How to Bring OKRs to Your Small Team
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How to Bring OKRs to Your Small Team

Liz Elfman Liz Elfman Last Updated:
Animation of a woman jumping on steps spelling out OKR

By now, you’ve heard of OKRs, right? That’s the “Objective Key Results” framework spearheaded by Intel and Google back in the 1990s. It’s the model that some attribute to being responsible for Google’s astronomic growth because it’s such an effective way to measure objectives and track outcomes. 

In the forward of the definitive book on OKRs, Google founder Larry Page says: “OKRs have helped lead us to 10x growth, many times over. They’ve helped make our crazily bold mission of ‘organizing the world’s information’ perhaps even achievable. They’ve kept the rest of the company and me on time and on track when it mattered the most.

Okay, that sounds great. But…Google. Intel. These are big names. What if you’re just a small team or startup, but you want to bring OKRs to your organization? It’s all well and good to read long books and resources about implementing OKRs. But beyond the buzzwords and jargon, what does it actually look like to take OKRs and set them up on your team? Especially when your team doesn’t have the resources and the people operations infrastructure of a Google or an Intel?

The Measure What Matters book for OKRs

Step 1: Introducing the Concept of OKRs

In our team, we had an introductory meeting where we discussed the OKR framework and allowed everyone to ask questions. For your team to implement OKRs correctly, you first really need to understand what they are. For a more detailed rundown, Google Ventures has a thorough presentation on how they implement OKRs.  Google recommends having 3-month and 12-month OKRs, but some teams use different intervals (for example, Toggl’s marketing team currently works with monthly OKRs). 

Step 2: Creating The Two Parts of OKRs

The goal of the OKR is to precisely define how to achieve objectives through concrete, specific, and measurable actions. Your objective answers the question, “Where do I want to go?” Your key result answers the question, “How am I going to get there?” 

You should create one overarching objective, with between 3 and 5 key results that align with it. For example:

Objective: Increase Number of Operating Perfume Stores

  • Key Result: Select 40 new franchise candidates by March
  • Key Result: Train 30 of them by June 
  • Key Result: Sign contracts with 25 of them by September 
  • Key Result: Open 20 new stores by December 

Step 3: Checking In On Your OKRs

OKRs shouldn’t be something you think about at the beginning of the quarter and then again at the end. Set up weekly or bi-weekly check-ins, either with yourself or your team lead, to ask, “What am I doing today that is getting me closer to achieving my OKRs?” If it helps, write it down. 

Step 4: Grading the OKRs 

You want to grade your OKRs on a scale of 0 to 1, where 0.6 or 0.7 is your aim. 0.8 to 1.0 is possible – for example if it’s binary and you achieved it, you get 1. However, I know that 1.0s are supposed to be unlikely. They’re supposed to be exceptional. Your scores are supposed to matter less than the process. Low scores are used to assess what you should do differently and what is worth repeating. 

Step 5: Circling Back with Your Team

It’s important to go through the first few cycles of OKRs with your team or organization at large. Get a feel for what everyone has been working on, and whether they achieved what they set out to do. You’ll also find value in looking at everyone’s OKR examples and how they scored. Seeing these examples will help you create better OKRs and insights in the future. 

Real OKR Examples

The best way to understand OKRs is to look at a whole slew of them. By giving it a quick Google, you can likely find a bunch of lists of OKRs, like at this website, OKR Examples

But it’s always even more helpful to see what a real person from a real team has done. On that note, here are my OKRs from this month:

Objective: Centralize Existing Email Communications 

  • Key Result: Create a space for Team Leads to enter their communication habits, frequencies, needs, and issues
  • Map the process for Marketing Newsletters 
  • Set up a regular call with all Team Leads to establish their list process

Objective: Increase Existing Partnerships to Generate Interest in Toggl to New Audiences

  • Key Result: Create one new deck for the upcoming partner webinar 
  • Key Result: Strategize and create all assets to be linked in the newsletter and on website
  • Key Result: Establish a future guest-speaker partner for Toggl’s webinar series in September 

Objective: Implement a Smoother Process for Biz Dev Team Collaboration

  • Key Result: Onboard designer
  • Key Result: Gather requirements for quote template and have him complete draft
  • Key Result: Collaborate on all revisions to hand a working, customizable draft to Biz Dev

Some Quick OKR Do’s 

  1. Do Set Limits – Jot down a maximum of 5 objectives with a maximum of 4 key results. You won’t derive value from juggling much more than this in one month or one quarter. 
  2. Do Stick With It – Don’t expect to be an OKR expert after using them for a single quarter. Expect to take 3 or 4 cycles to get comfortable with OKRs. 
  3. Do Think About The Big Picture – As much as possible, link your objectives and key results back to the overarching mission of the company. 
  4. Do Be Uncertain – Be unclear as to whether you can deliver on the OKR you commit to deliver. If you’re certain you will achieve it, you’re not thinking “big” enough. 
  5. Do Use Numbers – Make quantifiable key results – you need to be able to objectively grade them. Saying “I will make our email processes better,” because this is subjective and it’s impossible to objectively assess that. 

Some Quick OKR Dont’s 

  1. Don’t Take Too Long Setting OKRs – OKRs should be set in one day. They’re meant to encourage agility and efficiency. You don’t have to agonize over every objective and key result. Think of OKRs as an iterative experimentation process, where failures provide just as much information as successes. 
  2. Don’t Be Too General  – Your OKRs don’t need to take into account everything that your role comprises. It’s not an exhaustive list. It’s a strategic, focused chunk of your miles-long to-do list. When in doubt, be more precise. Be more focused. Scale down. 
  3. Don’t Be Too Philosophical – At the end of the month or quarter, when you’re evaluating your OKRs, you should be able to answer “Did I achieve them?” with a yes or no answer, or at least a quantifiable answer (“I got 30% of the way there”). If you can’t objectively answer this question, your OKR wasn’t written properly. 
  4. Don’t Confuse Tasks With Results – A task is straightforward – you can check it off a checklist. A result is harder to achieve. “Write 4 blog posts about time management” is a task. “Increase traffic to time-management-related content” is a result. It’s all about outcomes over output. 
  5. Don’t Expect To Hit All Your OKRs Every Time – Your OKRs are supposed to be super hard to achieve. They’re “stretch” goals if you will. So if you’re scoring perfectly on all of them, you probably haven’t pushed yourself hard enough when you set up your goals.

At the end of the day, just remember that OKRs aren’t really anything groundbreaking. They’re just a simple way of setting a goal. So if they help you go from “we don’t have goals” to “we have quarterly goals,” you’re doing it right.

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