OKR Framework – The world of work is undergoing an epochal change. Companies and organizations have had to experiment with new MBO (Management by Objectives) methodologies in an evolving context. In this scenario, in which the workforce and processes are dematerialized, the OKR framework gives substance to the objectives and aligns the work teams (wherever they are).
In an evolving ecosystem, OKRs give their best, releasing their own characteristics of resilience and adaptability.
Implementation of Objectives and Key Results in a remote working team is the topic I address in this article.
OKR what are they and why are we talking about frameworks?
When an old system fails, the new is usually ready to emerge in the form of a revolution.
The OKR revolution is in its hype in recent years, although the theory dates back to the 1970s when Andy Grove introduced this approach at Intel. In 2014, Google revealed that this methodology is one of the cornerstones of the success of its business strategy: from that moment on, those involved in management could no longer ignore them. So much so that today we talk about OKR in LinkedIn, Microsoft, Amazon, Samsung, Zalando, Uber, Spotify, and other big companies.
In 2017 the OKR Google took on legendary contours thanks to John Doerr who in the book “Measure What Matters”, told how they were introduced in 1999 in the Mountain View Giant (then start-up).
Let us then let master Doerr explain what OKRs are. This is the first slide of the PowerPoint presentation shown to Larry Page and Sergey Brin, with the definition of the OKRs:
“A management methodology that helps to verify that the company’s efforts are focused on the same, important, focus at all levels of the organization”.
Basically a system, a framework, for defining objectives, which keeps track of key results.
What are OKR goals?
The goal is what we want to achieve, nothing more and nothing less. By definition, a goal must be not only action-oriented but also meaningful and inspirational.
It pushes you to act, motivates you, and is relevant for growth and innovation.
In the OKR formula, the objective is abbreviated to O.
What are the key findings in the OKR method?
The key results measure progress and monitor how progress is being made towards the goal. They are therefore measurable and verifiable. No room for doubt and no gray area: a key result is achieved, or not. At the end of a predetermined period, generally a quarter (Quarter), the team declares whether the key result has been hit.
In the OKR formula, the Key Results are abbreviated to KR.
For a complete insight into the OKR Methodology, take a look at my Jedi guide to Objective and Key Results.
Is the OKR framework the best for Remote Working?
The COVID-19 Pandemic, in 2020, forced employees and employers to review the organizational structure. On the one hand, workers were forced to stay at home, changing habits and living environment by virtue of their work. On the other hand, companies have had to quickly adapt to the context of a ‘virtualized’ workforce.
And what happened then? The adaptability of the most flexible and more ready-to-change organizations, together with the use of ad hoc business management methodologies, has meant that the trend has become the new status quo.
74% of the CFOs of medium-large companies hope that some employees will continue to work remotely even after the pandemic emergency is over. For their part, workers have experienced the possibility of saving time/money when traveling and commuting, with benefits also for the environment.
All easy, then? Not really, because remote teams and ‘distributed’ companies are facing new problems, a direct consequence of structural change.
4 obstacles in Remote Working
But what are the obstacles that companies and organizations have to face in the restructuring process linked to Remote Working? Let’s see the main ones.
- Silo effect
Communication in Remote Working is at risk of short circuit: the single control unit is replaced by hundreds of small electric generators. Let’s imagine these generators in the shape of silos, each of which contains information and process portions. What happens if they remain disconnected from the network? It happens that despite producing energy, they will not shed light where required. Similarly, if the Remote Team finds interruptions on the communication line it disconnects from the network and remains somehow isolated.
When disconnected, the chances of being misaligned increase. This is what happens to remote teams that lose sight of strategic objectives and direction, with (negative) consequences on productivity and inter-team collaboration.
- Reduced visibility
When employees and co-workers are not physically in the workplace, it is more difficult for them to make themselves visible. The sense of isolation can make room for the much worse estrangement: the individual feels detached from the organizational process. In addition to the sense of frustration, there is the fear of being out of sight and of having no chance of career advancement.
- Poor motivation
Short of communication, misaligned, and poorly recognizable, the employee loses the motivational drive and ends up wondering if an OKR goal is really worth achieving.
OKR framework: 5 advantages for Remote Teams
So far the problems. Now the solutions, or at least one of the possible solutions: the OKR framework. Why do I consider this method valid in managing teams remotely? Because it’s a scalable goal alignment and tracking system.
Alignment and monitoring: two of the criticalities encountered in Remote Working. The system is based on objectives and key results, on the other hand:
- Communicate your goals clearly and transparently
- Outline your priorities in terms of results
- Track progress and review performance
If we take the factors of transparency and communication for granted, with regard to objectives and results, we are making a mistake. Suffice it to say that even in non-remote, traditional environments, it is difficult to identify priorities and responsibilities.
Not surprisingly, a 2015 London Business School survey based on 11,000 executives, managers, and leaders of over 400 organizations is cited by many, which produced very indicative statistics:
- While trying 5 times to indicate the same corporate strategy priority, only 50% of respondents were aligned. In practice, one in two had no idea.
- Just a third of the participants were clear about their company’s three strategic priorities.
The characteristics of the OKRs make it possible to prevent this situation since the corporate communication is clear and the approach stages measurable. That’s why the OKR method helps remote teams communicate more effectively while staying aligned on goals and priorities.
1. The OKR framework is resilient
In a world that changes twice as fast, you need an equally fast and adaptable management methodology. Flexible organizations with agile and adaptable structures have an important competitive advantage. To meet the need for innovative solutions, faced with unknown problems, we need the ability to restructure processes and even the business model. Whoever does it first and best, wins!
The OKRs are set up on a quarterly basis, in general. Every week the Teams, even those remotely, check for the evaluation of the state of events and progress. This means that the learning process is rapid and that you can promptly intervene in areas that need improvement.
2. OKRs give direction
“If you tell everyone to march towards the center of Europe and some go towards France, others towards Germany and still others go to Italy, this is not good. Not if you want them all to go to Switzerland ”. So Jim Lally, former manager of Intel, explained to John Doerr the importance of management.
In remote work, above all, people need to have a clear and unambiguous direction. To avoid the silo effect and keep morale and productivity high. The OKR framework was created with the intention of tracing the final direction (Objective): the route on which to set the stages.
3. OKRs are agile
As priorities are established, teams and individuals have an opportunity to evaluate which activities to undertake and which to leave alone.
The decision-making phase is facilitated by the set OKRs and the Team saves the time dedicated to discussions. If the activity is functional to achieving the goal, it is performed, otherwise, it is abandoned.
4. The OKR framework motivates the team
The OKRs have a democratic soul. The initial definition part is shared by teams, even remotely. Employees and collaborators can make their own contributions, in the form of solutions to identify possible areas for improvement. The amount of good ideas that can arise from this confrontation phase is often surprising.
If people are committed to goals, they have stronger motivational drives to make their input. When OKR goals are shared and transparent, when key outcomes are measurable, teams find new meaning in their effort.
5. OKRs help the manager in decision control
One of the most pressing problems for managers in managing remote teams is the loss of control. The feeling of not having the pulse of what people are doing remotely can cause hasty decisions. Conversely, knowing that the team works on the right, functional things and that it is ready to adjust the shot independently allows you to breathe and have time for strategic decisions.
Key findings help evaluate what brings results and what creates value, so it’s easy to understand if people are doing right and following the set course.
How to implement OKR framework in Remote Working
As a smart framework, i.e. an agile, resilient system based on measurable milestones, OKRs can be implemented in remote work with a method that is both uniform and flexible.
If we wanted to standardize as much as possible, these are the steps necessary for the introduction and efficiency of OKRs in ‘widespread’ organizations.
1. Introduction to the OKR methodology
First of all, everyone should understand what OKRs are and why they are important in organizing and managing teamwork. Highlighting the benefits increases the team’s self-esteem and raises the engagement rate. If people do not understand the methodology and do not feel involved in setting up the OKRs, it is unlikely that the Team will be able to progress and improve.
2. Brainstorming OKR
During the first phase, in addition to the collective involvement, remember to plan one-to-one meetings. The purpose, in this case, is not to set up the OKRs but to collect the various opinions on the areas of collective growth and on the individual possible contributions.
Some questions help release constructive thinking:
- Are there any obstacles that should be removed?
- Does the process meet expectations in terms of quality, speed, and productivity?
- What are the skills that can be improved in our team?
What matters in this passage is that no one feels judged: there are no wrong answers, no right answers. Each idea is as good as the others, but since choices are necessary, some proposals are more appropriate than others.
3. OKR setting in Smart Working: Goal-Setting
Once the right ideas are on the plate, it is time to decide the areas in which to intervene, setting clear, shared, and stimulating goals.
The Objective in OKRs is the starting and ending point of the entire system.
On the basis of the objectives, the key results that define it will be identified.
Each Key Result is SMART, that is:
S = Specific
M = Measurable
A = Achievable
R = Relevant
T = Time-bound
This is a crucial stage and as the OKRs indicate the medium to long term direction, their definition requires patience. Let Remote Teams familiarize themselves with the objectives and have their say on the key results.
Several video call meetings can also be used, but if the OKR framework is set up right from the start, the process will then go smoothly.
The organization based on Remote Team will quickly benefit from an increase in productivity, linked to efficient communication and a strong motivational drive.
4. Best practice for OKR execution
The ideas were expressed in the form of objectives, the objectives generated the milestones of definition. And now?
The execution phase for the OKR framework provides for a fractionation on a basis for monitoring and settlement. The starting situation is clear to everyone: each member of the Remote Team knows not only the expected results but also roles and responsibilities.
During the weekly meeting, the Team checks in which the answers to the following questions are sought:
- What is the current situation of the Remote Team OKRs?
- How far had the Team members arrived in the previous check-in?
- Where is the next milestone located?
- How do we get there?
During the weekly OKR meeting, people report what they did, what challenges they faced, what kind of lessons they learned from it, and what they will work on next.
5. OKR review and learning
At the end of the quarter (Quarter) the OKR Review is one of the most precious moments of the entire system.
Learning aimed at constant improvement and value creation is the goal of the OKR framework. This doesn’t mean that percentages and numbers don’t matter, but if the Remote Team has gained new knowledge and found innovative solutions, you will note that milestone as a success.
The lessons learned count towards a change of mentality: every innovation generates advancement and progress and the knowledge deriving from it is put to good use in the next Quarter.
OKR framework for Remote Teams: 5 mistakes to avoid
In my opinion, the new mindset for implementing the OKR framework in Remote Working necessarily involves overcoming the following traditional legacies.
Too many OKRs
Too many Objectives and Key Results risk overwhelming individuals and teams. The reason? Simple! Focusing on priorities becomes difficult when efforts are dispersed on multiple fronts. Depending on the goals and the size of the team, 2-3 OKRs are already a sufficient number.
No room for interpretation! The OKR method is democratic in the setting phase, but once the Remote Teams agree on key objectives and results, absolute clarity prevails. The transparency of OKRs also affects roles and responsibilities: each member and each team, while moving independently, knows perfectly well that their output is connected to that of others.
Objective (O) is engaging in the definition phase and by intrinsic characteristic. I’ll explain.
When you set goals, remote (and non-remote) teams have a say, by experience and competence, that is, they are involved in the setting phase. Otherwise, they may not understand the usefulness of the mission and commit little or badly (for example, wasting energy on irrelevant results).
The goal is also engaging in its quality: the OKR methodology in fact provides challenging objectives (ambitious goals), inspirational (aspirational), and able to bring out the best in each individual.
KR not measurable
Every single Key Result must be measurable, just like a KPI (Key Performance Indicators) must be. If it isn’t, you’re not tracking the results, but you’re probably just managing the project’s tasks.
>> Do you know the difference between KPIs and OKRs and what are the possibilities of integrating the two tools? Find out here.
At this point, I would like to draw your attention to the fundamentals of the OKR method:
- The goal defines direction and priority
- Activities are the processes put in place to move in the desired direction
- The results are the milestones reached or to be achieved, measured according to previously set parameters. Ideally, 3 to 5 key outcomes should be created for each goal.
While the activities and results are adjustable and modifiable, based on measurements and progress, the objectives are less ‘manipulable’. Once the team has reasoned, shared, internalized them, is it really worth changing them?
In most cases, it is easier to change the path than the direction.
Not regular check-in
To be effective, the check-in phase must be regular, especially when working with Remote Teams. In fact, it is in this step that the people in the team have the opportunity to check the 3Ps of the process and of the set goals:
Periodic verification is a further point in favor of the transparency of OKRs.
8 Examples of OKR framework for remote (and non-remote) teams
Correctly defining the objectives at the organization and team level is the first step to successfully implementing the OKR method in remote teams and beyond.
If you’ve already followed me, then you know that in the theoretical part I like to follow some practical examples. To give substance to my words and above all to help you achieve the typical and priority objectives of your organization.
OKR examples in business
Corporate goals are strategic and inspiring. The company goals define the organization’s priorities and development lines in the medium to long term. In cascade, management and team leaders set goals to align with corporate ones.
Example 1 – Website with pay and free content
O: Achieve greater scalability through more monthly subscriptions
KR1: Reach 55,000 website visitors per month using SEO techniques
KR2: Create a funnel to reach 3,500 subscriptions per month
KR3: Simplify processes to support 3,500 subscriptions per month
Example 2 – Accommodation facility
O: Improve the customer experience by the end of Q3 2022 to increase revenue
KR1: Resolve critical customer issues within 2 hours maximum
KR2: get an NPS (Net Promoter Score)> +45
KR3: process online booking form data 20% faster
OKR Team examples
At the second level, the Teams acknowledge the company objectives and shape them making them their own. A case in point is the next one I present to you. Let’s say that a Remote Team has chosen KR1 as its Objective in the first example above. Here’s how it could transform it.
O: Get 55,000 visitors a month to the website with SEO techniques
KR1: Place content on the first page of Google for specific keywords
KR2: Have an average page load speed of 2 seconds or less
KR3: Create and publish at least 12 SEO oriented content per month
KR4: Reach 5K followers on LinkedIn
Example 4 – OKR Marketing Remote Team
O: Increase customer engagement via email newsletters
KR1: Increase CTR up to 30%
KR2: develop the test phase within two weeks
KR3: Launch the new series of weekly emails by the end of next month
Example 5 – OKR Social Media Marketing Team
O: increase the reach of corporate social media
KR1: +1.200 followers / month on Facebook
KR2: Have over 2,500 views of LinkedIn videos
KR3: Double the social media conversion rate
Example 6 – OKR Remote Team HR
O: improve the experience of corporate culture for employees and employee engagement
KR1: Have an NPS score from employees> 50 on a monthly basis
KR2: Interviews 2 employees every month to talk about professional challenges
KR3: Organize at least 2 entertainment and engagement activities for employees per month
Conclusion: are OKRs a smart framework or not?
In my direct experience, I have more than once tested the intelligence of OKRs. I go back to the starting point: intelligence is synonymous with adaptability and resilience in a highly competitive and rapid evolutionary context.
The Objectives and Key Results open the door to change, a factor closely related to the above: it does not evolve without changing, that is, without adapting. And without evolution, we are doomed to extinction.
Mindset change is also linked to the change in the meaning of the word ‘result’: the OKRs in Remote Teams are oriented towards the search for outcome rather than output. When the value is given to the concept of participatory effort, which tends to the maximum possible improvement, even the single result takes on more subtle contours.
The best result is not the numerically most significant, but the strategically most impacting one.
Why am I talking about Remote Team and OKR Smart Working?
My name is Luciano Castro and I work as a consultant in the field of Product Management and Project Management. As a senior manager, with over 15 years of experience, I have supported the business of companies of various sizes, multinationals such as startups, making use of my MBO (Management by Objectives) know-how and certifications in PMP, Agile, Scrum, ISTQB, ITIL, and Microsoft.
I recently published a book on the Remote Effective methodology to offer practical support to the organization that wishes to work remotely, or that already does it but not in a non-optimized way.
I’ll be back here with the link to the book as soon as it’s available, I promise!
OKRs, such as Design Thinking and Lean, are among the specialist skills that my team is able to put to good use in different contexts. The result is over 2000 successfully completed projects. Without looking to the past, we like to think that the next project will be the most beautiful and the next challenge the most intriguing one.
At Luciano Castro & Partners, our approach sets us apart, allowing us to find the best product management methodology for every type of organization and business: from strategy to action.