in OKR - Objectives & Key Results — 8 min read

I had a lot of problems with using transparent OKRs when I first started working in Weekdone. The problem was, I needed to have 100% in all my KRs. I didn’t want to give an impression, I couldn’t do my job or accomplish my goals. And that means I was scared to share my failures. 

And actually many managers and employees have a problem with this one specific aspect of the OKR methodology. Transparency. Especially in the first quarters of using the system, people often don’t achieve their OKRs. And this is considered “failing”. This is like trying riding a bike for the first time, falling down and saying “the bikes are not working.”

Why Transparency Is A Key To OKRs

The main goal of OKRs is to learn and develop and try new things. As long as this is happening, it’s all good. Putting effort in, evaluating, discussing your work is more important than succeeding on your first day. 

Transparency for OKRs, all OKRs in the company, is vital for the success of the system. It is one of the main reasons Google implemented OKRs so successfully. Not understanding this basic concept is why achieving transparency is so hard. People's need to hide their Objectives comes from a fear of publicly “failing” 

However, the idea behind the OKR methodology is that people understand how their work benefits the company and how everyone’s work ties together. Working towards a common goal ties people together like nothing else. This is impossible to achieve if people don’t know what others are doing. 

What are OKRs?
What are OKRs?

Adjust Your Culture When You Are Using OKRs

Still many who have worked with traditional goal setting methods, find it easier to keep Objectives inside teams or departments. Others don't want the management team’s Objectives to be visible to employees. If this is a red line for you, we can safely say, you will not succeed in using OKRs. Hiding the OKRs of the management or leaders, will also increase distress and barriers between management and employees. This is not the way to build a strong trusting team that can work well together.

Instead, your entire company should align with the idea that failure is okay. This is how you learn and gain new experiences. And your communications to your employees should reflect that. This sort of thinking is what has made many unicorn start-ups so successful. 

Success and failure are not the only criteria for OKRs. The system is much more about increasing the quality of your goal setting, the communications in your company and building transparency. 

How to set up transparent OKRs in a company?

Setting up transparent OKRs can be very easy if you follow a clear plan and structure. 

  • Define your Company Objectives  – At the start of a quarter you should set the Company level Objectives. Usually you should have one to five of them (with ideal number being three). These are the big goals you’ll be working towards this quarter and give guidance to your teams. If you have more goals, it will be impossible to focus on all of them. You also need to communicate the Objectives with the rest of the company and discuss why they are important. Don’t forget that your department heads and team leads might have valuable insights into what is a good direction for your business. In short, you need to make sure that employees understand what is the thinking behind the specific Objective. Then you can ask the managers to start setting their own team Objectives.
  • Department/team managers set their OKRs – Managers must have a discussion within their teams on how they could contribute to the Company Objectives. And then come up with the team Objectives. And then figure out the measurable outcomes, the KRs, that will help the team fulfill those Objectives. . Of course, those must then be confirmed with the company management to make sure they are aligned with the company level vision and Objectives. Then you can share them with other teams in the company. 
  • Execute your team’s transparent OKRs – In a team, you must agree on how you’ll achieve your OKRs and what is the process you follow week to week. It is important to share the responsibilities and roles. And a manager must cleary communicate what is expected from the team. In Weekdone, you can use weekly planning with the PPP methodology for employees to set initiatives and high level tasks for themselves each week. These Plans can then be ties to Objectives to see, how each employee's work contributes to the team's goals. 
  • Review your OKRs regularly – It is recommended to hold a weekly Team OKR Check-in meeting where you review every team member's weekly tasks, their relations to Key Results and make sure their plans are being completed

Success with Transparent OKRs

Luckily, after I had used OKRs for a few months, my managers got through to me and managed to explain the point of transparent OKRs to me. Spending more time in the company, learning from other people’s OKRs, and seeing the system work helped a lot as well. And I got over my fears concerning transparency by sharing comments on people’s OKRs and getting social encouragement and feedback on my own OKRs. In short, I became part of the discussion, part of the team.

weekly report 3 stepts to failure
Photo by Chris Potter

When everyone in the company is afraid of failure, transparency is not possible. If there is no transparency, you’ll get no value out of your OKRs. That is not to say, you shouldn’t use OKRs, it means you need to review your general company culture and make sure employees and leaders both understand that OKRs are not just metrics to follow. OKRs are a way to run your business. They only work when your company follows all aspects of the system. And that includes making all goals public and accepting failure in a team.