Objectives and Key Results (OKR): Hype or Game-Changer?


For some years now, OKR has been on everyone's lips when it comes to corporate management and organisational development. OKR is considered one of the success factors for Google's meteoric rise. But what is really behind leading with "Objectives and Key Results"?

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By Axel Singler, Managing Director Haufe Talent

Haufe Talent was also faced with this question some time ago. At that time, the company worked according to the classic MBO process (Management by Objectives) and experimented with various other methods in parallel. In a fast-moving environment, it was no longer up-to-date to manage the company with overarching annual goals, which were then broken down to individual goals for teams and employees. OKR was an attractive alternative that promised more agility and greater transparency. But would the framework really fit the team?

Agile and transparent? Check.

The switch to OKR allowed Haufe Talent to manage on a quarterly basis: every three months since then, there has been the opportunity to give important new impulses to the organisation, which are immediately taken up by the teams and translated into their own goals. At the same time, there has never been such a high level of transparency about the teams' current goals. Unlike the MBO process, where there was only some feedback on the KPIs, with the OKRs you can see what the individual teams are working on and what hurdles, if any, management still needs to remove in order to optimise strategy implementation.

Self-organised contribution to the common goal

OKR is a method that aligns teams around the same purpose and goal. What may sound very centralised and hierarchical at first, leads to organisations being much more self-directed than before. This is because each team - as an expert on its own topic - has the freedom to define its own goals. The only condition is that the individual goals must be in line with the overall corporate goals. How the teams achieve this is just as much their responsibility as the planning tools they use. It is the results they achieve on their own responsibility that count.  

Lessons learned: OKR is and remains a learning journey

After the first three years, Haufe Talent can share the following lessons learned:

1. OKR needs a clear definition and support for the team: OKR is not a rigid methodology that works equally for all organisations. Rather, each organisation adapts the framework to its own culture, size and specific needs.

2. OKR is not a planning tool: Many people tend to think of OKR as a planning tool - but this does not do the methodology justice. Rather, OKR is about ownership, focus and alignment of the whole organisation. The framework sets the overall goals and planning should "merely" be the answer to the question: How do we achieve these goals?

3. OKR needs a transparent corporate culture: In principle, of course, any company can use OKR. But if there is no transparency in an organisation and active collaboration is not a living part of the culture, it will not work. In such a case, it is better to go straight for a good MBO process, which has its raison d'être in less fast-moving industries.

OKR - it's a match

Haufe Talent is now certain: as an organisation that pursues a clear mission in an agile environment and understands the benefits of a transparent and collaborative culture, there is no longer an alternative to OKR.

About the author:
Axel Singler is managing director of Haufe Talent. Singler transformed the previously democratically structured business unit of the Haufe Group into an agile network organisation and is intensively involved with talent experience and team performance. He is convinced that business and HR managers should focus on teams in the future, as the true high performers of successful companies. He is one of the leading experts on the topic of Agile Transformation. His many years of HR IT cloud experience and his comprehensive know-how of new work and agility form the basis of his work.

This article was first published in HR Journal

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