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4 min read

Eight more myths about OKRs you’re probably falling for

Jean Henson
Jean Henson
24 January 23 Agile
Eight more myths about OKRs

In this blog two-parter, we’re busting myths wide open about OKRs, that’s objective key results. If you’re already up to speed and have read part one, there are lots more myths to blow out of the water. So keep reading…

In part one, we explained that:

  • OKRs are not a recent phenomenon; they’ve been around for a long time.
  • OKRs aren’t just for tech companies or large organisations. Everyone (including individuals) can use and benefit from them.
  • OKRs don’t replace KPIs and they’re not the same thing. Both OKRs and KPIs are useful tools that can work in tandem.
  • OKRs can take time to get used to, and communication and transparency is essential to make sure everyone buys into the concept.
  • The number of OKRs you have should be limited. This will force everyone to focus on what’s most important.
  • OKRs are not tasks you tick off on a list. They’re desired goals and measurable outcomes that you want to achieve.
  • Not all OKRs are stretch goals. You can also have ‘committed’ and ‘learning’ OKRs that you should aspire to achieve 100 percent.

Let’s take a look at eight more common misconceptions about OKRs you might be falling for.

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1. OKRs are an HR tool

OKRs are not an HR tool. OKRs help companies take long-term strategy and communicate that as short-term goals for teams and individuals. It’s an essential tool for everyone – from C-suiters who want to accelerate growth to individual employees who want to know how their work contributes to where the organisation is headed. 

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2. OKRs are for performance reviews

This myth is closely tied to the previous one. Don’t confuse OKRs as a performance evaluation tool. In fact, they shouldn't be used to evaluate an individual employee. Instead, they’re there to help you empower your people to reach their full potential.

Achieving OKRs shouldn’t be linked to rewards or promotion either. They’re useful for understanding what an employee has been working on over a certain time period – and how they’re contributing to the business’s OKRs.

Stop and think!

Linking OKRs to compensation, which encourages employees to be aspirational and try to learn new things, with their pay, bonuses, or potential promotion means you might penalise people with big ambitions. It’s likely that overall your employees will become risk averse and less experimental to avoid missing out on more money or the chance to progress within the business.

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3. You should achieve all your OKRs

If you always achieve your goals, chances are your goals may be too easy. The point of OKRs is to push people to challenge themselves. That’s why there are three different kinds–aspirational, learning, and committed. While you should aim to achieve your learning and committed OKRs 100 percent, that’s not always the case with aspirational ones.

These are your stretch objectives, something truly ambitious that you’re working towards. They encourage people to push past what they thought they could, rather than easily achieving a goal with little effort. Think of it this way, aspirational OKRs are the building blocks for remarkable long-term achievements.

Did you know?

OKR pioneer, Andrew Grove, demanded a lot from employees at Intel. He believed that the best OKRs should be nearly impossible to achieve. He said if you hit 70 percent of the impossible goals you set, then that was as good as hitting 100 percent.

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"Shoot for the moon and if you miss you'll still be among the stars."
Les Brown, motivational speaker, corporate trainer, and author

4. Only leaders can set OKRs

Organisational OKRs need to be set first: where is the organisation going, what are the core things it wants to achieve, and what are the key results that will determine success? Yes, these will probably be set by leadership. But when it comes to OKRs at the team and individual level, leaders should take a step back. The onus should fall on the people these objectives and key results relate to so they feel empowered and take ownership over their work.

  • Team OKRs should be set by the team. 
  • Individual OKRs should be set by the individual. 
  • All OKRs should align with the organisation’s goals.
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5. OKRs should cascade down the organisation

Related to the previous myth, the answer is no! Cascading OKRs reinforces hierarchy and means everyone has to wait for the person ‘above’ them before setting goals. It also encourages managers to set goals for their teams rather than the goals originating from the teams themselves. Once organisational goals have been set, teams and individuals should set their own aligned OKRs.

Try this!

Once they’re finalised, make your OKRs visible to everyone. Transparency is important because OKRs can impact other people’s work and their OKRs too. This alignment empowers teams to get on with goal-setting free from management constraints.

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"Cascaded goals are a top-down, one-way, irreversible flow, with no feedback cycles that end crashing on the rocks. Everything an agile, innovative organisation does not want to be."
Felipe Castro, OKR trainer, speaker, and author

6. Setting OKRs ensures alignment, focus, and engagement

Doesn’t that sound amazing. It’s not true, of course. While OKRs are a useful methodology, they’re not a cure-all. They can guide you in making decisions, but they don’t guarantee success and they won’t eradicate disengaged employees. 

Above just setting OKRs, you need to:

  • Communicate clearly about why you’re using OKRs and what problems you’re trying to solve. This helps align everyone.
  • Empower employees and teams to set their own goals. This gives them ownership, engages them from the start, and helps them feel more connected to the business and committed to the process.
  • Refine goals and prioritise so everyone focuses on what matters most.
  • Encourage people to be transparent about their OKRs to build a more connected, collaborative environment.
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7. OKRs are tough to manage

To make sure this is definitely not the case, you can use specialist software that helps you set and track OKRs, rather than relying on spreadsheets. Spreadsheets require a lot of time-consuming manual input, make it hard to see trends, and aren’t scalable. OKR software can automate processes, provide insights in real-time, and ensure OKRs are as transparent as possible, so everyone has a clear idea of what’s happening. 

But remember, these tools are only as good as the people using them. You need to dedicate time to onboarding people so they use the system confidently and correctly.

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8. You can relax once your OKRs are written

Relax? Wouldn’t that be nice! While you can feel a bit smug that you’ve defined your OKRs for the quarter, you’ll need to stay on top of them and track your progress. Regular check-ins remind everyone to assess where they’re at, celebrate success, learn from failures or where they’re falling short, and then prioritise their work moving forward.

Remember to discuss your OKRs honestly and be open around any issues and opportunities to learn. That’s what it’s all about!

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Ready for the real deal?

Done with myths and ready to embrace the reality of OKRs? We’re here to help. 

If you’d like support with your agile transformation, and OKRs in particular, fill out the form below, and one of our experts will be in touch.

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About the authors

Jean Henson

Jean Henson

Jean is a "lead from the front" type of leader that helps companies identify and implement processes and tools to support their transformation.