Five Recent Trends in OKRs Coaching
Context: We’re working with our publisher to put the finishing touches on our new book, The OKR’s Field Book – the first book specifically for OKRs coaches – in preparation for its release in 2022! While the 2016 book, Objectives and Key Results, is still relevant today, we’ve since learned a lot and seen some big changes. Here are five developing trends in OKRs coaching that we feel you need to know about. These five trends and dozens of others are covered in the OKRs Field Book as well as actively discussed in the OKRs Coach Network.
1. Organizations are postponing discussions of setting OKRs at the individual-person level.
Back in 2016, roughly half our clients wanted to get going with company-level, team-level, and individual-level OKRs right from the start. Now, most organizations are embracing the notion that we should begin by defining OKRs at the highest possible level and pilot OKRs with several teams prior to even considering setting OKRs at the individual-person level. Nearly all of our clients agree that we should never require all individuals to define OKRs. This is a great development from our perspective.
2. Organizations are allowing more time to deploy OKRs and embracing a “crawl-walk-run” approach.
In 2016, quite a few organizations asked for a brief OKRs project that might include a call or two along with an onsite training workshop without ongoing OKRs coaching. Now, nearly everyone looking for help with OKRs is demanding an ongoing support program to ensure that their organization succeeds with OKRs over the course of at least one complete cycle.
3. The number of OKRs that an organization defines is trending down.
When I first got introduced to OKRs in 2011, I often heard “5 +/- 2” as the guidance for the optimal number of objectives an organization should set. This translates to 3 as the minimum, 5 as typical, and 7 as the recommended maximum. By 2016, we found that most organizations targeted 3 to 5 objectives, each with 4 to 5 key results. As of 2020, nearly all our clients are limiting the company to at most 3 objectives with at most 4 key results. We consider this a good development, as OKRs are often intended to drive focus and the “less is more” mantra seems to be gaining traction.
4. “Objective Descriptions” replaced with “Why Now?”
Back in 2016, we recommended including an “Objective Description” after each objective. This confused our clients, and not everyone adopted the recommendation. By mid-2018, our clients used “Why Now?” in place of objective descriptions. They aligned on 3 to 5 sentences that answer the question of why the objective is so important right now. The emphasis on “why” tends to be emotional. It educates and motivates the workforce. This step ensures alignment on the essence of the objective before taking on the time-consuming process of drafting key results. Beginning with “why now?” seems to add value every time. In fact, several clients report that beginning with “why” and getting clear about why each objective is so important right now is the biggest benefit of their OKRs program. Leaders often present the “Why Now?” analysis as a full slide before presenting key results.
5. OKRs cycles shifting to 4 months.
The default OKRs cycle time is still a quarter. However, beginning in 2019 nearly half of our clients adopted 4-month cycle times to avoid problems due to holidays and the quarterly crunch. Organizations on a quarterly cycle typically announce their Q1 OKRs in mid or even late February. This gives them just a few weeks before it’s time to draft Q2 OKRs. They often experience another delay in July due to summer vacations. In addition to holiday-related delays, they feel pressure from the quarterly crunch. The sales team is often focused on closing deals near the end of a quarter. Other teams such as finance may be swamped with closing the books as a quarter begins. Introducing another quarterly process with more work can be overwhelming, exacerbating the quarterly crunch. Teams making the move from a 3-month to a 4-month cycle report a preference for three OKRs cycles each year rather than four.
 The motivation for starting OKRs at the company, team, and individual levels was inspired by the 2014 Google Ventures Workshop Recording in which Rick Klau explains that OKRs exist at 3 levels. Subsequently, in November 2017, Klau clarified via twitter: “6- Skip individual OKRs altogether. Especially for younger, smaller companies. They’re redundant. Focus on company- and team-level OKRs.” So, it is no surprise that the message to delay or even “skip individual-level OKRs altogether” is now becoming the default approach.
 Think of objective descriptions as “the rationale for being, like a note to the CEO justifying why this objective should exist.” (Refer to page 68 of Objectives and Key Results)