How to Implement Objectives and Key Results (OKRs)

By: Jenny Clark, SPHR, Director of People, THX Ltd.

This is the third in a series of pieces on the evolution of THX and has been in the works for the past couple of weeks. I was saddened to learn Andy Grove passed away this week. (He founded OKRs, as mentioned below.)

The THX headquarters office lobby (San Francisco, CA)

I’ve been working in the human resources field for over 10 years and the one thing people seem to detest most about HR, other than the dreaded “pink slip,” is being forced to complete the annual performance review.

Let’s face it — they suck.

It’s a process everyone loves to hate. When I joined THX nearly two years ago I aimed to move away from that traditional, and typically ineffective, process. However, in doing so we ended up not doing much at all, which is equally as bad, or maybe even worse.

Fast forward to November 2015 when our new Chief Executive Officer came on-board. He introduced his strategic vision of the company, which has put us in growth mode. Now, more than ever, it’s key to clearly communicate what is important to be working on and focusing our efforts on collaboration with each other to achieve the results necessary to attain our company goals.

Sounds good — but how?

We are headquartered in San Francisco and the Bay Area is the unofficial tech hub of the country, so it made sense to take a look around and see what was working in other companies in the area. The solution that rose to the top was Objectives and Key Results (OKRs). Some well-known users of this process are Google, LinkedIn, Intel, Oracle, and Twitter. I was a bit surprised to learn it was implemented in the 1970’s by the President of Intel (Andy Grove) and Google had been using them since 1999.

Essentially, OKRs connect the strategic plan of the company with the work of every employee. They provide clear expectations of the right things to be working on and build in ways to measure progress. My crash course on the details came via a presentation given by Rick Klau.

We kicked off OKRs at our December 2015 All-Hands Meeting by briefly introducing the concept and the CEO announced our company goals. I followed up with training for managers on the details.

Managers play a big role in the success of OKRs.

Specifically, they lead the development of department/group objectives in relation to corporate objectives via collaborative staff meetings.

  • Then they partner with each direct report via 1:1 meetings to develop individual key results.
  • Aside from the initial set-up, which occurs at the beginning of each quarter, managers have weekly 1:1 meetings to maintain an open channel of communication regarding progress and to provide feedback.
  • At the end of the quarter each department will review overall progress and begin the cycle again.

Continuous iteration will likely occur so we can establish and maintain a good rhythm. The first obvious issues are that progress is currently tracked via Excel spreadsheets and status reports are being sent out manually every week.

This does not work well.

An alternative platform is desperately needed to make this process less like filling out a dreaded performance review and more of a natural part of the workflow. I am currently researching options and hope to find a platform that will:

  • Communicate goals and drive action throughout the organization
  • Track progress of goals in real-time
  • Streamline weekly status updates
  • Integrate with Slack, our communications platform of choice

I researched some options and narrowed the field to three platforms to demo — BetterWorks, Workboard, and 7Geese. Honestly, all the products offer very similar solutions but vary quite a bit price-wise. The most inflexible with pricing proved to be BetterWorks so that narrowed the field to two options. To date, Workboard is the front-runner but a final decision has not been made.

There are also other obvious issues to address.

  • Since we currently aren’t using a traditional annual performance review — what is the right way to be reflective with overall employee performance?
  • Since we currently aren’t tying compensation directly to the progress of OKRs — how do we re-structure compensation and promotion decisions?

This is still a work in progress but it is helping us evolve into a much more transparent, focused, collaborative, and results-oriented environment.