7 Pitfalls to Avoid With OKR’s

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7 Pitfalls to Avoid With OKR’s

Can you name the top five priorities for your organization or department? OKRs are an important aspect to achieving business goals, but what are their pitfalls?

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Can you name the top 5 priorities for your organization (or department)? How likely is that your colleagues can also come up with the same list in the same order of priority? As per a Harvard Business Review survey, only about half the staff can name their company’s top 5 objectives.

Why OKR’s

There is a high chance that you might have already worked (and perhaps hated) with some of the goal-setting frameworks such as S.M.A.R.T. or quarterly As & Os (accomplishments and objectives). So, what new value does OKR’s bring to the table? Why should an organization consider OKR’s, well apart from OKR’s being hip and used by most of Silicon Valley companies such as Google, LinkedIn, Airbnb, Dropbox, Amazon, Twitter, etc? Here are a few reasons why you might want to consider OKR’s.

So, What are OKR’s?

Objectives and Key Results (OKR’s) – A critical thinking framework and ongoing discipline that seeks to ensure teams of people work together, focusing their efforts to make measurable contributions that drive the company forward. (Ben Lamorte)

Here is a basic structure of OKR’s

Pitfalls with OKR’s

OKR’s(Objectives and key results) are an effective yet simple goal setting practice. As with most simple practices/frameworks, OKR’s are simple to understand yet difficult to master and implement accurately. Here are the top 7 pitfalls/mistakes I’ve noticed when organization try to use OKR’s

1. Lack of Heartbeat

This is one of the most common pitfalls with OKR’s. A credible and sustainable cadence is key to effectively use OKR’s. A regular check (preferably weekly) is crucial to accurately assess progress and have a disciplined approach to meet set objectives. Without these regular checks, OKR’s quickly becomes a quarterly ritual that doesn’t add much value to the organization.

2. Unmeasurable Key Results

Key result areas are derived for each objective. There should be an effective way to measure key results to have better insights into the progress of each key result. Key results are best measured as numeric values. Defining KPI’s for key results is also an acceptable practice in most organizations

3. Working in Silos

Effective OKR’s are set at the organization level which gets translated into individual department/team’s OKR’s. There is a need for better alignment across departments/teams. One of the main reasons for this pitfall is that most executives assume that top-level OKR’s transcend into the department/team level. This also leads to a lack of bi-directional alignment and leads to inconsistent expectations across different teams. This must be a deliberate exercise to ensure such cascading does occur and communication occurs bi-directionally.

4. Using as a Tool to Control Employees’ Work

When an organization encourages the use of OKR’s at the individual level, there is a high chance that it might quickly become a tool to control, monitor, or manage individual employees. There are many instances where OKR’s are used to evaluate employee performance. This is a bad practice because being ambitious while setting an objective is a key factor when using OKR’s. When employees are assessed on their individual OKR’s, they invariable try to play safe by not setting ambitious goals. This promotes a risk aversion culture.

5. Using as a Dashboard for Business as Usual

OKR’s are not meant to be used for business as usual activities. By using OKR’s for business as usual activities, organizations tend to either repeat the same OKR’s every year or they end up with too many OKR’s. OKR’s provides a great structure to encourage organizations to set and act on ambitious goals. It defeats the point of OKR’s when used of business as usual activities. KPI’s and balanced scorecards are best suited for such business as usual activities.

6. Tasks as Key Results

OKR’s is not a collection of tasks. They primarily focus on outcomes or results then output or activities. As Google’s re: Work states: “One thing OKRs are not is a checklist. They are not intended to be a master task like…Use OKRs to define the impact the team wants to see and let the teams come up with the methods of achieving that impact.”

So, in a nutshell – a task is something done by a team or individual. A key result is achieved by completing multiple tasks. To achieve an objective, multiple key results are acquired.

7. Setting Too Many OKR’s (Everything Is an OKR!)

Focus is key to achieving results. Too many OKR’s results in diluted focus and thereby less than optimal results. 3 to 5 is a good number of OKR’s to start with. By having too many OKR’s organizations/teams overwhelm themselves. Do note that a bit of slack room is needed to foster creativity in teams.


Working with OKR’s requires a learning curve. We started to reap benefits from our 2nd attempt (2nd quarter) OKR’s. Do not hesitate to have difficult conversations. In a nutshell, get started and be patient.

goal setting, okr, pitfalls

Published at DZone with permission of Phani Bhushan . See the original article here.

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