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What are OKRs and how do I use them to drive productivity in my team?

OKR stands for Objectives and Key Results. As the name suggests, OKRs are a method of setting out objectives and tracking their progress and the resulting impact on broader business goals. OKRs are one of two objective tracking options we support within the Weekly10 platform (SMART goals being the other).

Keep reading for a breakdown of what OKRs are, how they work, and an answer to the question, "How do I use OKRs in my business?"

What are OKRs and what are they good for?

Someone who's made a career out of answering the question, "How do I use OKRs?" is professional OKR trainer Felipe Castro. According to him, Objectives and Key Results are a method of goal setting that's very popular with Silicon Valley companies like Google, Twitter and Spotify. 

The objective in an OKR is a simple and short qualitative description of what needs to be accomplished. These are high-level goals that many teams, if not the whole business could be working towards.

Conversely, Key Results are the quantitative measurements used to determine objective progress. In other words, a proper Key Result usually needs to be a number - a tangible marker of success that will indicate solid progression to achieving the aforementioned objective.

If you're just learning about OKRs now, then the question remains of how effective they actually are. According to Itamar Gilad, the former Lead Project Manager and Head of Growth at Gmail, OKRs actually helped him grow Gmail's user-base from 400 million to over a billion. That's a whopping increase in uptake of at least 150%.

How do OKRs work?

Of course, you're asking, "how do I use OKRs?" and we'll get to that in a moment.

But to properly answer that question, we need to go over just how they work. As we noted in the last section, OKRs work by attaching numerical measurements to otherwise qualitative objectives. This means that no matter what someone's role is, they can provide raw data which managers can use to gain actionable insights about company productivity. Different objectives can even feed into the same Key Results. This allows you to track contributions across all levels of an organisation.

Depending on your objective, the Key Result you'd use can be very straightforward. For example, your goal may be to expand your company's blog, or grow your customer-base. Good Key Results for these would as simple as the number of articles written or the number of customers per week.

But Objectives aren't always so self-explanatory

Your objective might be to improve the employee experience within your organisation, but how do you quantify that? One way might be to survey employee advocacy and satisfaction in your office both prior to and after the implementation of changes. But remember, you aren't limited to just one Key Results for each objective. Along with tracking your employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS), it would also help to track things like turnover, sick-days, or the number of employee complaints.

It's also worth noting that OKRs don't just have to be big, company-spanning goals. They can be personal as well. For example, if you want to learn a new skill to improve your career prospects or just make your work life more satisfying, setting up an OKR to track your progress can be a great tool for self-motivation. This makes them very useful for employers who want to promote education and personal development within their organisation.

How do I use OKRs effectively?

So we've established why Objectives and Key Results are useful and how they work. But even with all of that, you may still be wondering, "How do I use OKRs properly". With that in mind, here are a few tips for getting the most out of them:

Show employees how their work feeds into company objectives

Feeling like our work matters is a huge part of employee engagement. When you can't see the impact of your role, it's easy to become disengaged from it. After all, if your work doesn't make a difference, why bother?

Whether you have a bespoke GUI, or just an Excel spread-sheet, keeping an on-going record of Key Results is useful. Aside from the fact that it's an important part of monitoring the health of your business, it helps to motivate your staff by letting them see exactly how their work benefits the organisation. The best way to go about this is generally by having employees be proactive by updating their own OKR progress.

Having multiple Key Results can make your data more robust

Remember, you aren't limited to just one Key Result per objective. In fact, it can help to have a few different Key Results to give your data more variety. Felipe Castro recommends between two to five Key Results per objective. More than that can be too many to stay properly focused on. 

OKRs are most effective when updated regularly

One of the main benefits of OKRs is that it should give you a clearer image of progress over time. You'll get a much more detailed breakdown of your progress if employees are updating their OKRs regularly. This means you can track variations in productivity, not just month-to-month, but week-to-week as well.

Don't be afraid to use stretch goals

A stretch goal is an objective that's especially ambitious. By stretching, you push yourself a little further each time. Until you can eventually achieve things that once seemed nigh impossible. Stretch goals push you and your team to re-evaluate the way you work in order to find effective solutions. According to Felipe Castro, stretch goals should have an average completion rate of around 70%. If your team is consistently achieving 100% on all their goals, then it's likely they aren't to stretching and re-evaluating.

How Weekly10 makes planning and tracking OKRs easy

If you already use Weekly10, then there's a good chance you're already familiar with OKRs. You have the option of choosing between OKRs and SMART Goals for them and their team members.

At Weekly10, our employee check-ins come in two parts. The first is a series of highly customisable questions that we've discussed at length in previous articles. The second is your OKR or SMART Goal section. This means your employees can provide OKR progress updates as often as once a week.

In our updates, every goal and question has a history that can be viewed by managers and relevant employees. So with Weekly10, it's easy for everyone to keep track of their progress. Finally, there's also a multitude of ways you can access our platform. Obviously, our service is available through web browsers, but we're also the leading employee engagement platform on Microsoft Teams. If you use Teams to communicate with your employees, then getting them started on Weekly10 couldn't be easier. Employees can even have the Weekly10 extension automatically installed when they get started on Microsoft Teams.

Our Teams integration gives you the full range of Weekly10 usability. Whether you're filling out updates, reviewing them, or uploading performance review documentation for your employee to refer back to. Managers can also use question and OKR data from employee updates to create bespoke analysis reports.