Our organisation consists of the HotelSpecials and BungalowSpecials brands. The market we’re in is extremely competitive and we’ve been active internationally for a number of years. The continuously changing character of the industry means that we have to be ready to implement change quickly and make the most of new opportunities. This means being flexible and willing to adjust our plans according to the market.
Effective implementation of our strategic plans are very important here. At the beginning of this year, we introduced our new vision and mission. With this, further questions arose: how can we get a better grip on the implementation of our plans and, more importantly, how can we work together more effectively and improve internal communication? Above all, how can we make sure our activities have a direct effect on our vision, mission, and the implementation of our strategy?
There are of course multiple frameworks for dealing with these questions, including OGSM and Balance Scorecard. A model that we’d not yet used internally was the OKR model. If the concept OKR is new to you, you can read a lot about the concept online, including advice from Google, general FAQs and examples of OKRs.
After reading multiple articles, introducing OKRs internally seemed both very logical and relatively straightforward. However, through trial and error, we’ve become much wiser. Hereby, to supplement the articles already online, our top 10 tips for introducing OKRs:
1. Know your vision and mission
Your objectives should be central to your organisation’s mission, vision, strategy, rather than just a list of things that need to get done.
In an industry as competitive and dynamic as the e-commerce and travel industry, plans have to be continually assessed and updated. Rather than having a year plan, we have a year strategy and quarterly plans which we continually assess and change. Given the quarterly focus of OKRs, they provide the ideal framework for measuring and evaluating progress.
If you don’t clearly know and communicate your company’s strategy and how you are going to get there, your OKRs will not be aligned with the company’s goals and will therefore not be a success. Before you get down to defining the key results, make sure your objectives are thoroughly considered and directly contributing to your mission and vision.
2. Think big, start small
Introducing OKRs can be an overwhelming process. We learnt that starting small and iterating quickly was a successful method, rather than trying to go full throttle from the beginning. Don’t introduce the OKRs to the whole company all at once. Start with the management team or a few departments and then introduce them to the rest of the organisation once you’ve optimised the process.
So start small, learn to work with the OKRs, and then start developing them on a larger scale.
3. Be SMART
Your key results should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound. Rather than individual tasks, they should be results-driven and in line with your objectives.
Keep asking yourself these questions: What business value does this key result add? If I complete this key result, will I also have achieved my objective?
Defining your OKRs should be the hard part; measuring them should be fairly straightforward. This means knowing your starting point and your end goal, and making sure that this data is visible for everyone involved so that progress can be measured throughout. Make sure that your OKRs are measurable in some form, whether it’s sprint points, percentages, euros, numbers, release schedules, etc. You already have your year strategy and your KPI framework, so make sure your OKRs are in line with your most important KPIs.
Steer clear of ambiguous language – terms like optimise, plan, think of should indicate that your OKRs are not concrete enough.
4. Find a balance between ambition and focus
OKRs should be realistic and achievable, but they have to be a stretch. It’s uncommon and undesirable for OKRs to be achieved 100%. If that’s happening, your OKRs are not ambitious enough. Create a challenge and encourage your team to go the extra mile.
At the same time, you need to retain focus and make sure your OKRs are as targeted and specific as possible. Avoid putting too many items in one objective and/or key result. As the old Chinese proverb states, “If you chase two rabbits, both will escape.” You can’t focus on everything, so be selective in your choices.
5. Communicate and celebrate your results
Communication is essential in driving the organisation toward its goals. In fact, they serve as a method of communication in themselves, holding the company together while evaluating progress and improving implementation.
OKR meetings give you and your team the chance to both look back upon what you’ve learnt in the last quarter, but also the opportunity to look forward. Cultivate a forward facing dynamic by discussing what you will be doing, not just what you have done.
The owner of the OKR should open up and communicate key results to larger groups of stakeholders. This also means making sure results, in whatever form, are visible for everyone involved.
6. Start early
Starting on time may sound obvious, but it can be difficult to enforce, especially in a large company. Thinking through and defining your OKRs takes time, and so does making sure that every stakeholder is informed and committed.
You don’t want to reach the end of the quarter to find out that goals weren’t clear or employees weren’t entirely sure what their involvement was. Responsibility and accountability are both key here – who owns the OKR and who else is involved?
7. Avoid business as usual… or not?
This is a common mistake, but make sure your OKRs are not just business as usual. OKRs are designed for innovation and growth, and business as usual OKRs will not drive employees to do anything different to what they’re doing right now.
One topic that we still struggle with is whether OKRs should be linked to employee evaluation. Many advise against aligning personal targets with OKRs, but we’ve found this practice a little too clear cut. OKRs are meant to drive company-wide engagement, alignment and progress, and including high priority targets in OKRs can serve that goal.
However, OKRs are also meant to facilitate collaboration rather than competition and they are meant to be company goals rather than individual goals. Aligning OKRs with targets can be counterproductive, resulting in less ambitious OKRs and frustrated employees. Striking a balance is easier said than done and we are still learning every quarter.
8. Start with excel before considering other tools
The OKR framework is supposed to be simple and straightforward, so starting with an Excel template should suffice. The most important thing is to incorporate the OKRs into your work week. You need to get into the habit of checking your OKRs and evaluating your process, and becoming familiar with a brand new tool can complicate this.
What’s more, Excel and Google Docs allow you to tailor each tab to fit a particular team or employee, giving you more flexibility to find what works for you. They’re also easy to share with all involved. First get used to the OKR framework, and then consider using other online tools.
9. Trust your teams
OKRs should lead you toward your mission and vision, but they should also engage employees and allow them to feel the impact of their individual contributions. In our experience, OKR teams seem to take good ownership without any active senior involvement. Managers are there to facilitate the process, don’t push to have a manager in the OKR team if it isn’t necessary. Make it possible for teams to work independently on OKRs and achieve their own results. This is of course dependent on having a relatively flat organisation in the first place; if your employees are not used to having full responsibility, start by including a manager in the OKR team.
In order to maximise impact, you should find a balance between OKRs defined by management and input from the rest of the organisation. Company OKRs should be defined by the management team, and the rest should be defined by team leads, product owners and other stakeholders. Again, try introducing this slowly and gradually decrease the percentage of OKRs defined by management.
10. Read, share, train
Keep learning from your colleagues, other organisations and online resources. Don’t stop at two articles: read the background information thoroughly. Encourage other departments to keep reading and sharing content with each other. One problem we struggled with at the beginning was getting departments that used different frameworks, such as Scrum, on board. This was solved by reading experiences from other organisations.
To encourage continuous learning and improvement, new employees should also receive training in OKRs. OKRs matter, and everyone in the company needs to be on board. This won’t happen overnight, but training sessions are a good start.
One size does not fit all for OKRs. You need to find the way that works best for your organisation and your strategy. It’s imperative that you keep evaluating your progress, communicating your challenges and successes, and learning from them.
We’re still learning here at BookerZzz, and every quarter we take the time to look back on what we’ve achieved and where we could have done better. How have you experienced implementing OKRs and where have you encountered obstacles? In the spirit of collaboration, we welcome any feedback or insights. Do you want to connect? Feel free to add me on LinkedIn.