OKR planning that works from anywhere (part 1)

Written by 
Felix Beccar
July 16, 2021

Whatever plans your company made at the start of 2020, chances are they got thrown out the window. COVID forced everyone to adapt overnight — and MURAL was no exception. When the pandemic hit, we were in the midst of mapping out our Q2. Suddenly, we had to adjust to a world in which business was anything but usual.

Fortunately, we were able to adapt quickly to this new reality thanks to the flexibility and foresight of our OKRs. If you haven’t considered OKRs in a while, this may sound surprising. Perhaps because they have been around for so long, OKRs can often have a reputation for being inefficient and ineffective. Especially for organizations that value agility, OKRs may not seem like a good tool for growth.

But when done right, OKRs can, in fact, be one of the best ways to ensure your organization can weather change and continue delivering value. 

👀 Looking for the MURAL OKR Planning template? Find it here — and stay tuned for a “How to” post for using it coming soon!

OK, what are OKRs?

Although much has been written about OKRs elsewhere (for instance, see Koan’s article on how to write incredible OKRs). Here's a quick refresher for the unfamiliar.

OKRs stand for Objectives and Key Results. They are a simple but flexible tool you can use to set goals, define objectives, and measure results. Although this framework has been around since the 1980s, OKRs have become a popular tool with Google and other large tech companies due to their ability to create alignment and ensure everyone is consistently working toward the same set of priorities.

While your team is free to define your OKRs however you want, the most effective OKRs typically have the following characteristics:

  • Objectives: Think of these as what you want to achieve, so make them concrete. Vague and aspirational objectives won’t be as helpful as tangible goals for your employees to shoot for. It’s also a good idea to make them action-oriented in order to inspire people to take specific steps toward achieving them.
  • Key Results: Use these to measure your progress toward your objectives. That means they should be quantifiable. Assign two to five key results per objective and make sure that they can be easily graded. Employees should be able to tell when they have achieved them — and when they have not. Putting time limits around them can also be useful.

For instance, consider this example of a well-crafted simple objective: Lower your carbon footprint. Your key results? Convert to 100 percent renewable energy within six months — or use 100 percent recycled materials within three months. More broadly, you could also set an objective to simply make customers happy, and then back this up with key results — like achieving a certain NPS score, lowering customer churn to a specific percentage, or collecting a certain amount of customer feedback every month.

OKRs can be used to focus work on a variety of purposes, whether driving company-wide ambitions or increasing your own personal productivity. But regardless of their scope, their strength is in helping to create consensus, clarify action, and motivate people toward achieving meaningful strategic goals.

Planning out your OKRs

So now you’re ready to start planning out your OKRs.

To help out this process, here’s a simple step-by-step framework you can follow to build out your OKR planning sessions:

  1. Define your agenda. Staying on track is especially important for OKR planning sessions. Do this by writing out the schedule for everyone to see. To keep things moving, don’t forget to include how long each section will take. (Keep yourself honest by setting a timer before each session begins.)
  2. Outline rules and expectations. Keep sessions flowing smoothly by letting everyone know any rules or expectations you have. For example, you could promote collaboration among distributed colleagues by asking everyone to turn on their cameras.
  3. Start with the company vision. Before getting into specifics, it can be helpful to first ground everyone by reviewing something more general, such as your company vision. This will guide everyone as they start defining key objectives and results. (Asking your CEO to record a quick video on this topic is also a good way to make an impact.)
  4. Don’t forget the icebreaker. A good icebreaker can help warm people up and encourage them to get more involved, which is especially important for remote meetings. Fortunately, there are plenty of icebreaker options you can do entirely online.
  5. Break out into smaller groups. It can be intimidating sharing ideas in front of a large group. Instead, begin by asking everyone to either brainstorm by themselves or in small groups. This will help get more ideas ready for the larger team.
  6. Reconvene and finalize. Once everyone has come up with a few ideas, bring everyone back together to discuss them and vote on their favorites. Narrow down your OKRs to a manageable number, or even come up with individual OKRs per team.

Feel free to adapt this basic framework to your specific needs. For instance, if you are leading an OKR planning session for a smaller team or division, you could streamline these steps by asking everyone to come to the meeting with several ideas already prepared. 

NOTE: In case you’re wondering, there is a MURAL template for OKR planning. If you’re looking for a “how to use” the OKR planning template, be sure to stay tuned for Part 2 of this series. 

Ensure your OKR planning is successful

So how do you ensure your OKRs remain useful when so much else is uncertain? 

One of the first things we realized when we began adapting our planning process after COVID was that the most important part wasn’t necessarily how we were conducting our planning meetings, but how we were implementing our OKRs.

Specifically, there are five key elements you should have in place to ensure your team can successfully achieve your OKRs:

  1. You need to be nimble. No one objective or result will solve everything for your company. A willingness to continually make adjustments, experiment with solutions, and find what works is essential to making progress.
  2. Your leadership needs to ensure alignment. Because OKRs are a collective commitment, your leadership team needs to make sure each team is working together toward your shared goals. When a new product launches, it’s not just engineers responsibility, but sales and marketing as well.
  3. Your OKRs need to be visible. Don’t treat them as something you think about only once a quarter. Make them something your managers talk about at least every other week. Make sure everyone understands what the goals are, the work that is going into meeting them, and the progress being made. 
  4. You need to create accountability and clarity. OKRs are not the place for vague platitudes. You need to make sure they are tied to specific actions and hold individuals and teams accountable for fulfilling them. 
  5. Less is more. Finally, it’s important to note that OKRs are not the place for you to be tracking business as usual. Instead, they should be used to plan out strategic choices. To that end, the less you have, the more effective they will be.

As any executive knows, the only constant is change. But by continually using OKRs to realign your organization and prompt your employees to think about long-term goals and how they can achieve them, you can take a significant step toward achieving the flexibility you need to succeed.

More than a year after COVID disrupted our original plans, what’s our result? By using our OKR planning process to guide us, we have been able to grow demand by an order of magnitude.

In part two of this series — coming soon! — we are going to take a closer look at how you can use the MURAL OKR Planning template to successfully plan out OKRs, even when your team or company is fully remote.

About the author

About the authors

Felix Beccar

Felix Beccar

Felix Beccar is the VP of Operations at MURAL. He leads the company's growth strategy, finance, and revenue operations. Previously, Felix worked in management consulting at Bain & Co and in technology at LinkedIn and Pipedrive.