OKRs for Startups

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

Sharing goal ownership with OKRs

How to introduce bottom-up goal-setting

Most organizations start with a top-down approach to strategy. It's not that people love micro-management - it's that it takes time for new contributors to get a good understanding of the business.

Mentorship is required in the early months. But as people get more knowledge and experience, it becomes important to empower them to own their future.

Letting your team define their own goals is a quick way to increase engagement and scale execution. But, you'll still need to provide some guidance to make sure that everyone is pulling in the same direction.

Audience

stage 2

You're in stage 2 of goal setting:

  • There's a North Star that the team can focus on for the year.
  • Big outcomes are divided into quarterly goals that people can focus on.
  • Focus areas and goals are still defined by the leadership team.

Requirements

✔ You understand the challenges of the Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) framework.
✔ A Tability account and workspace.
✔ A vision document and a Tability page for your company goals.
✔ You know how to set quarterly SMART goals for your team.

What we'll do

Going from stage 2 to stage 3 is mainly about sharing the responsibility of defining outcomes with the team. Most of what we'll see in this tutorial is about changing the culture so that people feel comfortable setting their own goals. The rest will be about adopting OKRs as a standard way to structure outcomes.

In this guide we will:

  • Organize goals using the OKRs framework.
  • Empower the team to set their own Key Results.

Step 1. Adopt the OKRs framework

The OKRs structure

There are 2 main components to the Objectives and Key Results framework:

  • Objectives: Objectives should be concise, inspiring and engaging. They do not contain metrics - this is the role of Key Results. An Objective can be something like "Delight customers", "Be a market leader in Europe" or "Create an amazing Ecosystem". They're usually more powerful as a phrase.
  • Key Results: The Key Results are the ways you'll measure success for your Objectives. Don't pick more than 5 Key Results per Objective otherwise you will dilute efforts and lose focus.

You can have multiple level of OKRs: company OKRs, then team or people OKRs underneath. A typical OKRs page will be organized the following way:

Objective 1
    > Key Result 1.1
    > Key Result 1.2
    > Key Result 1.3

Objective 2
    > Key Result 2.1
    > Key Result 2.2

You'll find that this structure is quite familiar to what we've seen before with the SMART goals. So let's see how we can change our pages in Tability to fit the OKRs model.

Managing OKRs with Tability

If you have been through the previous guides it will be easy to switch to the Objectives and Key Results framework. In the first tutorial we defined a yearly plan that had focused areas and measures. And in the second tutorial we derived quarterly goals using the top-level outcomes for the year.

We ended up with a top-level page for the company goals.

foundations page

And a sub-page for the Product team.

smart page completed

We'll begin by changing the content of our yearly plan to turn the goals in Objectives and Key Results.

Tracking top-level OKRs in Tability

Our top-level page, Acme 2019 PFM, is already organized in OKRs.

  • Each section is an Objective
  • Each goal is a Key Result

We just have to make it more explicit for the team by editing the titles of sections and goals in the page.

sharing top okrs

What we did:

  • Rename the page from Acme 2019 PFM to Acme 2019 OKRs.
  • Added Objective # at the beginning of each section.
  • Added the prefix KR in front of each goal.

(after a few quarters you probably will probably be able to drop the "Objective" and "KR" prefix but this will make it easy for your team to map the concepts)

Now we can move on to our team pages below.

Tracking team OKRs in Tability

There's a bit more work required on the Product team page. If we look at the section titles we have:

  • Get 50 of the top 100 businesses in APAC
  • Launch a marketplace with 20 vendors
  • Our NPS score is above 30

These cannot be good Objectives since the statements are metric-based. Rather than trying to get creative we can simply re-use the top-level Objectives and keep the same goals as Key Results.

sharing product okrs

Re-using top-level Objectives in lower level OKRs is an easy way to align your teams around the same set of priorities.

If the Sales, Product and Marketing teams can all have different Objectives, it will be hard for you to understand how everything contributes to your company strategy.

But if all your teams share the same Objectives, then it's much simpler to see how their goals aligned. Just look at the Key Results for each team under "Grow customer love" to see how everyone's effort will improve things for your business.

Link Key Results together in Tability

⚠️ While it's possible to link KRs I'd recommend to keep things simple. It's highly likely that KRs will move during the quarter/year and the more links you create, the more expensive it'll be to maintain.

You can keep a direct relationship between Key Results by linking goals together in Tability. Edit the goal in the sub-page to link it to a parent goal.

sharing edit goal

Once the relationship is created, you will see a new list icon next to the goal title. By clicking on that icon you will be able to see the dependencies between the Key Results.

sharing dependencies

Step 2. Leadership sets objectives, team sets key results

Now that you know how to use structure your pages into OKRs you can empower your team to set their own goals in the form of Key Results.

Objectives should be the same for everyone. It's fine if there's an objective that a team cannot rally behind, but I would highly suggest to enfore strict Objectives rather than letting some teams create their own.

For instance, the Support team will probably have a hard time finding KRs for "Dominate the Asia-Pacific market", but they can surely have a few Key Results for "Grow customer love".

So when comes the next quarter, create a page and use the sections to add the Objectives.

sharing pre okrs

Create a similar page for each of your teams and let them come up with a series of Key Results that make sense for them. Here's a simple set of rules to help them:

  1. Write your Key Results using the SMART goal directives.
  2. Maximum 5 Key Results per Objective.
  3. It's ok if you can't find KRs for all the top-level Objectives. But you need to support at least one.
  4. Not more than 5 quarterly Key Results per owner.

But that's not all! Before asking your team to set goals there are a few things that the leadership team must do:

  • Don't tie bonuses to Key Results: If you truly want your team to be ambitious and creative you need to decouple Key Results from financial incentives. By doing so there won't be any gaming of the metrics, and people will feel more comfortable setting stretch goals.
  • Don't let your team set unattainable targets: While it's important to have goals that will push your team forward, make sure that Key Results are attainable. Nothing will dip morale faster than a group of people that can never meet their targets.
  • Make it OK to be KO: Empowering your team does not mean forcing them to be heroes. Not everything will work out and people should be able to report difficulties early instead of trying to fix things by themselves. Not only will it help your business be more agile, but it will also encourage your team to explore new opportunities.

It will probably take a few rounds of feedback to get the KRs right across your organization. Make sure that your teams dedicate enough time to prepare, and that the leaders of each department meet to double-check dependencies.

Once the Key Results are set you can add them as goals in Tability and start tracking them as seen previously.


Send us your questions and feedback via Twitter at @tabilityio