You can’t adapt your strategy if you don’t track its progress.
And when you adopt a strategy framework like OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) that rely on regular progress reviews, you need sticky organizational habits to make it work. Otherwise, you can’t enjoy the specific advantages of the framework.
With this article, you’ll learn how to track OKRs and how to choose the best tools, so your organizational habits stick. Specifically, here’s what you’ll find below:
- 3 mistakes to avoid when tracking OKRs
- How to track OKRs: 5 essential steps
- How to track OKRs with Cascade
- Foster a culture of focus
3 mistakes to avoid when tracking OKRs
A lot of companies attempting to implement the OKR framework are expecting too much out of it while building little to no supporting processes.
OKRs, though powerful, aren’t a magical fix for lack of a good strategy. Before you decide to use them, you need to understand what you want to achieve. You need to ask yourself, “why do I choose this framework over the others?” If you’re unclear on your strategic direction, it’s unlikely that you’ll unlock OKR’s full potential.
If you’re clear on your priorities, here are the three most common pitfalls you should avoid at all costs when trying to track your OKRs:
1. Reviewing sparingly
OKRs are meant to execute strategy in short-term intervals. They’re not designed for long-term strategic planning or managing.
Reporting on OKR progress once per quarter defeats their purpose. Especially in less experienced companies, quarterly reviewing is a recipe for lost focus and increased frustration. OKRs are meant to change every quarter and adjust to the current needs of the business. So, even when teams and individuals are coached well and have developed great Objectives and Key Results, a good practice is to check their progress at least once per month.
Sometimes, to ensure that everyday activities are aligned with priorities, weekly reviews work best.
The bottom line is that developing an effective organizational habit around reviewing OKRs is an underestimated practice that many leaders neglect.
So, schedule regular reviews with your team to stay on top of progress.
2. Using only qualitative measures
Adopting a strategy framework brings structure to planning, but without measurable KPIs, you won’t see consistent progress in its execution. Without numbers, you fail to move forward fast enough. Or move towards the desired direction. Including measurable indicators of progress in your Key Results has a twofold effect:
- it helps leaders quantify progress and highlight their team’s impact and results
- it clarifies expectations for team members and helps them focus on the most impactful activities
Choosing the right key results is a hard-to-master skill. If you want to learn how the most successful teams set up their metrics and KPIs, read our KPI guide.
3. Using the wrong tools
One of the most underestimated obstacles in tracking performance is increased friction.
Friction inhibits good habits from sticking and adoption processes reaching the tipping point. And you want the tracking of OKRs to tip. Spreadsheets and slides, the prevalent tools of tracking, create immense friction but are popular. In fact, they’re so popular that people think of them as the only solution, so they forget about the time and energy they spend on updating them.
That’s because spreadsheets weren’t designed for real-time collaboration or connecting goals with strategy. Even if one team works well with Google sheets, for example, nothing guarantees that you can template their approach and have other teams or departments use it. It’s never that easy.
In other words, static tools don’t scale.
Instead, you need more dynamic and flexible tools like digital OKR software.
- 7 Best OKR Software Options In 2023 (And How To Pick One)
- Using Cascade as your OKR Software
- 23 Best Strategy Tools For Your Organization in 2023
How to track OKRs: 5 essential steps
Like it or not, 90% of a successful OKR implementation starts before any single decision.
It starts with the right expectations. So, kill these ideas before they lay eggs:
- OKRs must cascade down
- OKRs automatically align to strategy
- OKRs apply to everything and everyone
- There is a universally successful way to implement OKRs
After this idea disinfestation, let’s see how you can best track the progress of OKRs with a clean and fresh mindset.
1. Write good OKRs
Get this step wrong, and nothing else matters.
If you want to know how the best teams approach OKR development, check out this comprehensive guide with examples and a lot of details on how to write useful OKRs. In the meantime, here is a short summary:
Write inspirational objectives that are benefit-based and not projects, features, or metrics. For example, a product team should not define output-based objectives – e.g., roll out 2 big features by the end of the quarter – but consider the benefit they want the customer to enjoy thanks to the new technology they’re going to build. Aim for qualitative objectives.
Write comprehensive key results that are outcome-focused and not milestones or tasks. Key results are a set of metrics that offer a view of past performance, indicate future results, and stop you from over-optimizing for one specific metric.
Write actionable initiatives that are specific and not set in stone. This is an optional part of the OKR framework that most companies don’t waste time on. If objectives and key results fit well with each other and are aligned with strategy, the initiatives will take care of themselves.
Don’t expect you or your team to write great OKRs on your first attempt. This is a hard and often counterintuitive exercise that needs a lot of practice and experimentation to get right.
So, once everyone knows how to write good OKRs, find a suitable place for them to live and thrive.
2. Assign owners
Accountability and visibility accelerate execution.
In a transparent organization, accountability is as simple as declaring an owner of your Objectives and Key Results. For example, each time you create a new item inside Cascade, you get to assign an owner and potential collaborators:
With clarity in ownership, team members have a clear understanding of their own and their teammates’ responsibilities. This increased visibility helps people to collaborate more, share ideas, and take pride in their achievements.
That’s how you make OKR transparent.
3. Set up a simple tracking system
Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
- Steve Jobs
If you want to impact your tracking and reporting immeasurably, keep it dead simple. Complicated scoring systems that don’t apply to every OKR and metric do more harm than good. In their initial implementation, OKRs had only two values: 0 and 1. Zero means the objective wasn’t achieved (no matter how close it came) and one means success.
You could argue that this approach doesn’t reflect the effort and progress aptly. And we would agree. We recommend you adopt a green-yellow-red system that evaluates OKRs based on predetermined values of their measures.
Let’s say your Marketing team’s OKR set includes these two Key Results:
- Increase qualified pipeline by 40% (measured in dollars)
- Increase traffic to demo page by 60% (measured in unique page visits)
Just as you can’t compare hairs with chairs, you can't compare dollars with unique page visits. Instead of converting the two metrics on a consistent scale between zero and one, determine the values of each that would label them as At Risk (red), Behind (yellow), or On track (green).
In our example:
- Increased qualified pipeline by 40%
- Is At Risk when below 10%
- Is Behind when between 10% and 35%
- Is On track when above 35%
- Increase traffic to demo page by 60%
- Is At Risk when below 20%
- Is Behind when between 20% and 50%
- Is On track when above 50%
That way, you can understand current progress with a glance.
However, there is a catch here. Setting up such a system and keeping it up-to-date could suck valuable hours and energy from key team members (or leaders) if you use static tools like Excel and PowerPoint.
A digital platform like Cascade would automate such a process and help you visualize your plans and progress. Take a look at what this looks like in Cascade.
4. Schedule regular reviews
When determining the cadence of your reviewing habit, keep in mind two important factors:
- Your team’s experience
- The volatility of your business environment
If your team is inexperienced at setting goals and KPIs, you probably need frequent iterations and extensive coaching to get the OKRs compatible with each team member’s progress and day-to-day activities. In more experienced teams, a weekly or biweekly cadence could also work. Lowering the frequency, though, is a stretch.
If your business environment changes suddenly and you’re faced with a lot of uncertainty, experimentation and rapid iterations will help you be proactive and converge to the optimal solution. For example, when Brexit was first decided, nobody knew how it would happen. For the supermarket industry, that situation was a promise of huge change but with zero clarity of what that change could be.
“How do you prepare when you don’t know what to prepare for?” As Joan Torrents, Global Sourcing Manager at Tesco, recounts, the company managed to keep the shelves stocked up by engaging its teams with much more frequent reviewing meetings.
5. When needed, adjust decisively
OKRs are short-lived and volatile.
So don't get too attached to any one set of them. If every review meeting results in some – big or small – change, embrace it. Experiment with a wide set of Key Results and different wording of the Objectives. Share OKRs between teams to align and collaborate. Just remember to track your assumptions, what went right, and what fell off the track between the meetings. That way, you can revert back to more useful versions of your OKRs.
On the other hand, some activities are and should remain the same during iterations. Use your judgment to figure out these activities and when reviewing past performance. Numbers don’t lie, but you need to know when you should ask for their truth. Business includes a lot of judgment calls, so set some time during reviews to discuss them.
Balance the number’s truth with the everyday nuances of decision-making.
How to track OKRs with Cascade
Cascade takes the OKR framework one step further from its initial conception.
Since it was based on Peter Drucker’s MBO framework, it assumes – and at the same time tries to bestow – strategic alignment. This latent assumption is rarely addressed in early attempts of its implementation and rarely if ever, achieved.
Cascade changes that by introducing Strategic OKRs: OKRs connected to the strategic plan.
Companies don’t implement a pure version of OKRs. And the modified version maps perfectly almost every single time with Cascade’s framework, which includes the three core pieces of every strategic plan:
Why does that matter? Because it means you take advantage of two important benefits of Cascade’s strategy execution platform.
Benefits of tracking OKRs with a strategy execution platform
There is a heap of OKR software in the market.
Some are better than others, but all approach OKRs from the framework's initial conception. The truth is most organizations that claim they use OKRs actually use only parts of the framework. They rightfully adjust the framework to their needs.
OKR software doesn’t address these needs as a strategy execution platform does. Specifically, Cascade provides two benefits that address exactly those needs.
1. Strategic Alignment
A very common problem with OKRs is they reproduce silos inside a company. So individual departments like the sales team might use OKRs but be disconnected by the bigger picture or other departments’ work. Cascade breaks the silo by connecting the department's plan with the bigger picture and the OKRs with more high-level objectives. It aligns OKRs with the strategic priorities.
As a result, team members feel their work connects to the strategy and that they're all working towards the same goal (as our 2022 strategy report indicates).
Cascade’s strategy execution platform provides clarity and insightful visualization to spot objectives and initiatives that are at risk. Updating or even changing the plans and OKRs is straightforward, accommodating the evolving needs of the company’s strategic culture.
As a result, all data regarding the strategy’s performance is in one place, and you can relax knowing that no matter how your strategic needs change, the platform can support planning, tracking, and reporting.
Foster a culture of focus
Strategy frameworks like OKRs and strategy execution platforms like Cascade are not silver bullets.
If you want to innovate through goal-setting and achieve a breakthrough in the competitive landscape, you need to treat Cascade and OKRs as catalysts or complementary tools in the development of your strategic culture. That’s why they are surprisingly effective and fit very well into cultures of focus.
You know you’ve built a culture of focus when there is organizational accountability nurtured by transparency and a constant effort to direct focus on the things that matter most.
Cascade can support you in every step of the journey, from building a culture of focus to tracking OKRs. Book a demo with us to learn more about how our platform can help you.