or your team are having trouble visualizing the hierarchy, consider using an OKR management tool that can show employees how company objectives break down into team objectives and tasks.
Here is a screenshot from OKR for Jira, which can also incorporate Jira tasks into the hierarchy, making it even easier to keep your goals top of mind. A hierarchy like this can show which key results belong to what objective, and who’s responsible for each.
2. They keep things transparent.
Just like how it’s important to show your team how their work contributes to bigger goals, it’s crucial to be equally transparent in tracking your goals. One of the biggest issues with team goals is that team members get confused over what goals have been set or forget them altogether. That adds on to your responsibilities and forces managers to have to constantly remind their team members of what needs to be done.
When setting OKRs, ensure that all teams (and members within each team) have access to all the goals set for the cycle at any time. You should also clearly display who has been assigned to each task. This keeps things transparent and avoids questions like “What were the goals for this cycle again?” and “Have we been making much progress?”
It’s also helpful to put a progress chart somewhere visible. Some companies flash up a progress chart during town halls or monthly meetings but it’s more transparent to always have one available.
A cloud-based app with a shared dashboard (such as the one pictured in the screenshot above) is a great choice for monitoring your OKRs. An app will also allow the team to input progress updates and track it themselves.
3. They’re a great source of information.
According to Forbes, 89% of human resource leaders agreed that ongoing peer feedback and check-ins are key for successful outcomes. Feedback is a great way to understand how your team is doing and it also leaves the door open for them to voice any concerns.
Every OKR cycle ends with a review meeting among the team to assess the progress made. Such reviews are a good time to recognize contributions from the team, and an opportunity to encourage employees to speak up and offer insights on the progress so far. Alternatively, if the team has had trouble fulfilling an objective, ask why and what can be done to help them deliver. During these meetings, check if the team is still facing the same issues as before – a lack of awareness of goals, poor team collaboration, etc. If not, this means that the team has adjusted to the new system and that the OKRs are working well.
You can also use the OKRs themselves as a source of information. Be on the lookout for recurring blockers faced by the team or stalled initiatives. Dig into the why and use those answers as a base for what to do, what to avoid and where to support when you set your next goals.
Tip: To dig into the ‘why’, you need to ask the right questions. Here are some to get you started.
What went smoothly?
What were our best qualities?
What worked well? What can we do even better?
What, where and when did things go wrong? Can you think of why?
What have we learned?
Was there a different approach that we could have taken?
What was the most difficult challenge you faced? How did you overcome it?
Did you need any additional support? Is this something you foresee will be needed in the future?
4. They get people involved.
Engaged employees agree with and understand their company’s objectives and goals. They’re motivated and eager to work. But what happens next?
Motivated employees will look for ways to participate in company activities and culture. They’ll want to be involved in company decisions. Let them. Involved employees are direct participants; they’ll help you meet objectives by solving problems and making decisions through their own ideas and expertise. Involved employees are also much more inclined to support ideas that they’ve had a role in creating. They’re also more likely to take responsibility for an idea that they’ve proposed or one they strongly believe in.
But how can you get your employees involved in setting goals? This is where OKRs come in. OKRs are designed to be collaborative and work best with a bi-directional approach, meaning that while management sets strategic objectives, teams get to break those high-level goals down into their own tactical OKRs. This helps keep teams focused on a common goal while allowing employees the autonomy to decide how they can best get there.
Tip: If this is your first time using OKRs, here are some best practices to help you on your way and make the most out of OKRs.
Be clear and concise when setting OKRs. The best OKRs are clear, simple and achievable. Make sure that each objective and key result fits into one line and use numbers where possible to quantify your goals. Here are more tips on how to write great OKRs.
Stick to a limited number of OKRs each cycle. We recommend three to five objectives with up to five key results each.
Put a progress chart where your team can see it; it’ll help keep your goals top of mind.
Review and grade your goals regularly. A short 15-to-30-minute review each week with the team will help you get good feedback and monitor for any blockers that may occur.
Don’t rely on OKRs alone for employee appraisal. OKRs should be used together with other evaluation tools such as Jira metrics and workplace behavior when managing team performance.
Consider running a pilot project first with a select team. This will give you a chance to try out different methods and see which works best for your team.
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Adopt OKRs Today
Engagement is about nurturing and protecting your human capital. Engaged employees are connected, aligned, and motivated to do their best for the company and your goals. Ultimately, engaged employees will create an environment that attracts new amazing talent to your company.
However, it isn’t easy to implement OKR methodology without help. If you feel like you need more visibility on the OKRs or your team’s data, consider using a goal management platform. The right software will make it easier for team leaders to handle reporting and deliver feedback to their members.
Weronika Spaleniak is the Product Lead at Digital Toucan, an Atlassian app vendor dedicated to creating apps that bring data to life for agile teams. As a huge fan of agile and feedback culture, she believes that to build the best product, you need to be willing to listen (especially to your customers), always be seeking opportunities to break the barrier and take necessary risks.