OKR Tips for Small Businesses

Here are my OKR tips for small businesses, especially enterprises and startups in the creative industries and the creative and digital sector worldwide.

‘Objective and Key Results’ systems, used intelligently and creatively, can be a powerful boost to company performance at all levels, clarify strategic goals, and involve everyone in playing their part in achieving success.

Based on my own experience and from working as an adviser to businesses in the creative economy worldwide, these OKR tips and tricks will help both startups and established businesses to achieve success even more quickly and efficiently.

1. Yes, learn the principles from mega businesses like Intel and Google – BUT then adapt them to your own particular circumstances, scale and style.

2. Keep it simple at first. Don’t try to establish a complex system from the beginning. Walk before you run!

3. OKR is a systematic approach to Objectives and Key Results but crucially, it’s also about the culture of the organisation. OKR systems need to be embedded in the day to day operation of the business and fully embraced by all team members.

4. So OKR should ‘fit’ the culture of the business. Be creative and quirky! Let people decide their own records, rituals and rewards. If that involved jelly beans, post-its, songs, awards, cake or group hugs, that’s fine! Whatever works!

5. Use OKRs to break out of the straightjacket of the annual, quarterly and monthly mindset. These work for accountants and geeks but usually don’t match the reality of the business, its objectives and its key results. Set dates that work! If these are irregular, that’s fine.

6. Avoid the temptation to add to a list of Key Results things you are going to do anyway, just so you can tick them off the list. Key Results should be pruned down to the few things that will really make a difference.

7. Ensure that employee performance reviews and financial rewards are kept separate from OKRs. If salary and bonuses are connected to OKRs, this will tempt employees to set less ambitious goals. OKRs should stretch the business and individuals beyond what’s easily achievable. Failure to achieve 100% must not be ‘punished’ by a poor performance review or reduced remuneration.

8. Key Results set for each team or individual must be within the control of that team or individual. Consequently there can never be an excuse that Key Results weren’t delivered because of something external dependency (eg: “we were waiting for x to supply the information”).