OKRs for Startups

A 4 stage guide to adopt the Objective and Key Results framework in your organization.

What are OKRs?

(and what's the big deal about them?)

The acronym OKRs stands for Objectives and Key Results. Behind the scary terms is a goal-setting framework designed to foster alignment and focus. It started at Intel, but they've been more recently associated with Google. They drive everything via OKRs, using stretch targets to spark innovation.

These 2 companies are huge, both way past the 10,000 employees mark. So it could be tempting to dismiss OKRs as a sluggish model for big Enterprise, but in reality, it's a tool that can benefit every team regardless of their size.

The rules of OKRs are simple, but it takes time and efforts to do it right. This is probably not the first post you read on the topic, but we strive to be different by offering you a pragmatic approach to implement OKRs.

Rushing OKRs without preparedness is a sure way to confuse your team and drop morale.

In this guide we will help you grow your outcome-driven muscle gradually. You'll see how you can get started with simple goal-setting practices, and slowly adopt OKRs principles as you get comfortable.

We divide that journey in 4 stages.

Stage 1 Stage 2 Stage 3 Stage 4
Focus on outputs Outcome-driven Outcome-driven Outcome-driven
Top-down directives Top-down directives Top-down directives Top-down directives
    Bottom-up contributions Bottom-up contributions
      Fast-feedback cycle
  • Stage 1: There's no formal goal-setting in your organization - this is your starting point.
  • Stage 2: You have a shared vision for your company and a handful of KPI-driven goals set by leadership.
  • Stage 3: Your team starts to contribute to the goal-setting process and adopt the OKRs framework.
  • Stage 4: OKRs are widely used in your organization to drive focus and execution.

You'll find 4 articles to help you move from one stage to another, using Tability as a supporting platform.

  1. Setting the foundations for OKRs.
  2. Using SMART goals to drive outcomes.
  3. Sharing goal ownership with your team.
  4. Getting fast feedback loops on OKRs.

But before diving into the tutorials, let's see why OKRs are challenging.

Why adopting OKRs is hard

Most organizations start with a simple model. By doing a set of activities, you will increase your revenues and grow your customer base.

index activities outcomes

It translates into teams putting a lot of emphasis on tracking their outputs: features being releases, sales calls made, support cases being closed. The more throughput we see, the better.

The problem with this approach is that it lacks focus. Measuring the activity of your teams will give them a strong incentive to produce more. But, without a clear direction for the company, you're likely to see people wasting efforts on different priorities.

index different directions

In the picture above, teams are working equally hard, but they're not aligned. As a result it will be difficult for your business to grow effectively as your teams might be working against each other.

This is what happens when your Product team ships some features that your Marketing team is not prepared to promote. Or when your Marketing team launches a campaign without the support of your Customer Success team.

The OKRs framework helps you flip that thinking around.

Rather than looking at outputs, you focus first on defining the outcomes you want.

By having a clear idea of where you want to be, you will be able to help everyone in your organization understand what they need to do to get there.

index outcomes activities

Instead of letting your teams decide what direction they should take, you define the North Star that will guide their efforts. By doing so, you ensure that everyone is driving towards the same goals.

index same directions

It may only take a couple of paragraphs to explain OKRs but flipping the flow Activity -> Outcomes is freaking hard.

A common mistake is to think that having a set of goals written on a page is enough to consider yourself outcome-driven. This is only a tiny part of the transformations that need to happen if you want your organization to be truly outcome-driven.

Output-focus Outcome-driven
Leadership controls Leadership inspires
Top-down strategy Bottom-up ownership
Passive contributors Empowered teams
Competition Collaboration
Producing deliverables Delivering value
Siloed roadmaps Shared North Star
Yearly targets Quarterly goals

Rather than tackling everything at once, you should start by setting the foundations of a good goal-setting culture. Then, as you get more practice and experience you'll be able to start sharing ownership of the goal-setting with your team.

In this guide we'll use Tability to save time and help you focus on the organizational changes, rather than having to craft a spreadsheet.

What is Tability?

Tability is a lightweight goal-tracking platform for teams. It creates fast feedback loops on outcomes and makes it easy to see progress.

index tability

We designed it so that you can start small with simple goals and grow progressively into more sophisticated usage like OKRs.

Now let's dive in and start the tutorial!


Send us your questions and feedback via Twitter at @tabilityio