The Proof is Here: The 4 OKR Planning Behaviors that will increase your Goal Delivery Rate

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If you are an OKR Program Lead, you know leading teams to success is complex. You know you have to implement an efficient way for the teams to achieve their goals while struggling with your limited capacity. There are never enough Program Leads to go around for all the questions that pop up. There are never enough hours in the day to help each team know what to do and when during an OKR cycle.

And because of this limited capacity, teams sometimes do not stick to the best process and goals fail.

By looking into 5 years worth of data, we were able to isolate the behaviors that directly improve goal achievement. Below, we outline the 4 biggest drivers of goal achievement, which, if implemented correctly, can help you improve the goal delivery rate by 12.5%.

But first, let’s see why goal achievement is such a hugely important topic to handle:

Just how big is the problem?

We looked at our own platform - Workpath - to size this up. By analyzing anonymized metadata from over 30,200 team goals belonging to 3,600 teams across 54 companies of varying sizes, industries, and goal-setting cycles – the discoveries were striking:

  • only one in every seventh goal is achieved in full (100% progress)
  • 9% of all goal fail completely (0% progress)
  • more than half of all goals do not make it above 70% progress

To put this in monetary terms - for the failed goals alone -  if a company sets 250 team goals per quarter (i.e. 1000 goals per year), and on average, four employees work on each team goal, the completely failed goals alone can result in a waste of €11 million per year.. And that amount is just the direct costs with salary, not to mention the cost of lost opportunities.

Now this is a figure to consider. And worth looking deeper into - just how exactly Program Leads can decrease it.

What drives goal delivery success?

So we looked again at our data to try to identify specific behaviors that Program Leads and teams can use to increase their chance of success.

Goal delivery always starts with better planning. Then, execution, tracking and adaptation happens. Keeping this in mind, we started with the analysis of planning behaviours.

Looking at the data, we found these four behaviors that distinguish failed from successful goals:  

  1. Assign ownership of goals
  2. Commit to goal contribution
  3. Determine progress with metrics
  4. Define small goals

Teams that follow these behaviors can achieve up to 12.5% more goal delivery compared to those that miss these behaviors.

Assign ownership

Clearly assigning responsibilities within a team has been associated with higher goal achievement.

While our statistical research can only prove correlations, we have some assumptions about the cause-and-effect relationships involved:

  1. Having ownership for a key result increases the owner's sense of responsibility for progress. This leads to intrinsic motivation and overall better execution.
  2. The social pressure that come with transparency, and nudging by the tool or colleagues, make the owner more aware of the need to drive progress.
  3. Clear ownership also helps to address possible blockers early on. If there are blockers, then they can be addressed to the right person and dealt with faster.
  4. In cases where more than one person is needed to achieve the Key Result, clear assignment of an owner helps to motivate team colleagues and work together on progress.

However, randomly assigning responsibilities doesn’t work. People have to choose ownership by themselves and need to be equipped with the necessary resources, knowledge, and authority to drive the goal.

Commit to goal contribution

Clear and transparent contribution to a goal also drives improved goal achievement.

Here are our hypotheses for the underlying causes:

  1. If employees understand how the team goal contributes to the overall company goal - gives them a lot of purpose and motivation to work on it.
  2. Alignment between management and the team (vertical goal commitment) helps cut the risk of obstacles in goal achievement.
  3. Linking the goal to a higher-level goal raises the management's awareness, which leads to a sense of responsibility for progress.
  4. Alignment discussions between teams lead to clear expectations on both sides regarding requirements, resulting in more realistic goals.
  5. By working together, teams can leverage their strengths and expertise, identify potential roadblocks, and develop solutions that are mutually beneficial.

Determine progress using metrics

Measuring progress using ”metric Key Results instead of milestones or binary results, is tied to higher goal delivery.

Based on our experience we could see the following reasons:

  1. “Metric” Key Results show progress, even if the change is small
  2. Metrics offer transparency of true progress and chance to intervene at an early stage if things don’t move as expected
  3. Metrics help the team to understand their ability of influence and thus priorities work accordingly

Metrics tempt to equate goal progress with impact. So, be careful: If “metric” Key Results are not updated based on real metrics but are misused to depict the gut feeling of the team, goal progress should be taken with a grain of salt.

Find out how Workpath serves as a sparring partner for teams to define proper key results with our AI-based OKR Generator.

Define small goals

Goals with 2-3 Key Results show higher goal delivery on average.

Here are our assumptions for the causes:

  1. Intra-team or team leadership discussions up front lead to a common understanding of the most important results for the specific goal early on
  2. Avoiding switching costs in execution by focusing on few topics instead of jumping between efforts for multiple Key Results
  3. Realistic planning and sufficient time to achieve all Key Results

Of course, the number of 2-3 Key Results is only a ballpark figure. The appropriate number of Key Results depends on the team size, number of goals per team and the proportion of work the team spends on working on OKRs.

The Workpath Key Result Assistant helps teams to turn goal promises into measurable key results. Give it a try!

What this means for you

To sum up - as a Program Lead - you can support your teams towards higher goal achievement by making sure your teams follow 4 best practices in the stage of goal planning phase:

  1. Assign ownership of goals
  2. Commit to goal contribution
  3. Determine progress with metrics
  4. Define small goals

All these behaviors (and more) are really key to drive the successful achievement of goals and these behaviors can be supported by a solid OKR enablement program. But more on that, in a new article coming up soon!

In the meantime, if you want to dive deeper into the research (also in the data science and methodology behind the research) take a look at this paper.