Dear Andy,

We are new to the OKR process and as we navigate our first quarter, we were wondering who should be setting the status of a KR. It is easy enough for an Objective’s owner to state that the KR is on track, but what if it is at risk and they are not being honest with themselves? Should the leadership team or others argue that the KR is at risk of not being completed? Or is it better to allow the Objective’s owner to continue to self-report?

Thank you,

We're sharing reader questions, answered by the team. Named in the honor of Andy Grove, the creator of OKRs.

Hi Myles!

Wow, what a great question. It’s tough for any team to be intellectually honest, but the best teams work toward it step by step. Luckily, I have a few ideas on how OKRs can help you approach tough conversations without throwing anyone under the proverbial bus.

To start off, it’s important to remember that OKRs are a collective commitment. Anyone on the team can question whether an OKR is on track or not. The job of the OKR owner is to facilitate discussions of progress, using measurements the team agreed to in the KRs. Second, they own creating the plan if it’s off track. Technically, it’s the OKR owner’s job to raise a red flag if something is off, but if you feel they’re, to borrow your phrase, “not being honest with themselves,” do raise your concerns constructively.

If you’ve written the OKRs properly, there should be little argument over how much progress has been made. When KRs are measurable and verifiable, the status is clear. Is the metric in the KR where we need to be right now? There should be nothing subjective about those metrics—as it changes, anyone on the team can see by how much. If one person says the OKR is on track and another says it isn’t — well, that’s the beauty of hard numbers, isn’t it?

Getting people to self-report “honestly” also requires fostering a judgment-free environment. If a KR is in the red at the end of a cycle, you want to avoid finger-pointing or blaming. Instead, practice having a team discussion of how to learn from it going forward — and then move on. Simple as that.

Finally, if you truly believe the OKR owner cannot properly gauge its status, perhaps they aren’t the right owner. Nominate someone else in the next cycle. Remember that OKRs can be owned by anyone, regardless of seniority or even their functional role. Often you’ll see the most success with the one who is most passionate about the goal or is skilled at leading open discussions.

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

Billy from the What Matters Team