How Leaders Can Make OKRs Easier

Some hints: strategy, access, autonomy, transparency…

Hey folks, 

I get it. OKRs are hard. I hear it all the time, and trust me, writing a book about them, I really do know: They are not easy to implement. But it’s like Teddy Roosevelt once said: “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort…” Thankfully, though, there are real, tangible ways leaders can make them easier. As a follow-up to my recent blog post on the difficulty of implementing OKRs, this week I’m talking about the things leaders can do to pave the way.

I’m also getting a little skiing in over the weekend. If anyone has tips on making black diamonds easier, please send them my way.

- Jeff

P.S. Josh Seiden and I hold Office Hours for folks in our OKR book launch group. We’ve had some pretty great discussions, and they’ve informed several pieces of our book already. Join the fun here.

Article: How Leaders Can Make OKRs Easier

A few weeks ago on my blog, I wrote about OKRs being a simple concept but difficult to implement. My guess is, you’ve experienced this first-hand. Setting goals, as I pointed out, should be hard. It’s how we align the team and ensure we’re all pulling in the same direction. While there should be some friction in getting these goals set (correctly), executives can do several things to make the process easier. 

In this post I delve into five of those things in the hopes that, together in collaboration with your stakeholders, you can focus on your customers and set the goals that best serve their needs. Let’s dive in.

1. Define and share a clear strategic direction.

First and foremost, leaders need to set the strategy. That strategy needs to be defined clearly and in a way that everyone in the company understands. Part of that means sharing the strategy regularly and making it easy to access as needed. Everyone in the organization needs to understand what’s important in the next 6-12 months. 

This relatively simple task (the communication part of it anyway) is crucial for helping teams understand where they should focus their time and resources. It also helps them prioritize which parts of their work they’ll do now and which they can defer to a later date. 

Strategy doesn’t need to be lengthy or verbose. In fact, the more concise your strategy is, the easier it will be for teams to understand.

2. Define and share organizational OKRs.

Once the strategy is set, leaders also need to define and share the organization’s high-level objectives and key results. How will you know the strategy is being achieved? What are each business unit’s goals? The company’s? Teams have to know which lagging indicators their work needs to influence. 

At the organizational level, these could be the standard impact metrics (or KPIs) the company already uses—revenue, sales, profit, etc. They need to be unambiguous and include numbers. Again, this allows teams to narrow down which parts of their work make the most sense to optimize now and which ones they should focus on later. In addition, it gives teams a better sense of which of the customer behaviors their work influences will make a difference to the organization’s high-level OKRs.

3. Make access to data the path of least resistance.

Speaking of leading and lagging indicators, teams need to be able to research and learn which customer behaviors drive other behaviors. One of the simplest ways to do that is by going through the company’s analytics and reporting tools. For some reason, many companies make these hard to access. As a leader it’s your responsibility to make data accessible and easy to use. The more teams can see what’s happening with their products and services—in conjunction with the high-level OKRs—the better they can choose which customer behaviors make the most sense to work on right now.

4. Let teams set their own OKRs.

Leaders, resist the urge to give your teams their goals. Let them decide on their goals for themselves, based on the information you share with them (see the points above). Teams have more energy and passion for their work and are far more motivated to achieve goals when they’ve set their own. That doesn’t mean you don’t get to advise or adjust those goals. But they should bring you their OKR proposals first, along with a compelling story as to why those OKRs are the important ones to work on.

If you want to make this an easy conversation for your teams, ask them to answer these questions:

  • What is your team’s main objective for the next cycle?

  • What are the key results you’ve selected for that objective?

  • How do those OKRs help drive the high-level OKRs we’ve set for the next cycle?

Your team should be able to tell you that by “increasing [X behavior the team can control], we know based on last quarter’s analytics that we should see an increase in [y high-level behavior the company set as a goal].” Your teams should come with the data to back that up.

5. Provide transparent reasons for any goal adjustments.

If you do need to adjust your teams’ goals, be transparent about why you’re doing it. It’s not enough to say, “That’s wrong, do this instead.” Explain why and how the goals the team has chosen don’t line up with your strategic priorities—or perhaps they do, but there are other, more impactful metrics (or problems to solve) they could work towards. In all cases, if your reasons are transparent, the team will then understand both why their goals changed and what you define as success, which will in turn help them set more effective, suitable OKRs the next time.

Teams are going to struggle to set good OKRs, especially the first few times they try. Make their experience a bit easier with these steps. You should see both more precise, pertinent OKRs and faster turnaround on the whole goal-setting process.

What I've been up to

January has been all about the new book about OKRs I’m writing with Josh Seiden. We expect to have Who Does What by How Much? out to market by April 15. We’re excited to get this practical OKR guide into your hands.

Currently, we’re finalizing our case studies and the 2nd draft of the manuscript. It’s shaping up nicely. If you want to be an early reader, join our LinkedIn group, where we post draft material. 

I’m also excited about some new products we’re getting ready to share with you in the next few weeks as well as the prospect of a couple of new partnerships that should get our work into the hands of a lot of new, interesting and diverse clients. As always, if you want to work together, just reach out or head over to to see how we can work together.

Watch, Listen, Read

Watch: Killers of the Flower Moon (Apple TV+) – Look, I watched it. It’s long. It’s harsh and it won’t make you feel good about anything. I understand that these stories need to be told, but you should not expect to come out of the movie excited or content.

Listen: Khruangbin – Huh? Yep. This psychedelic, groovy trio is all the rage, and I’ve been on the Khruangbin train for a while now. A drummer like a metronome, a groovy bass player and a guitarist who seems to do it all at the same time. It’s good any time of the day.

Read: Determined: A Science of Life Without Free Will by Robert Sapolsky – This is a deeply scientific and nerdy book arguing that you are the sum total of everything that came before you and, therefore, you only imagine you have free will. It’s heavy and it’ll make you think, and you’ll learn a lot of neuroscience along the way. Grab a copy. 

What’s new on the blog

OKRs and AI – It’s undeniable that AI I is changing the way we interact with and develop digital products and services. Right now, it’s the “shiny object” executives are dropping into backlogs. So, how do we reconcile the demand for AI features (i.e., output) with our OKR goals? No matter what, they still need to solve problems for your customers (i.e., drive outcomes). Learn how to make AI implementation realistic for your team in this blog.

What People Say vs. What They Do – We never plan to make mistakes or disappoint people in the future. We plan to do the thing we say we’re going to do. I’ll eat a healthy smoothie for breakfast. But then morning comes, it’s rainy and cold, and making some warm pancakes sounds much better. Your customers do this too. Maybe they tell you they’ll use your product, but when push comes to shove—for whatever reason—they don’t. How can you mitigate that? Check out this week’s blog.

Interested in working together? Please reach out. 
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