5 Top Tips For Start-Up Founders Thinking About Using OKRs

When you’re a start-up, you think and dream big but have limited resources. So you have to think and work in the smartest ways possible. You also need to set the foundations for sustainable growth because changing the way you work when you have 200 people is an order of magnitude more difficult than doing the same when you have 10 people. A framework you will want to learn and adapt as early as possible for this reason is Objectives and Key Results or OKRs.

Why OKRs?

If implemented correctly, OKRs have a number of ‘superpowers’ you can unlock. The first may surprise you. To set them, you have to have some in-depth and perhaps tough conversations in and across teams. 

Conversations you perhaps have not had and should have had. You will need to reach a consensus on what Objectives should be focused on and which should not be a target for change, and how you propose to define and measure success - the Key Result part of the OKR.

For a start-up, the top-level OKR is often to ‘Achieve Product Market Fit’. Key Results are often then geared around revenue growth and retention metrics. What then happens is that teams are tasked with working out supporting OKRs that would optimize this. This creates an OKR cascade. 

The next stage is execution planning. OKRs describe a future you want to commit to. They do not tell you how you propose to get there. That is the work of initiatives or to-dos. How you go about planning and executing these will determine whether you achieve your OKRs. A good way of thinking about this is a Kanban-based approach where you have a backlog of ideas that are moved forward to being ‘active’ and then ‘done’.

Both your OKRs and your execution can then become visible to all. Progress, plans, problems all being shared at a cadence that is often weekly keeps everyone aligned and on-track. What’s more, the work being done has real meaning as it is connected to an outcome. People are not just busy. They know what they are contributing to.

Top Tips For OKR Newbies

Education & Support

If you want to use OKRs, reading ‘the book’ is not going to help as much as you’d like. Think about getting some coaching or support from other founders that have done it before.

Spreadsheets Rarely Work

Spreadsheets have lower levels of engagement than tools, don’t connect to other tools well and don’t scale. OKR software like ZOKRI is free for under 10 people and is only $5 per user after that. Given the performance, productivity boost and opportunity cost, it’s a really small cost and a good investment. They also have cost-effective coaching options.

Go All In

You can’t be half-pregnant and you can’t be half-in with OKRs. Stop wondering if they work, because they do. Commit to implementing them well and sticking with them so they become part of the fabric of how you run your company.

Lead By Example

If you’re a leader then you need to lead by example with OKRs. Make yours visible, describe what you’re doing to achieve them. Share your challenges and wins as well.

Less Is More

It can be tempting to create complex cascades of OKRs but with every ‘O’ and every ‘KR’ you are diluting focus. With OKRs, less is more. Focus on your key battlegrounds and be prepared to de-prioritise things that are also important, but need to get in line.

OKRs work brilliantly, so embed them as early on as you can. Enjoy them, they are there to help, not slow you down. They will promote growth and also help you get investment along the way. OKRs might even be a condition of the incubator or VC you raise money with, so show them that you’re already on it.

Author bio:

Matt Roberts is an OKR expert and regularly shares his knowledge in several management and productivity publications. Matt is a huge believer in OKRs and how they can be harnessed to drive business growth.

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