How We Smash Tough Goals and Objectives With OKRs (& How You Can, Too!)

goals and objectives

We’re an ambitious bunch here at Process Street.

In terms of numbers, we’ve published over 1,000 onsite blog posts, over 300 offsite blog posts, penned 5 huge ebooks, attended many an external webinar, and created many a podcast, too. And this is only our content marketing team’s efforts. If I were to discuss the phenomenal accomplishments of our other departments — from engineering to sales, product to customer success — we’d be here all day.

Despite our company-wide accomplishments, we knew in 2020 that we could push ourselves further (especially considering our $12m cash injection from Accel, Salesforce, and others). Naturally, we turned the ambitious goals and objectives we’d set ourselves up a notch.

This meant that, rather than only working with KPIs, we threw OKRs into the mix as well.

Not to toot our own horn too much, but I can say with confidence that the choice to do so went in our favor. In fact, we’ve had some of the best months ever since deploying OKRs!

This is why, in this post, I’m going to tell you everything that we learned from internally deploying OKRs at Process Street. Specifically, I’ll give you a quick recap on what OKRs are, go over our method for implementing OKRs in detail, recount my experience of getting used to (and then loving) OKRs, on top of providing 5 tried-and-tested tips for deploying OKRs at your company.

Just read the following sections to get completely clued-up:

It’s time for you to pivot to OKRs and hit challenging targets like a pro, too.

OKRs: A quick breakdown

OKR definition
(Source)

“OKR” is an acronym for objectives and key results. And, as I explain in a previous post of mine, How to Meet Goals and Inspire Your Team Using OKRs (Includes OKR Examples):

“It’s a goal-setting method where individuals or teams set ambitious goals to be achieved within a certain time frame — usually a business quarter. Whether the concrete objective has been achieved or not is measured by the key results.”Thom James Carter, How to Meet Goals and Inspire Your Team Using OKRs (Includes OKR Examples)

As well as “OKR” referring to the goal-setting method as a whole, “OKR” can also refer to a specific goal that was set.

A good OKR (as in a specific goal) is one that can be quantifiably measured. Meaning there’s no brouhaha or debate when it comes to the end of the quarter and it’s time for the team to get together and reflect. The OKR has either been met. Or it hasn’t.

It’s as simple as that.

Breaking down the definition of OKR even further, let’s take a look at the objectives part of OKR, and the key results part, respectively. To do that, I’m going to quote Ryan Panchadsaram and Sam Prince, two good folks working at What Matters:

“An Objective is simply what is to be achieved, no more and no less. By definition, objectives are significant, concrete, action-oriented, and (ideally) inspirational. When properly designed and deployed, they’re a vaccine against fuzzy thinking—and fuzzy execution.

Key Results benchmark and monitor how we get to the objective. Effective KRs are specific and time-bound, aggressive yet realistic. Most of all, they are measurable and verifiable. You either meet a key result’s requirements or you don’t; there is no gray area, no room for doubt. At the end of the designated period, typically a quarter, we do a regular check and grade the key results as fulfilled or not.”Ryan Panchadsaram and Sam Prince, What is an OKR? Definition and examples

The key words to take from the above quote are “concrete,” “inspirational,” “specific,” and “aggressive yet realistic.”

It’s the “aggressive yet realistic” part that is most important, though.

That’s because OKRs are meant to push teams beyond their comfort zone, but in a way that won’t cause them to become exhausted and burned-out, of course.

Think of it in terms of the Olympics; the sporting event that the best athletes in the world attend. The athletes’ coaches train them hard each and every day, so that those gold medals can be achieved and their goals met. However, they’re never pushed to the extreme, hurting themselves and their chances of securing gold in the process. They’re pushed in a healthy way where they aren’t resting on their laurels. Setting OKRs in a business context is quite similar — though there certainly isn’t as much wearing of spandex (hopefully)!

OKR vs KPI: What’s the difference?

OKR vs KPI
(Source)

I’ll make this short and sweet:

  • An OKR is an ambitious, set goal.
  • A KPI is a performance metric that evaluates how an activity, process, or project is coming along.

However, KPIs are more about showing the output of actions, processes, and projects that are already in place. Meanwhile, OKRs pinpoint a certain goal that the team should rally behind, and then focus their efforts on to achieve.

It’s subtle, but they are, indeed, different.

A business will typically be using both KPIs and OKRs. They’re good at two separate things, after all!

How we deployed OKRs at Process Street

A little introduction is in order if you don’t already know us.

Process Street is state-of-the-art BPM software that makes completing recurring tasks a breeze.

Specifically, Process Street allows teams to document their essential processes as templates. Checklists can then be launched from templates, enabling team members to complete tasks to the high quality that’s needed, time and time again. And no matter where they are in the world.

To see how our stellar app works, check out the video below.

That’s Process Street, folks.

But how did we go about deploying OKRs across the entire company? What decisions were made? How did we manage to pull it off without a hitch?

Well, I was lucky enough to sit down with Jay Hanlon, our Chief of Staff and VP of People & Operations. He told me all there was to know regarding what happened behind-the-scenes.

And it’s high time I told you what happened, too.

Process Street before OKRs

As a startup, we’ve historically had a ton of goals and objectives that we wanted to achieve. But we didn’t have a goal-setting system, per se. Instead, we focused on KPIs and figures like monthly recurring revenue (MRR) and annual recurring revenue (ARR), on top of making our way through the list of nifty features — like Approvals — that we wanted to bring to the app.

Now, this isn’t a bad way to go about things, and particularly as a small company. Though it’s not particularly optimal once your team and business start growing, as Jay told me:

“When your team is small, and what you don’t know is bigger than what you do know – both of which are common in a young startup – it’s normal, and fine have shifting goals, and lower individual accountability. That’s because everything is still an experiment, and “success” may be really loosely defined. Which is okay for a while, but as you scale, it becomes critical to define who is responsible, ensure that goals are specific and measurable, and time-box when you need to hit those goals.”Jay Hanlon

It was really after attaining our Series A funding round — in which Salesforce, Accel, and others invested over $12m in us — that an internal shift happened. With the resources, we could grow as a company. And with new hires to help in areas such as product and engineering, it became apparent that there needed to be some order when it came to our goals. We needed to be unified, with every one of us knowing what we were doing, and why we were doing it. That’s to say, the long-term vision needed to involve everyone at Process Street, not only the C-suites and other higher-ups.

And what better way to do that than by deploying OKRs?

Process Street’s process for deploying OKRs

First off, Process Street’s C-suites needed to define the parameters for the OKRs. After all, OKRs can’t just be dropped onto a team willy-nilly; they could cause the team to burnout due to the OKRs being completely and utterly unachievable, or they could be so easy to meet that the team isn’t engaged.

The first question our C-suites asked themselves, then, was “How often should we set and measure them?”. Quarterly makes the most sense, time-wise. Having yearly or even bi-yearly OKRs would be hard to plan for, while monthly or weekly OKRs would be too short, too distracting.

After that, the question of “At what level should they be assigned?” needed to be answered. For this, they decided they’d be set at the department level — meaning a team headed by a single executive.

Then, it was “What completion percentage should we consider good?”. OKRs are meant to be difficult yet realistic. So, if OKRs are continually being hit, that means they’re too easy. But if teams aren’t hitting hard OKRs, that doesn’t mean they haven’t done great work. If a particularly hard OKR has been set, something like achieving 75% (or higher) of that goal could be deemed as a success. Internally, 80% was defined as an acceptable completion percentage.

Last but by no means least was the question “How many objectives should each department aim for?”. Again, a balance is needed here so teams are neither overwhelmed nor underwhelmed. We go for around 2-4 objectives per department at Process Street.

With the parameters set, the next step was to choose a digital home for all the OKR-related info and data, on top of tracking the progress of each OKR.

Jay opted for Notion:

“In our case, we were already using Notion for a bunch of other things, so I built a system in Notion that we could use to enter and track progress. (There are dedicated apps that do this — tools like 15Five, etc.)”Jay Hanlon

Once Notion had been chosen as our tool of choice, setting the first proper OKRs that the Process Street teams would tackle was the next task.

Setting Process Street’s first company-wide OKRs

As I’m sure you’re already aware, setting good OKRs means achieving a balance. Because, in a way, it’s like walking a tightrope.

Luckily, Jay — and our other executives — have expert knowledge of setting OKRs, meaning we could set actionable, appropriate OKRs straight away.

On setting OKRs that will work, Jay told me:

“In selecting OKRs, you want to focus on big, impactful objectives — the things you believe you can do in a given period of time that will really matter. For key results, the most important thing is that they’re what are sometimes called ‘SMART’ goals, meaning they’re Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, and Time-bound. The biggest challenge is often making them measurable. It’s great when the goal is a number, like ‘Hit 1MM in ARR.’ Or a simple fact, like ‘Roll out our new OKR system to the whole company.’ But some goals may be harder to measure, with more qualitative requirements, like when you need to design a plan to improve employee morale, say. But even those can have defined ways you’ll determine success, like, ‘Write and circulate a plan to improve employee morale that gets full buy-in from the leadership team.'”Jay Hanlon

Now, I’m not at liberty to list all of our first company-wide OKRs, but they were all related to improvement, growth, and optimization, and went across our sales, people & operations, product & engineering, customer success, and marketing teams.

With all of the behind-the-scenes work done, it was then time for our C-suites to announce the company-wide deployment of OKRs.

And the rest is history, as they say.*

*(The history of which I’ll delve into in the next section!)

Deploying OKRs: How do they impact the rest of the company?

OKR goals and objectives
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The thing with OKRs is that it’s not only the C-suites who devote their workdays to ensuring OKRs are met. It’s everyone involved!

So what is it like for the non-C-suites and non-managers once OKRs have been deployed?

Is it confusing?

Difficult?

Inspiring?

If you’d be so kind, allow me to discuss what it was like for me at Process Street.

I’m a Content Writer and Editor. That means I write offsite and onsite blog posts (like this one!), review the work of others, and try and battle the never-ending war of the unread emails in my inbox. That’s to say, I’m not involved with strategy or planning, as that’s what my brilliant line-manager, Adam Henshall, is involved in as Process Street’s Content Marketing Manager.

It wasn’t until our monthly company all-hands that the transition to using OKRs was announced to all of us. At first, I tried to wrap my head around the acronym, and then I tried to understand what that meant for the marketing team going forward. With so many possibilities, the goal for the next quarter — 2020’s Q4 — could be anything.

The next day, our marketing all-hands took place. This is when Adam went into more detail regarding OKRs, and went over our first marketing team OKR: To grow organic free trials. The key results of which would be having 20 Process Street landing pages live, and also have them all ranking on the front page of Google. Considering my direct involvement with Q4’s OKR — I’d been getting landing page copy up and live in Instapage, and I also oversaw our team’s guest posting efforts — I began to get a little anxious. The OKR, and the key results, in particular, seemed steep. Perhaps even a little too steep.

Luckily, I had a 1:1 call booked with Adam straight after the marketing all-hands. It was in this meeting that he reassured me — somebody who hadn’t heard of let alone worked towards OKRs before — that OKRs are inherently ambitious. They’re meant to be hard. They’re meant to be a little scary. But also realistic enough to encourage the team to pull their socks up even higher and come together to achieve this goal.

After those meetings, I put everything I could into doing my bit for the team. I ramped up my Instapage activities so we could get the landing pages live as quickly as possible, and I secured guest posting opportunities left, right, and center. Of course, a team OKR is a team activity, and it doesn’t fall on only one person’s shoulders to achieve. But despite it being a little daunting, the OKR that was set for our team was achievable. We could meet it. And having that concrete goal there meant I did my daily Process Street activities with gusto and determination like never before. The same goes for my colleagues, and the content output we had was phenomenal.

(For those interested, we did, indeed, grow organic free trials. And while we wrote, edited, and pushed live 30 — yes, 10 more than originally planned! — landing pages live, we didn’t get them all ranking on the first page. But that’ll certainly happen with time. And without such an ambitious OKR, I don’t think we would’ve been so productive.)

In terms of how OKRs impacted me and my work, it’s undoubtedly been positive. Having Process Street‘s top-level management deploy OKRs and then choose our marketing OKR instilled a purpose, gave everyone on our team another reason to band together, and it allowed us to focus our efforts toward our common goal. Sure, it may have been a bit of an emotional journey for me at the beginning, but once I found out that OKRs are difficult on purpose, my anxiety lessened and my want for us to succeed dramatically increased.

It makes sense why I was so engaged. As stated in the monumental book on OKRs Measure What Matters, Deloitte performed a two-year-long study on employee engagement. The results from the study concluded that:

“No single factor has more impact on employee engagement than clearly defined goals that are written down and shared freely.” John Doerr, Measure What Matters

Nowadays, I can’t imagine working without having OKRs to work towards.

5 tips and tricks for deploying OKRs at your company

tips for implementing OKRs
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After reading the story of how the C-suites deployed OKRs at Process Street, in addition to understanding what it was like for non-C-suites and non-managers, I bet you’re wanting to deploy OKRs at your company, too.

To help you get started, here are 5 top tips to make deployment even easier!

Deploying OKRs & meeting goals and objectives tip #1: Keep everyone in the loop

Have you and the other higher-ups made the decision that you’re going to implement OKRs across the company? And have you pinpointed the exact OKRs for each team?

Fantastic news.

The next step is keeping everyone in the loop. And by that, I mean holding a company-wide meeting so all employees know exactly what’s going on. Specifically, you’ll need to explain what “OKR” stands for, how they’ll help, and why the decision has been made to start using OKRs in the first place. It’s also wise to tell them what the OKRs for each team will look like. This is so they immediately know what their efforts in the quarter are all toward, and if they need to reprioritize how they go about their daily tasks in the coming weeks.

Remember to leave some time at the end of the meeting, so employees can ask any questions that are on their mind regarding the deployment of OKRs. And if you’ve got folks who can’t attend the company-wide meeting or are away, make sure to record the meeting and send it to them so there aren’t any knowledge gaps.

Deploying OKRs & meeting goals and objectives tip #2: Overcommunicate the difficult nature of OKRs

During the company-wide meeting, it’s imperative to stress the OKRs are, by nature, ambitious goals.

Why?

Because there will be folks who, after hearing about the specific OKRs that their team needs to meet, will worry about not meeting them. And if they’re anything like me (read: level-headed but still prone to worrying), they’ll begin to catastrophize, wondering what will happen if the OKRs aren’t met, and whether their job will be on the line or not.

Stop folks from worrying, being anxious, and catastrophizing by being clear about OKRs from the get-go. To boot, you’ll want to stress this again in other departmental meetings. Scheduling 1:1s for employees and their line-managers will be incredibly useful too, as folks can use that time to ask any questions they were too afraid to ask in a large group setting.

Deploying OKRs & meeting goals and objectives tip #3: Ensure OKR info is centralized

This is a crucial one: Document all information related to the progression of OKRs in one central location.

Those with good memories will remember that, at Process Street, we use Notion. We have an entire workspace in the app dedicated to OKRs, handily titled “Company Objectives and Key Results (OKRs)”! In that workspace, we have a list of the company-wide objectives with tags for the relevant department (e.g. sales, people & operations, etc), and a status bar that shows how close, percentage-wise, we are to meeting that objective.

Below the objectives are the key results, explaining what the objectives will be measured by. There are also blank fields for people to adds notes or suggested adjustments, in addition to a field that shows whether the OKRs are for the current quarter, or were OKRs for past quarters.

It’s fairly simple in the grand scheme of things, but it’s hugely beneficial to have all of this data and all these details in one, accessible place. It means Process Street employees can go in and check anything if they’re unsure, and it makes it ten times easier for newly-hired managers, C-suites, and other higher-ups to see what’s been happening at the company they’ve just joined.

The list of benefits is endless, really!

Deploying OKRs & meeting goals and objectives tip #4: Assign an OKR champion

An OKR champion is somebody who essentially takes ownership of an OKR. The whole team can look to them for context and clarification around progress towards the OKR; they will also be responsible for shifting and tweaking OKRs, and assessing whether or not things are on track.

OKR champions may have previous experience rolling out OKRs, but more important is their knowledge of and ownership over the internal moving parts of your organization that will ultimately facilitate the success (or failure) of a given OKR.

In many ways, the OKR champion shares similarities with the Scrum Master role. They both:

  • Make sure everyone follows relevant processes
  • Encourage responsibility towards predefined goals
  • Plans and leads team meetings to share updates, progress, and maintain alignment
  • Helps the team learn from past efforts and build improvements
  • Recognizes achievements and celebrates team efforts towards common goals
  • Is responsible for and helps management understand team performance with data and metrics

Deploying OKRs & meeting goals and objectives tip #5: Get feedback from your employees

From customer reviews to content peer reviews, feedback helps us to do better and be better.

And the same works where OKRs are concerned.

Getting feedback from employees means you’re able to know whether the goals and objectives are too hard, too easy, or just right. You’re also able to gauge if teams have ideas for OKRs that could be set for upcoming quarters, and even how they’re finding working with OKRs in general.

This is something that Tim Meinhardt, the CEO of Atruity, which is a trusted OKR consultancy, also suggests doing:

“Feedback, recognition and communication are extremely important. They help to keep everyone motivated and engaged as they process the new OKR Program.”Tim Meinhardt, Top 5 tips for successful OKR implementation

Although, keep in mind that not all employees will want to give feedback in a 1:1 session, or on a departmental call. An anonymized survey will help people be honest, and truly say what’s on their mind.

When the feedback has been given, you can then utilize that data to become, well, better when it comes to how you approach OKRs!

There you have it.

5 simple yet undeniably crucial tips to help you deploy OKRs like a pro.

Hopefully these tips and tricks — alongside everything else in this post — have taught you a thing or two about OKRs, and how best to implement them. They worked for us here at Process Street, and if done correctly, they’ll surely work for you, too.

If you found this post useful, you’ll find these other posts written by our insightful content team useful, too:

Here’s to smashing tough goals and objectives and securing your company’s success. 🚀

Have OKRs been useful for your team, or do you use another method for setting goals? Let us know all your OKR-related musings in the comment section below. We’ll also answer any further questions that you’re burning to ask! 👇

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Thom James Carter

Thom is one of Process Street’s content writers. He’s also contributed tech-related writing to The New Statesman, Insider, Atlassian, G2, The Content Marketing Institute, and more. Follow him on Twitter @thomjamescarter.


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