Author:
Bruce Gil

A well-planned rollout is crucial when adopting Objectives and Key Results. Do it wrong and the whole process can leave employees with a bad taste in their mouths. Do it right and it can generate excitement, employee engagement, and confidence for OKRs at all levels of the company.

The OKR methodology is a simple yet powerful goal-management system that keeps organizations focused, aligned, and committed to achieving their most ambitious goals. By transparently defining an organization’s stretch goals along with the steps required to achieve them, OKRs make clear to all employees how their work connects to company objectives. However, simplicity doesn’t mean easy. To make OKRs really work for your organization, rolling out OKRs requires thoughtfulness and ongoing commitment.

One of the biggest factors in achieving a successful rollout is speed. Is it best to roll them out company-wide in one quarter? Or is it better to try them out with the leadership team for a few quarters before cascading them down the rest of the organization? The answer depends on your company.

The timing and scale of a good OKR rollout will vary by the type and size of an organization. The prior use of a goal-setting process or system will be a factor too.

There is no right way to roll out OKRs, however, this FAQ will outline some guidelines that can help your team succeed.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint

The primary goal of an OKR rollout isn’t to get the most people in the company to use OKRs as quickly as possible. The goal is to improve operating excellence⁠—building the best foundation for your team to succeed with OKRs is the first, and most critical step. How far and how fast to roll them out is a later consideration.

Take an honest look at your company to see where it’s at.

Does your company already have the resources and structures in place to set, distribute, track, and review OKRs on a regular basis? Are the OKRs your team is writing high-quality? If so, you may be one of the rare organizations that can start using OKRs from the top-to-bottom from the beginning.

If not, it may be worth taking a more gradual approach that fits how fast of a rollout your team can realistically handle. Again, the pace of a gradual OKR roll out depends on your company.

If this is your first time implementing a structured goal-tracking process or if you are not confident in your OKR writing abilities yet, it may make sense to start with a smaller team, improve your skill at crafting clear company-wide objectives and then expand the practice. In the early stages, quality will yield better results over complete compliance.

Company-wide OKRs are the best place to start. They are set solely by the leadership team and provide focus and alignment around the company’s high-level objectives. Getting the leadership team to see the impact of well-crafted OKRs and meaningful dialog around them will create a ripple effect and help build momentum for future rollouts.

After a few cycles, as the company gets accustomed to OKRs expand to the department, team, and individual levels.

For some smaller companies like garage startups, it may make more sense to stick only to company-wide OKRs for a while. Companies with less than 10 employees don’t necessarily need individual OKRs.

A committed leadership team is a must

No matter what speed you choose to roll them out, a committed leadership team is vital to adopting and setting OKRs.

In “Measure What Matters”, John Doerr writes, “Just as values cannot be transmitted by memo, structured goal setting won’t take root by fiat. OKRs require a public commitment by leadership, in word and deed.”

OKRs are a collective commitment. Here is where the leadership team must lead by example. You can not expect the organization to take OKRs seriously if the company’s leaders treat them like an afterthought.

OKRs need to have a prominent presence at the organization. Proper time and resources need to be allocated to crafting the right OKRs, making them visible across the company, and tracking them.

At the software experimentation platform Optimizely they designate an “OKR Shepherd” who holds office hours for anyone in the company that wants feedback on their OKRs. The online learning platform Skillshare includes a reconciliation step to its planning process to make sure company-wide OKRs align with bottom-up OKRs. And the non-profit Possible offers “considerable coaching.”

“We had to sit down and show how this system added value—we had to make it real,” says Possible’s Director of Operations for Nepal Gaurav Tiwari.

There are countless ways to demonstrate commitment, but ultimately employees must see that OKRs are here to stay and that they work. Review them at the top of every meeting, make them visible online and around the office. Early success stories, as well as, lessons learned need to be recognized. As employees get more familiarized with the framework, setting goals as OKRs should become second nature.

“Keep repeating the message until you’re tired of hearing it yourself,” advised Doerr.

Former Intuit CIO Atticus Tysen applied Doerr’s advice when he gradually rolled out OKRs at Intuit by making them highly-visible throughout the process.

At the 2017 Goal Summit he said, “I think one of the most important things is if the leadership is actually using it and using it in daily conversations. In all my meetings I would show my OKRs and let people comment on them.”

Regardless of the pace you choose to take, a successful rollout requires great OKRs, meaningful dialog, and repeated practice.

Where can I get more information?

A perfectly-paced roll out will help your company stay on track and make the process of implementing OKRs successful.

Have you rolled out OKRs in your organization? Let us know what approach you used and how it went by tweeting at us here. To learn more about OKRs, be sure to check out the helpful FAQs, Resources, and Stories here on WhatMatters.com.

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