OKRs are a frequently discussed topic, and it is not uncommon, especially in large companies, that individual teams opt for the support of the framework without introducing it on an organizational level, or even knowing about it among themselves. While such advances within the organization are desirable and worthy of support, all company stakeholders derive the greatest advantage and benefit from an OKR program when it is introduced and exists homogeneously in the teams. Under some circumstances, that means even along the entire value chain, from the top of the company down to the implemented teams.
There will come a point in which the existing OKR pilots need to be consolidated into a coherent and standardized program. But what is the best way to do this? This guide is intended to provide step-by-step instructions for this process and outline the advantages of merging various OKR pilots within the company.
What are the advantages of consolidating individual OKR pilots?
Working with OKRs within a team has one main advantage: Goals can be formulated for increased customer centricity, better measurability, and more clarity based on the OKR quality criteria. Thanks to these clearer targets and this structured goal-setting process, employees can work more autonomously and take on more responsibility.
The greatest advantages of OKRs, however, are withheld from the team until other teams are also working within a unified OKR program. The most important advantages are, one the one hand, the cross-functional alignment of teams with one another as well as teams with corporate goals and, on the other hand, the resulting transparency of the organization’s target system.
Alignment, or cross-team coordination, leads to more synergies and fewer misalignments, blockers and redundant work. Blockers can also be addressed more quickly within an OKR Cycle since it will be clear which teams they influence.
A common language (e.g., terminology relating to OKRs) and a mutually adapted OKR rhythm for carrying out work are also helpful. But OKRs are not just a sensible tool for dependency management. A transparent target system and a common “why” can boost a team’s motivation and sense of purpose. In other words, OKRs can function as a company’s “common compass".
How can you successfully bring together a company’s various OKR pilots?
Unifying the OKR practices of multiple teams will bring questions and challenges with it. Chances are, these have probably already appeared in one or the other team during the pilot project. To overcome these challenges, OKR Coaches and Teams need to be able to communicate with and support each other by sharing best practices and learning experiences. An OKR ecosystem creates a central hub with clearly defined roles that drive and develop a consistent OKR practice.
This ecosystem should be built on a unified foundation. That means all people working within it should share the same vision (the aforementioned “why”) and speak the same language. This will ensure a smooth exchange of information and experiences.
Roles and building blocks in the OKR ecosystem
A coach’s mission is to maximize the OKR process by guiding, motivating and supporting teams within the program. Coaches function as the extended arm of the Program Leads, providing employees with a framework that allows them to work with OKRs as effectively as possible.
In the company, approximately 8 percent of employees participating in the OKR program should be coaches. They can be found within the organization or appointed externally. Approximately 2 to 3 days per cycle should be invested in conducting workshops. Additional, yet less time-intensive efforts should also be calculated for individual training and coordination in the Coach Community.
To give OKR Coaches the opportunity to share experiences and insights as well as learn from one another, it makes sense to create a Coach Community. This could be, for example, a communication channel in Microsoft Teams, a common knowledge hub or regular events.
Internal OKR Community
Especially in the pilot phase, employees will encounter quite a bit of skepticism from other teams and managers. That is why, in addition to a Coach Community, it is important to give employees working within the OKR program the opportunity to communicate with each other. Not only does exchange promote knowledge transfer and prevent mistakes, but it also gives employees and teams psychological security and the chance to support and motivate one another.
When joining together multiple OKR pilots, Program Leads should be designated to drive the consolidation on all levels. They can be described as an internal influence with an understanding of team challenges and a strong connection to management. Together with the leadership, they are also responsible for continuously improving the OKR or strategy execution process. There should be at least one full-time Program Lead for every 250 employees.
Content Hub / Knowledge Hub
Information and resources from the OKR program can be collected and made available in a content or knowledge hub. This allows all coaches and each team access to checklists, templates and other useful materials to facilitate meetings, workshops and other aspects.
When consolidating various pilots, Program Leads should first agree on certain topics, such as terminology, cycle length and processes, and collectively make them available. Initially, this can be something simple, for example, in a Microsoft Teams channel.
Such knowledge management should be introduced as early as possible. Not only does this facilitate work processes, but it also ensures there is a unified mindset regarding OKRs and a unified language is being spoken.
In addition, the content hub can also facilitate the transfer of knowledge to other teams or even the entire company in the case of future expansion of OKRs. This can help prevent past mistakes from being repeated.
OKRs do not just introduce a new method. The introduction of the framework also entails a change in work practices and company culture. Especially in large organizations with locations and teams spread across the globe, it can be helpful to have external change experts assist in building and standardizing new structures and processes. The experts should work closely with Program Leads as well as training coaches.
The standardization of the OKR Cycles through Program Leads is a decisive step in the consolidation of OKR pilots. Workpath customers like to speak of this as a “same heartbeat.” A cross-functional alignment is only possible if the cycles in which the teams work on their OKRs are synchronized, i.e., their OKR drafting takes place at the same time.
In the first step, after drafting all teams, Program Leads can identify dependencies and, if necessary, link individual pilots with one another. In future cycles, pilot groups with interdependencies can approach the alignment process together.
Synchronizing other organizational processes
With the expansion and standardization of OKRs to a large number of teams, challenges will also arise in regard to the coordination of other organizational processes. For example, questions may arise regarding the relationship between OKRs and employee development, or OKRs may be inhibited due to a rigid resource allocation process. This means Program Leads should analyze the overarching organizational processes, such as budget and resource allocation, performance management or reporting, as soon as possible and interlock them with the OKR process.
How can Workpath support this process and new setup?
When it comes to bringing the unified OKR process to life, technology has an enormous influence on facilitating the integration of the process into daily work life. Here are a few ways an like Workpath can help support the new setup.
An OKR software can clearly visualize goals, structures, dependencies and current progress, creating more transparency. Teams know how they can contribute to achieving goals, managers see how they can close the gap in strategy execution and individual employees can better understand the organization’s big picture. The software serves as a guide and central hub for communication and cooperation around goals.
A central platform can help facilitate cross-team coordination. After synchronizing the OKR Cycles, Program Leads can map the organizational structure in the tool so that each team and pilot project can find its place. This creates synergies and helps avoid redundant work and misalignments. By actively aligning team goals with one another, blockers can be avoided.
Working within the same tool can also help facilitate the communication between teams and employees, not only through the same use of terminology, but also through specific functions. With “Contribution Requests” in Workpath, for example, employees can be asked to assist in reaching a particular goal, increasing collaboration.
Involving teams in an intuitive tool offers an additional incentive for working with OKRs. A possible integration with daily tools, such as Slack (e.g., to set reminders), e-mail, Microsoft Teams or Jira, increases engagement and makes it easier for teams to work with OKRs.
An OKR software like Workpath provides versatile analysis reports through its Analytics Suite. Not only does this provide a status update on the execution of the strategy, but it can also serve as a foundation for optimization within the OKR process. For example, strategy execution reports can measure the achievement of goals for certain hierarchical levels, for individual teams and for sub teams.
Process reports help to analyze current and past cycles, allowing for continuous adjustments and improvements when working with OKRs. Not only does this help make one’s own work more efficient and customer-oriented, but also makes it easier to demonstrate the effectiveness of OKRs to the leadership.
Once the organization structure has been set up correctly, as described in the section “Alignment”, Workpath makes it much easier to integrate new OKR users and teams into the program. In addition to the Workpath software, the organization can also draw from an entire ecosystem of training and content from Workpath to help support knowledge building and the organization’s cultural change.