Bottom-up OKRs: What are some examples?

Bottom-up OKRs: What are some examples?

by Bruce Gil


Published on 09.07.2019

Cascading goals from the top-down align teams but over-alignment can stifle creativity and individual motivation. Organizations need to find a balance between collective commitment and creative freedom. This is where bottom-up OKRs come in.

Since OKRs are transparent throughout an organization, they don’t all have to strictly flow down an organizational chart layer by layer. OKRs can skip some layers for efficiency, going from a CEO straight to a manager or individual contributor.

In organizations, like Google, where enough trust has been built between management and employers, high-level company OKRs can be presented by the company’s leadership once and the rest of the organization is free to set their own OKRs. With this approach, individuals are not spending time waiting for the layers above them in the organizational chart to set their OKRs first.

Former Google Head of People Operations Laszlo Bock explains how that works in his book, "Work Rules!" “We have a market-based approach, where over time our goals all converge because the top OKRs are known and everyone else’s OKRs are visible. Teams that are grossly out of alignment standout.”

The transparent nature of OKRs prevents employees from siloing themselves from the rest of the organization while still providing flexibility for them to decide how to best do the work.

Healthy organizations aim to have half of their goals come from the bottom-up. In practice, that means every contributor is free to set some of their objectives and most importantly all of their key results. This increases engagement and motivation at all levels, which in turn increases performance and your company’s bottom line.

According to a 2018 Gallup survey, U.S. work engagement is on the rise, but 53 percent of workers still fall into the not engaged category. Unengaged works typically do the minimum work required and are willing to leave their company for a slightly better offer. Data also shows that “organizations that are the best in engaging their employees to achieve earnings-per-share growth that is more than four times that of their competitors.”

Another byproduct of bottom-up OKRs is innovation, which starts on the ground. Those working closely with the people who are actually building your products and providing services directly to your customers will have a better feel for upcoming shifts and trends in the industry. Or as John Doerr says, “those closest to the problems,” are better able to understand them.

You only have to look at Google’s “20 percent time” rule, that frees engineers to work on side projects for the equivalent of one work day per week, to see how bottom-up OKRs can result in innovation. Game-changing services like Gmail originated as 20 percent time projects.

In "Measure What Matters", John Doerr uses the example of the fictional Sand Hill Unicorns Football Team, whose top-level OKR is to win the Super Bowl, to explain bottom-up OKRs. In the example, the team’s physical therapist learns of a new regimen at a sports medicine conference and makes the implementation of the new therapy one of her own OKRs. Although this goal does not directly align with the team’s top-level OKR, it does contribute to its overall objective.

Bottom-up OKR examples

Let’s revisit the car dealership form our previous cascading OKR example, whose top-level objective is to become the leading electric car dealership in the region. A service technician at the dealership hears that other dealerships in the nation are starting to offer mobile servicing. So, the technician comes up with the following OKR:

O: Run a month-long mobile servicing pilot

  • KR1: Provide mobile servicing for 50 customers

  • KR2: Survey all customers in the pilot

  • KR3: Present plan to expand mobile servicing operations

Now imagine a media start-up whose top-level objective is to operate like a top-tier media company. A social media editor at the media start-up is the first to realize that a new video-based platform is generating double the web traffic than other marketing campaigns. So, the editor sets the following OKR:

O: Launch campaign on a new social media platform

  • KR1: Schedule 2 posts per day

  • KR2: Test posts for audience reach and engagement

  • KR3: Gain 1000 new followers by end of the month

Where can I get more information?

The OKR goal-setting system enables companies to stay on track in reaching their top priorities without micromanaging their employees. Bottom-up OKRs will foster engagement and innovation inside your organization. Try them out and let us know how it goes by emailing us here. You can also learn more about OKRs by reading Measure What Matters or exploring more FAQs, Stories, and Resources right here at WhatMatters.com.

Or, if you are looking for an OKR coach, check this out.

Bruce Gil (@brucgl) is a Las Vegas-based writer and journalist who writes about  leadership, team management, and international entrepreneurship. 


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Get exclusive guidance from John, Ryan, and the What Matters team by signing up for our weekly newsletter, Audacious. You’ll learn week-by-week how to sharpen your OKRs and stay on track to reach your goals.