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It’s a new year, with all the new aspirations that a fresh start brings. To ensure you achieve everything you’ve set out to do, it helps to implement a robust goal-setting framework to keep your team focused on the objectives that matter the most. 

OKR (objective and key results) is a scalable and flexible goal tracking system that breaks down high-level objectives into manageable and measurable key results. 

The best thing about OKRs is that they’re transparent—they allow teams to know their ‘why’ and understand how their work leads back to a larger goal.  

But would everyone agree to them? 

Introducing a new goal-setting framework for the first time, or revamping your current strategy, may meet with resistance, which is why one of the best things you can do is to get senior management on your side.  

Here are some tips on getting managerial buy-in for an OKR rollout.  

Why getting leadership buy-in is critical?

One of the biggest assets to have for any implementation is an advocate who can help lead and support the program, as well as champion the cause to others. 

The management team, with their influence and access to resources, can be your best champions. 

While company culture is created by everyone, the senior management team plays a big role in setting an example for the rest of the company to follow.

From something as small as acknowledging OKRs at a meeting, or allowing the allocation of company resources to hire OKR consultants, their approval can boost morale and employee engagement in the program and help ease many potential barriers. 

Their cooperation will also help you set the right goals. The best OKRs are bi-directional, informed by high-level strategy set by leaders, and refined by the teams in a process that is both top-down and bottom-up. Senior management feedback will be key to setting ambitious goals that challenge your team to give their best.  

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Common objections to OKRs and how to answer them

As a change leader, be prepared to answer a lot of questions. The more you can answer, the easier it will be for you to win approval and turn doubters into champions. 

Here are four of the most common objections to OKRs and some tips on how to answer them.

1. “OKRs are complicated and difficult to maintain.”

Not at all. At their core, the OKR framework is a relatively simple system that runs on a set, track, and review cycle.

Set your OKRs at the start of every cycle, track progress made during the cycle, and review what worked and what didn’t at the end. Use what you’ve learned to set better goals for the next cycle.  

However, you should be careful about what OKRs you set and how many you take on each cycle. The best OKRs are clear, simple, and challenging but not impossible. You should also set a limited number of OKRs, especially in the beginning.

Stick to around three to five objectives, with up to five key results each. While this may seem like a small number, doing so will help you focus efforts on the goals that matter the most.

2. “Can we track our progress and effectiveness?”

Yes. You can go old-school with a whiteboard or Excel sheets—which are free but potentially a bit cumbersome to update—or you can opt for an OKR management tool that tracks the completion of each task and automatically updates the entire team via a shared dashboard.

A tool will also help you save time on set-up and make tracking and updating easier. If you already have a project management platform, consider an OKR plugin or app that merges with your existing software. 

For example, if you use Jira, an app like OKR for Jira can link OKRs to Jira issues, allowing your team to see how their tasks contribute to the OKRs and overall goals. 

Such tools also build good practices and encourage accountability. While most tools will automatically calculate overall progress on the OKRs, it still falls on your team to update their individual tasks. 

Assigning someone to each objective and key result will make them responsible for ensuring the dashboard is updated regularly and correctly.  

In addition to an OKR tracker, you can also set regular reviews such as weekly 15-to-30-minute sessions with the team to keep the momentum going. Use this time to celebrate wins and discuss any challenges that may be preventing progress which will help keep your team engaged and motivated.

3. “How can we be sure this will work better than what we have now?”

Remind your leaders that the reason why you want to try a new system is that the current system is unable to meet the team’s needs. 

Talk about the benefits of OKRs and how they meet the team’s current and future needs, demands, and challenges. Implementing a goal-setting system like OKR isn’t just for short-term benefits, it can prepare your team for the future.

You can also show how other companies like Google and Amazon have used OKRs to put themselves at the forefront of their respective industries by setting ambitious goals and ensuring steady progress. 

If they point out the differences between your company and one like Google, highlight the flexibility of the OKR system that allows teams to adapt elements to fit their needs. 

If the team feels too overwhelmed, look at cutting down on the number of OKRs. If a particular key result feels irrelevant to the current direction, remove it.

4. “Implementing something like this will take too long.”

Not necessarily. While an exact timeframe depends on the size of the team and how willing team members are to tackle something new, there are ways to keep implementation timely and efficient. 

For example, have a solid framework in place and brief your team on it beforehand. Another tip is to invest in an OKR management app that will take care of much of the initial setup for you. 

We also recommend a pilot run to test out OKRs before rolling them out in full. Not only is this a low-stakes, high-gain option that would be more attractive to the management team, but a pilot run will also help you test out different options and provide valuable feedback. 

Be clear that implementation won’t be immediate but breaking it down into steps will help organize the adoption process and make it more manageable.

Planning for OKRs

Being clear about your plan and what is needed to accomplish it will alleviate any doubts and help team members understand the benefits of OKRS.

Here are four things you might want to prepare beforehand:

  1. A framework for the OKRs – this includes elements such as how long one OKR cycle would be, how progress on the OKRs will be measured, and what tool will be used to keep track of the OKRs.  
  2. The team involved – choose your team carefully. They should be enthusiastic, flexible, and willing to learn. 
  3. A list of proposed OKRs – while you will be refining the OKRs once you’ve gotten buy-in from senior management, it’s good to present a rough idea of which goals you’ll be tackling first and how the OKRs can break these down into measurable tasks. 

Tip: While you may be tempted to stick to your proposed list, be sure to discuss the details with your team. Working with the team to set key results and tactical objectives will encourage ownership and accountability for these goals. 

  1. Any other resources you might need for implementation – an OKR management tool should be the first on this list as it’s key to helping ensure a smooth implementation. Aside from a tool, consider bringing in OKR consultants to help if you require professional assistance.  

OKRs are an investment but, done well, they will drive additional growth. Let your management know that adopting an agile, growth-focused system like OKR will future-proof your team and prepare them for the future. 

You can also consider an OKR software tool to help you kickstart your OKR journey. And if you're looking for a deep dive into all things OKRs, check out our list of the best OKR podcasts around.

Related Read: The Real Intent Of OKRs – It’s About Purpose

By Weronika Spaleniak

Weronika is the Product Lead at Digital Toucan, an Atlassian app vendor dedicated to creating apps that bring data to life for agile teams. As a huge fan of agile and feedback culture, she believes that to build the best product, you need to be willing to listen (especially to your customers), always be seeking opportunities to break the barrier, and willing to take necessary risks.