The OKR Cycle

Table of Contents

A clearly defined OKR process with regular events to plan, align, update, reflect and adjust is the heart of a successful agile goal and performance management system. Workpath’s standard cycle is designed for organizations to start implementing Objectives and Key Results (OKRs). From there, every company needs to develop and refine the process to their needs and requirements in order to optimize adoption, engagement and effectiveness. Timing, agenda, and frequency of retrospectives or Check-ins can vary and be adjusted.

If you want to know more about the OKR framework, take a look at our article "Objectives and Key Results (OKR) - A Definition"

Workpaths OKR cycle

1. Announce organizational priorities

Until three weeks before a new cycle starts, the executive team works on a guiding set of top company priorities for the next quarter. Depending on the situation, these priorities can either be just giving rough directions or come as a set of more detailed OKR drafts already. They are then publicly shared within the organization.

organozational priorities

2. Team OKR Drafting

After announcing the organizational priorities, the departments and teams discuss their own priorities and how they can contribute to the overall organizational goals. Accordingly, they design their OKRs and assign responsible owners. Owners are the people who are in charge of putting the OKRs constantly on the agenda but are not responsible for doing all the work behind them.

Writing OKRs is one of the most relevant steps in the OKR cycle. Well-written OKRs are a success factor for the overall process.  Writing good OKRs takes time and is a journey of incremental improvements. But what are good OKRs and what requirements should you place?

You can find everything you need to know about drafting OKRs in our Workpath Magazine.
Get advice and inspiration from experts:

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3 Steps to make OKRs successful: Set, Align, Achieve
Successful OKRs require three important steps - Felipe Castro explains what it takes to make OKRs work.
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6 Quality Check Criteria for your OKRs
Drafting OKRs can be challenging, no matter how often you have already done it. It never hurts to recall the most important quality criteria for good OKRs.
Read more about it here!

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OKRs According to the LEGO Principle - A Practitioner's Approach to Writing Good OKRs
Our guest author Dorenen Baseler of SAP explains how to write good OKRs according to the lego principle.
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9 OKR examples for different departments
Discover OKR examples for different departments like Product, Finance, Marketing, HR and Sales as well as for leadership. Learn to draft good OKRs.
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3. Alignment Workshop

All OKR Owners, OKR Coaches, members leadership and the owners of important company initiatives and metrics meet to screen, align, discuss, prioritize and allocate resources to the OKR drafts. This serves to discover synergies, bottlenecks and doublework.

Knowing the scope and the responsibilities of OKRs, the teams internally discuss and iterate on their drafts of Objectives and Key Results that will be presented at the kickoff.

In our Workpath Academy you will learn everything about alignment workshops and how to successfully implement them yourself.
Our free resources on the subject of "alignment" can also help you plan and hold a successful workshop:

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Alignment in cross-functional teams
How well are your teams aligned? Read here how cross-functional teams improve dependencies and master solutions to complex challenges.
Read more about alignment here!

okr alignment workshop

4. OKR Kick-Off

In the Kick-off the OKR owners present the final OKRs to the entire organization. Most companies turn their OKR Kick-Off into a celebration with all colleagues in order to strengthen team spirit and excitement for the next cycle.

In our Workpath Magazine you can get helpful tips for your OKR Kick-Off:

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Designing OKRs in Global and Virtual Settings - Part 1: Five Important Tips for Successful OKR-Workshop Preparation
Working remotely for nearly one year has implications on OKR-Workshops as well. In our guest series, Doreen Baseler from SAP shares best practices and tips.
Read more about it here!
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Designing OKRs in Global and Virtual Settings - PART 2: Tips and Tricks for Successful Workshop Execution
In part 2 of the guest series, Doreen Baseler explains her best practices for successful execution of remote OKR workshops.
Read more about it here!
okr kickoff

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5. Regular updates and check-ins

The OKR Check-in is an essential success factor for effective OKR processes. The short meeting serves to talk about progress and new findings during the OKR cycle and to uncover where mutual support is necessary and useful. It ensures continuous feedback and learning, as well as making sure the data is up to date and a high level of commitment of the team members.

Here you can find out more about this part of the OKR process and how you can organize updates and check-ins most efficiently:

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Designing OKRs in Global and Virtual Settings - PART 3: Monitoring Progress – Organizing Goal Updates and Check-Ins
In the third and last part of our guest series, Doreen Baseler explains how to monitor progress and organize Check-In meetings in virtual and global settings.
Read more about it here!
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The Check-in Meeting: Success Driver of Effective OKR Systems
The OKR Check-in is a brief meeting with the purpose of talking about progress and ensuring an efficient OKR process and focus of your team.
Read more about it here!

6. Retrospective and review

The teams, internally and between leads and OKR owners, discuss how to improve the process and collaboration around OKRs in the Retrospective. This conversation is not about goal achievement but about how to further refine the process performance. Which meetings worked well, which phase or ritual is still challenging? What structural changes can we make? The easiest way to do that is to brainstorm out what they should start, stop and continue doing. Some companies do a second retrospective shortly before the Kick-Off where they focus on learnings and improvements for the next planning and drafting phase.

OKR progress and achievements of the current cycle are assessed and documented two weeks before the cycle ends. Usually, this is not too early to evaluate if an OKR is a success. If there are goals and topics that need further attention, the consequence is that these insights are used to draft goals for the new cycle in the following OKR workshops. Most organizations present the results at the next company event. Oftentimes the Review can coincide with the new planning phase and can even be integrated together with the Retro in the Drafting for the new cycle.

You can find more exciting insights on the subject of reviews and retrospectives here:

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Review vs. Retrospective, or both? Differences and similarities of these agile meeting formats.
Review and retrospective meetings have much in common, but they pursue different goals and are not carried out in the same way.
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How to use agile retrospectives to boost your performance
Agile retrospectives are a useful instrument to help teams improve their performance and collaboration from iteration to iteration.
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Best practices for the Workpath OKR Cycle

Start with why:
Seeing that many new meetings in their calendars might make OKRs appear as a lot of work on top. There needs to be a good reason that is well explained repeatedly as to why every step in the process serves a certain purpose. At the same time teams are invited to share their ideas to improve the rituals and events in the OKR cycle.

A successful OKR cycle requires frequent communication with repeated explanations and invitations.
As program lead, make sure every stakeholder clearly understands what is expected at which time from them. Schedule sessions one quarter in advance and make sure they are already added to everyone’s calendar. Work with posters, announcements during company events and reminder mails.

Common mistake: People think OKRs can be lived without any additional time invest.
There clearly is additional time invest but if every meeting serves a certain purpose, there is no reason not to hold them. However, by adjusting and optimizing the agenda, what participants do asynchronously and what part they do together, the choice and constellation of participants and timing of each meeting you can design it in a way that is increasingly more efficient but serves its core purpose.
Tip: Use existing meetings wherever you can
Before you start working in the OKR cycle, analyse which meetings already exist where you can integrate the OKR events or rituals. This makes the process seem leaner and more efficient and less of an on top purpose

An event-driven process will help you to structure the OKR cycle and engage all employees in open and tangible conversations. Ceremonies that suit your organization’s culture can help make agile goal management a habit and part of your colleague’s routine. It additionally fosters strategic thinking and collaborating on strategic goals at every step of the cycle. Celebrate highlights like goal achievements in the regular Check-in, in order to strengthen motivation and team spirit.
Additionally, the retrospective can serve as an opportunity to collect and celebrate learnings.

Expect and embrace difficulties while implementing the OKR process.
It is important to understand that OKRs are designed to identify challenges and inefficiencies in your organization. They are rarely the source of the challenges but rather bring them to the surface. You will start with a set of hypotheses about how to implement the process based on common sense, best practices and experiences about your own company culture. Hence, the OKR process is meant to be refined and it will take 1.5-2 years until a well-run process is fully established. Insist on structured reviews and retrospectives to discuss challenges and gain actionable learnings to build on.

Further articles

Here you can find out how many cycles OKR success takes or how OKR software can support you in your processes:

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How OKR success unfolds over time
OKR success doesn't happen instantaneously but unfolds in various stages over time. Here's what you can expect during implementation.
Read more about it here!

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5 Reasons to Switch from Spreadsheets to OKR Software
The 5 most important reasons why spreadsheets are not enough to help you professionalize and constantly improve your work with OKR.
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