Goal setting with OKRs only works if you approach them correctly. Remember that using OKRs means implementing a new system to your life or organization; therefore, you need to adjust your daily life to make this system work.
You might be more familiar with the OKR tracking system that is typically used in big organizations. However, besides setting business goals, we use them to improve our performance and health in our everyday lives. As long as you follow a couple of essential steps and implement them correctly, you can enjoy all the benefits of OKRs.
We have been using OKRs for about three years, and we went through many iterations; some of them were more successful and hit the sweet spot, some of them a bit less. However, when reviewing each quarter separately, the successful and less successful ones, we noticed some patterns that all less successful have in common.
We could combine these into three common mistakes that happened on the way from start to finish.
With this article, I want to share these OKR mistakes and help you to avoid them.
Mistake #1: Your goal (objective) is not clear.
When choosing your goals, you need to think through and align your mission to ensure you want to do this. First, you need to decide on the high-level goal and then align all your steps, in this case, objectives and key results, to bring you the closest to this final goal.
In other words, your short-term goals have to be aligned with your long-term ambitious goals. And this needs time and thinking, so make sure you spend enough time on this and not rush into it just to be done.
We usually set OKRs per quarter - one iteration takes one quarter of the year, which is a big chunk of the year, so you should ensure you are following the right path.
If, for example, your goal and a dream for this year is to create an online yoga course, your objectives and key results have to bring you closer to that end goal. Day-by-day, month by month.
Not having a clearly defined idea is a mistake that is commonly happening, especially in the first months when starting with OKRs. You may be unsure which direction you are going and the right key results you need to set to get there. So you settle with something to be done with it.
No worries, you will learn this fast and get a better feeling by learning from your mistakes.
One of the obstacles that we are all keen on is shifting focus. It can happen if you are trying something new, to build a new business, or to start with a new career. It occurred to me quite often at the beginning of my freelancing career. I was not entirely sure what I wanted to do, and I had no clear idea how to earn my money after leaving my 9-5 job.
But the most crucial part is that you don't give up, even if you feel a bit lost. Instead, take a step back and think, and start with smaller goals, less overwhelming ones, so it will be easier to come forward.
Suppose you realize that you want to switch your focus elsewhere. In that case, you can slightly tweak your OKRs during the iteration, but don't make it a habit. It can negatively influence your progress and prevent you from achieving anything in the end.
So the best advice we can get from this is to invest enough time into thinking about it from the beginning, don't rush anything. For example, I usually spend a week thinking about the next OKRs (based on the last iteration and its success). We write them down, discuss them with Leo, and then finalize them based on the feedback and my final decision.
Mistake #2: Your OKRs are not measurable
The second mistake that often occurred was setting some key results vague and not measurable. Of course, all key results have to be clear and measurable; otherwise, you will not be able to track the progress.
This mistake can be easily avoided already in the beginning when finalizing your OKRs. For each key result you decide on, ask yourself: Can, and more importantly, how, will I measure that? It would help if you had measurable outcomes.
You can measure the progress on a scale from 0–100%, or any numerical unit, e.g., $ amount, miles, items, pounds, etc.
The easiest is to explain with the example:
Suppose your goal is to create an online yoga course:
- Bad (not-measurable) Key Result - Prepare content for my awesome online yoga course
- Good (measurable) Key Result - Publish 1 module of the course every week
You see, the second one is way more clear, and allows you to check in every week and see how much progress you made in a week. This brings us to the last mistake, tracking and measuring progress.
For some tasks that we want to do daily, we created a tracking page in Notion, where we log our daily (habits) tasks to track the progress. If you are curious about how we do that, you can drop a comment, and we'll share more details.
Mistake #3: You are not tracking your progress regularly.
This is one of the biggest mistakes you can make and will most probably lead to failure. So instead, you need to set up at least a weekly performance review where you check the previous week's progress and briefly make a plan to move forward. Then, at the end of each iteration, you do a more comprehensive quarterly review.
If you had a bad week, you need to identify the root cause and make the upcoming week more successful. Conversely, if you had a great week, you need to embrace the success and continue in the same spirit.
The best is to create a tracking system that will help you quickly see the progress, lagging, and where you are on a good way. We use Notion for this.
This part can be handled differently, depending on if you are working on OKRs alone, with a dedicated accountability partner or a team. And we tried them all already.
If you are working on OKRs alone
This is perhaps the most challenging way, as you need a lot of willpower and self initiatives to ensure progress and keep up with the schedule. First, you should create a solid tracking system that works best for you and allows you weekly progress check-ups.
You should dedicate 30min or more a week to sit down and review the progress on your to-do list. The best is to have a fixed calendar appointment (with yourself), same time, same day. In this way, you know in advance when you need to spare your time for OKR review and adjust other plans around it. This should be your priority.
Visualize your progress in the form of a scale or charts, so you can see how far you came and how much longer you have to meet your goals.
OKR review with an accountability partner
You probably realized that we are big fans of having accountability partners to reach your goals. We can't pass them mentioning them here as well.
Accountability Partner with a solid system in place will make sure that you stay on track.
If you decide to go this road, you can do all the steps above instead of having your weekly check-ups with yourself; schedule a call with your accountability partner to review your progress. You should be honest and report on your progress without tweaking the truth.
The best is to find a person with OKRs set up too, so you can discuss each other's progress together and encourage each other to meet the deadlines. This is what Leo and I are doing; we both have our OKRs and review and share the progress.
If you are eager to start with an accountability partner, we can help you with that. Just drop us an email, and we will set you up.
OKR review with a team
This works similarly to the previous example; you organize weekly calls together with more people. In this case, it is necessary that ALL members work on OKRs. Otherwise, it would not make much sense.
Be careful. It is also more challenging to find a common hour and day in the week to have a call with more people. It is expected that some of the group members will drop out at some point. It would be best if you didn't get discouraged by that and continue with your path.
It doesn't matter which option you choose or which one is available for you; the most important is to keep the persistence and willpower to finish what you started. This is the primary mission of OKRs.
We believe that if you have these three mistakes in mind when setting up and working on your OKRs, you will avoid and eliminate a big chunk of potential failure.
Stay focused and OKR :)
We'll be happy if you share your thoughts and experiences in the comment below!