Individual OKRs

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Should you use individual OKRs?

When adopting OKR, every company has to decide at which levels it will set OKRs. Should the organization define OKRs at every level (for example, company, department, team, and individual), or opt for a simpler approach?

Many executives want to ensure that every employee has hers/his OKRs. The model seems straightforward, and that is how organizations have used goals for decades. Even Google promotes a similar approach.

The problems begin when companies try to implement it. It simply does not work.

Not everyone should have individual OKRs

OKR is about measuring value and impact. It is not about tracking activities. But when you enforce individual OKRs for everyone, you end up with to-do lists.

If you have read my Beginner’s Guide to OKR, you know that you should use Value-based OKRs. If you haven’t read the guide, do it now and come back to this post later.

Individual OKRs work well when the person owns one or more metrics, meaning that she is solely responsible for those Key Results. Examples:

  • A salesperson that is responsible for revenue and margin.
  • A recruiter that is responsible for time-to-fill (how long it takes to fill an open position) and quality of hire (the quality of the hired candidates).
  • A Customer Success rep that handles retention and upselling within a set of customers.

But there are several scenarios where you have a team working on the same set of metrics: 

  • An IT team working on a project.
  • A digital product team involving software developers, designers and product managers working together.
  • A marketing team working to increase brand awareness.
  • A social media team where all members work on the different channels together.

Good OKRs follow good metrics. If you enforce individual OKRs with team-level metrics, you will end up with tasks. And using Activity-based OKRs at this level is even worse since they tend to get outdated quickly.

Individual OKRs add complexity, but not always value

Using OKR at the individual level increases complexity. Instead of creating one set of OKRs for the team, you will have to create one for each team member. Depending on team size, complexity may increase by a factor of 3X to 10X.

That is why several companies have abandoned individual OKRs for most roles. Spotify found out that extending “the OKR process all the way down to individual level became superfluous.” It slowed them down without adding value.

Twitter followed a similar path, although I have not found any public information about it.

Free download – The Beginner’s Guide to OKR

What is the alternative?

When companies ditch individual OKRs, it does not mean they abandon individual goals. Many companies still use them for functions like sales. They avoid the term OKR for goals connected to compensation.

So instead of having individual OKRs for everyone, you should evaluate their use on a case by case basis. Some employees will be able to use them successfully while others won’t. It all depends on the role and the context.

Many organizations are adopting a networked, team-based structure. Using OKRs at team level should be the preferred choice. Performance management processes have to adapt to the new reality of work.

Do You Want Help with OKR?

If you want me to help your company with OKR, check my training and coaching services.