Dear Andy,

I’m slowly wrapping my head around OKRs and excited to think in Objectives rather than tasks. As I try to imagine rolling this out in my organization, I’m struggling with how to embed the “why this OKR matters” within the OKR. Everyone understands why the Objective is important — but they don’t understand why it’s more important than all the other things we need to do. Any suggestions of how I keep our OKRs short & sweet, but include some explanation for why this needs to be our priority for the next quarter?



Hi Mari!

Thanks for writing in and for such a thoughtful question.

OKRs are, by definition, the most important thing your team needs to get done, so if there’s any confusion in that arena, you are definitely wise in addressing it from the get-go.

Say you’ve decided you need to focus on expanding into a new market this quarter, rather than optimizing your current one. The expansion numbers may, of course, look slower than those of your current market, so a bit of confusion, or even pushback, from the team for making them a priority is common. This is when communicating the context of your decisions becomes so important. You know why you choose this priority instead of countless others — you will see much higher rates of success if your team understands, too. So take the time to get everyone on board when you announce the topline OKR. This could be in an email, a presentation, or any other method you think would work.

Some teams find it helpful to include an alignment statement, detailing how this current set of OKRs will impact the company’s longer-term strategy. Our friends over at Possible Heath were kind enough to share an example alignment statement with us.

Once you’ve got your OKRs up and running, there are a few things you can do to stay aligned.

1 - Start each meeting with an OKR check-in. It doesn’t need to be a super lengthy exercise — a quick temperature check is fine. If your KRs are progressing quickly enough, you’ll move into the rest of the meeting. If they’re not, you’ll have time to address your top priorities. If you do the temperature check up front enough times, people will grasp their importance.

2 - Separate OKRs from routine tasks. You may want to follow Allbirds’ lead and create a “Breathe List.” The New Zealand footwear company designates tasks necessary for the company’s survival (paying salaries, etc.) on a specific document called a “Breathe List” (meaning if we don’t do these, we won’t stay alive). Making a clear distinction between Breathe tasks and OKRs ensure focus on growth, in addition to “business as usual.”

3 - Reassess as needed. If you find yourself repeatedly explaining or defending your choices, it might be a good idea to revisit your OKRs. Many teams go through several drafts before they get the right OKRs, especially when just learning how to use them. Trust me, once you get the right OKR in place, a lightbulb will go on in everyone’s heads.

Thanks for writing in, Mari, and best of luck to you on your OKR journey.

Billy from the What Matters Team


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