New to OKRs? Here’s a plan that will work for 93% of startups

Sten
Tability
Published in
5 min readMar 13, 2023

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OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) have become increasingly popular in recent years, with many companies adopting them as a way to set and measure progress towards their long-term goals. However, for newcomers, the process of writing effective OKRs can be daunting. The literature is confusing, with some arguing for cascading OKRs, and others saying you shouldn’t do it (but yeah you shouldn’t cascade your OKRs). You’re also made to feel as if not having 100% of your KRs measurable is a failure — but reality often dictates otherwise.

The result? Too many teams build up frustration because they can’t agree on what their OKRs should look like — which makes it really hard to see the value of the framework.

It’s true. OKRs are hard. But you can make it much easier to adopt by starting with a simple plan and focusing on the cultural changes that need to happen:

  • Goals are now at the centre (outcomes over outputs).
  • Weekly check-ins are critical.
  • Projects should now be treated like bets.
  • It should be safe for teams to report bad news.

You’ll find in this post a simple OKR template that you can use for your company-level OKRs. Will it be generic? Yes. Is it bad? No.

Understanding the real value of OKRs

Alignment is a big selling point, but the true value of OKRs lies in their ability to provide continuous updates on your company’s strategy. Tracking progress on a weekly basis will give you and your team insight into which goals are easily achievable and which ones require a little more effort.

Using Tability you can catch problems early and correct the course before it’s too late.

This is where the magic happens.

The more you understand how projects impact your expected outcomes, the easier it is to iterate on projects and find the best way to deliver results. This part is what gets often neglected during the first cycle of OKRs. But this framework is a great tool for staying agile and adaptable, which is crucial in the fast-paced world of startups.

It doesn’t matter that you goals are somewhat similar to those of 90 other startups. What matters is how you’re using these goals to drive your efforts and understand how to best achieve success.

Common mistakes made when adopting OKRs

Turning your roadmap into OKRs

Your OKRs aren’t your roadmap, and you don’t need to track business-as-usual activities. OKRs define how you want your company to have changed during the quarter.

Read OKRs vs. Projects to learn more.

Replacing your KPIs with OKRs

There’s often confusion about the difference between OKRs and KPIs, especially given that they tend to use the same metrics. Short answer: you should have both.

KPIs help you monitor the health of your business. OKRs focus on improving a specific part of your business.

Read OKRs vs. KPIs to learn more.

Goal-setting is important, but goal-tracking is what makes OKRs valuable

Your first OKR cycle should be used to build your outcome-driven muscle. Spending 2 weeks to set a fantastic set of goals won’t be helpful if people forget them mid-quarter, or if your culture still revolves around deadlines and roadmap puzzles.

This template is generic, but it’ll touch on the 3 things that matter for 93% of companies:

  • Growth
  • Customers
  • Team

Once you fill in the blanks you’ll be ready to go. And this is where things get interesting!

Your first OKRs plan

Here’s what your first OKRs plan should look like:

Objective: Create an efficient growth engine
- KR: Grow MRR from $_______ to $________
- KR: Grow the number of customers from _______ to ________
- KR: Achieve a CAC Payback Period of ___ months

Objective: Be obsessive about the customers
- KR: Achieve NPS of _____
- KR: Do ____ interviews with existing users
- KR: Reduce churn from __% to __%

Objective: build a team of all-stars
- KR: Grow the team from __ to __ people
- KR: Increase employee NPS from __ to __

Fill in the blanks with what the number that makes sense for your team, and you’ll end up with a plan that looks like this 👇

How our plan looks like in Tability

Listing the corresponding initiatives

Now that we have our OKRs ready, we can start listing the initiatives (aka bets) that can help you achieve your goals. The cool thing is: some apps can do that for you.

So I let Tability generate all the initiatives for me using its goal-setting AI.

This is the what the platform came up with for the first Objective 👇

Is this perfect, no? But is it a great place to start, yes!

The goal of OKRs isn’t to create analysis paralysis, but rather to give teams a clear direction with the Objectives and the Key Results. Then, we can start iterating on the projects and initiatives that are likely to get us there.

Keep a close relationship between outcomes and outputs

Some of the projects will produce the right kind of results – great! But some of our initiatives might lead to the expected improvements – that’s ok. What’s important is to have a healthy feedback cycle between outcomes and outputs.

We should be

Now the tracking can start 🏃‍♀️

There are 2 kinds of teams.

  • Those who use OKRs passively as an agenda for the monthly business review.
  • Those who use OKRs actively to maintain a great sense of urgency and achieve their goals faster.

The former tends to be surprised every month when they’re reminded of the top priorities. The latter is always on top of everything.

Choose wisely!

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