The OKRs Field Book Preview
The OKRs Field Book Preview
THIS IS THE FIRST book dedicated to OKRs coaching. This is not an introduction to OKRs. I wrote this book for external and internal coaches looking to take their OKRs coaching skills to the next level.
If you provide OKRs coaching services to your clients, you are an external OKRs coach. This book speaks directly to you. It enables you to better support your clients as they launch OKRs or improve their existing OKRs program.
If you work at an organization that is using (or about to use) OKRs and are tasked with helping your organization deploy OKRs effectively, you are an internal OKRs coach. Although this book addresses external coaches, internal coaches can also benefit.
To get the most from this book, you should be familiar with books such as Radical Focus, by Christina Wodtke; Objectives and Key Results, a book I co-authored with Paul Niven; and Measure What Matters, by John Doerr. These three books provide an excellent introduction to OKRs. They cover the first layer of information, such as the history and benefits of implementing OKRs, success stories, and the distinction between an objective and a key result. However, OKRs coaches want to go deeper. My colleagues and clients are asking for the answers to these deeper questions. Here are 10 examples (answers to these questions are included in the appendix):
- How can we scale OKRs across a large organization with hundreds of departments?
- How can we set team-level OKRs to ensure cross-functional alignment rather than simply using the org chart to define the teams that will set OKRs?
- How can infrastructure teams such as legal, human resources, and finance benefit from OKRs?
- How do we integrate OKRs into our performance management system?
- How do OKRs compare with KPIs?
- When do OKRs not add value?
- How do we ensure that OKRs reflect team thinking rather than orders from the boss?
- How do we avoid OKRs that look like a “to-do list”?
- What if some employees do not see how they contribute to company-level OKRs?
- How do I facilitate an executive workshop to draft top-level OKRs?
Although there are no magic answers to these questions that work for every organization, this book gives you the tools to answer these and other questions in the context of your client’s situation. It’s called a field book because it focuses on nitty-gritty advice, tips, and tools to help you apply OKRs in the field with confidence. For example, this book includes a sample handout that you can use to draft OKRs, sample worksheets that organizations use to track their OKRs, and sample agendas with tips for facilitating OKRs workshops.
HOW THIS BOOK IS ORGANIZED AND HOW TO BEST USE IT
The five chapters in this book provide a step-by-step guide to support your client’s OKRs program. Though this book may be read from cover to cover, it is best used as a reference guide that you can come back to as you master each step of an OKRs coaching engagement. Each chapter begins with the skills it teaches and ends with an exercise to transfer content from theory into practice. Exercises are your opportunity to critically reflect on your OKRs coaching approach. They also help you internalize the concepts in this book so you can bring OKRs coaching to your clients in your own way. If you’re an active OKRs coach, consider completing the reflection exercise at the end of this introduction right now.
Chapter 1 is the foundation for the entire book. It offers an analysis of why OKRs coaching is vital right now and features the first collective definition of OKRs coaching.
Chapter 2 summarizes the nine roles, three phases, and recommended duration of an OKRs coaching engagement. Roles include (1) external OKRs coach, (2) executive sponsor, (3) OKRs project lead, (4) OKRs coordinator, (5) human resources lead, (6) team lead, (7) team member, (8) key result champion, and (9) internal OKRs coach. Phases include (1) deployment coaching, (2) training, and (3) cycle coaching. This book gives coaches a detailed guide for each phase.
Chapter 3 is the playbook for Phase 1, deployment coaching, in which you help your client define their deployment parameters. As an OKRs coach, it is imperative that you absorb and master this content. Think of these parameters as answers to the questions you need to have in place before rolling out OKRs. There are 10 universal parameters to confirm with every client:
- At what level will we set OKRs – company, team, individual?
- How many OKRs will we set? How will we balance internal and external objectives?
- How will we score OKRs? How will we update progress?
- How long is an OKRs cycle?
- What are the three types of key results? Are milestones appropriate?
- Where will we draft, publish, and track OKRs?
- How will OKRs relate to performance reviews?
- How are OKRs different from KPIs?
- How will we ensure that OKRs are aligned?
- How will we ensure most OKRs originate “bottom-up”?
With these parameters in place, you can design and deliver training.
Chapter 4 is the playbook for Phase 2, training. You’ll find the three types of training workshops proven to be most effective along with actual agendas from the field. Workshops create enthusiasm and often yield a solid set of draft OKRs. However, to be an effective OKRs coach, you must stick around to coach your client through at least one OKRs cycle.
Chapter 5 is the playbook for coaching your client through the three steps in an OKRs cycle:
Step 1: Set and align OKRs.
Step 2: Check in and monitor progress.
Step 3: Reflect and reset.
In addition to an analysis of each step and questions to ask along the way, this chapter includes excerpts from actual coaching sessions and a case study that follows an OKR through each step of the cycle.
- the questions OKRs coaches ask
- a sample drafting handout you can use with clients right away, and
- sample ineffective and effective key results.
We end the book with two stories that reflect lessons learned with vital implications for OKRs coaches. With this overview out of the way, let’s get to know each other.
OKRs ORIGIN STORIES
When I met Christina Wodtke, author of Radical Focus, she asked me to describe how and why I got into OKRs. I found the conversation immensely valuable. It was the first time I reflected on why I became an OKRs coach. Christina suggested that sharing OKRs origin stories is a great place to start when meeting other OKRs coaches. So, whenever I meet an OKRs coach colleague, I begin with origin stories. I will share mine now and hope you will share yours.2
My OKRs origin story goes back to graduate school. As a twenty-something working on my doctoral degree in management science and engineering at Stanford University in the late 1990s, I completed my coursework and was about to start research for my dissertation. Faced with several more years of living on a teaching assistant’s income and the rising cost of housing around the Stanford campus, I decided to drop out of graduate school and get a job. I took a position with a leading management consulting firm. But I was desperate for approval from Michael Fehling, my academic advisor. I asked Michael, “Is it OK for me to take this job? Do you approve?” to which Michael replied,
“As long as you have time for critical reflection, you’ll do great.”
Michael was so right. In the first year, the consulting firm had me working 80 hours per week – I did not have time to reflect. I spent countless hours editing PowerPoint slides, linking tables in databases, and building macros in spreadsheets. I just kept doing whatever I was asked to do. I developed practical skills, but I had no time for critical reflection. So, I left and joined a well-funded dot-com startup.
After a decade of working, first as a management consultant and later for dot-com startups, Jeffrey L. Walker introduced me to OKRs in 2010. Jeff was the founder of Oracle Applications and later served as CFO during Oracle’s rapid growth in the late 1980s. Jeff used OKRs at Oracle. Importantly, he taught me how to communicate more effectively by emphasizing the desired result rather than listing out all the projects and tasks that are on my to-do list. With Jeff ’s guidance, I began working with the OKRs model in 2011.
My first paid OKRs engagement began with a request to “support the creation of metrics and performance dashboards for dozens of departments across several business units.” My client sent me a 20-page strategy document packed with metrics, strategic pillars, and priorities. After reading the document, I felt lost. So, I reread the document several times and translated it into the OKRs framework. When I presented the strategy as a set of four OKRs on a single page to the CEO and CFO, they asked me to create the exact same OKRs document for each business unit and department.
The critical thinking that occurred during my first wave of OKRs coaching sessions with this client marked a turning point in my career. For the first time, I was engaged in a work activity that could change the game. Nearly all 40 managers in my first round of paid OKRs coaching gave me feedback that was 10 times more positive than any feedback I had ever received. I was onto something big. Rather than the old model of asking questions in order to get data to populate a financial model for their boss, I introduced a different set of questions – questions such managers need to be asking themselves. Here are some examples:
- Why does our team exist?
- What is the most important objective for our team to focus on this quarter?
- How will we know we’ve achieved the objective?
These questions are the very same questions Jeff Walker asked back when he introduced me to OKRs. They shook my world.3 They forced the critical reflection that Professor Fehling advocated. I realized that great mentors and coaches tend to emphasize asking questions over giving advice.
As there were no job openings for “OKRs Coach,” I settled for the next best thing – I joined Betterworks, an OKRs software company. I felt that joining the five-person team at Betterworks, which was in the prefunded startup phase, was the big break I was looking for. Just a few months after I accepted the job offer, the legendary Silicon Valley investor and OKRs evangelist, John Doerr, agreed to invest $12 million in our young company – his largest A-Round since Google!
I provided training to Betterworks customers to help them define and load OKRs into an early version of our software. I took roughly two days with one client to train several teams. While the feedback from this client was quite positive, the Betterworks CEO was not happy. Software companies get big valuations by delivering scalable technologies, not time-consuming services. Betterworks expected me to train all teams in several hours, not to train some of the teams in several days!
So, I left Betterworks in 2014, started OKRs.com, and decided to focus on OKRs coaching. While I felt as if I was heading in a good direction, I faced three challenges: (1) I lacked a steady source of income, (2) it was not easy to find clients looking for OKRs coaching, and (3) I had no marketing budget. At that time, almost no one had even heard of OKRs, so I decided to postpone my dreams and take on consulting work unrelated to OKRs. Something didn’t feel right, so I turned back to Jeff Walker.
Jeff: What is the one thing that you do best that also has significant business value?
Me: OKRs coaching
Jeff: How many hours per week are you doing this OKRs coaching on average?
Me: Three or four
Jeff: Why not make that 30 to 40?
Me: But there’s no way to do that. My consulting clients are paying me to build financial models.
Jeff: Stop doing that other stuff and start focusing on OKRs coaching. If you can’t get paid to do it, just do it for free. Make it your goal to do as many sessions, free or paid, as possible. If you are adding business value, people will start paying for it. And, if you can deliver significant value, you’ll find out just how big the market really is.
After this brief interaction, I embraced Jeff ’s challenge. I started offering free OKRs coaching to anyone who would give me an hour of their time. I recorded dozens of these free coaching sessions. I reviewed each recording and transcribed certain sections. I analyzed where we got stuck or made breakthroughs using the Left-Hand Column (LHC) reflection exercise that Professor Fehling introduced to me at Stanford.4 It took me a while, but I ultimately confirmed the value of OKRs coaching.
By mid-2014, I was 100% focused on OKRs coaching. I managed to have a slight profit in 2015, and 2016 was my first truly profitable year as well as the year I coauthored a book on OKRs. By 2018, I could barely meet the demand for coaching services. So, I expanded my team to include Dikran Yapoujian.5 Building off the success with Dikran, I started mentoring other OKRs coaches. By 2019, OKRs coaches from around the world were approaching me for advice on how to provide OKRs coaching to their clients.
This book contains the foundational content you need to be an effective OKRs coach. It is based on OKRs coaching projects with hundreds of organizations over the past decade, as well as input from the OKRs coach community. The use of “I” refers to me, Ben Lamorte. The use of “we” refers to the entire OKRs.com coaching team.
TRENDS OKRs COACHES SHOULD KNOW
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 six developing trends that we believe you should know before we get into the nuts and bolts of OKRs coaching:
- Organizations are postponing discussions of setting OKRs at the individual person level. Back in 2016, nearly half of our clients wanted to get going with company-level, team-level, and individual-level OKRs right from the start.6 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. Chapter 3 analyzes the level at which to set OKRs in an organization.
- 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. Chapter 2 explains how we arrived at 8 to 12 months as the ideal duration for an OKRs coaching engagement.
- The definition of OKRs as a “critical thinking framework” is resonating even with organizations that do not formally adopt OKRs as their goal-setting model.7 Some of our clients are bringing the discipline of OKRs coaching to improve their existing, non-OKRs goal-setting systems. In fact, several of our more established clients have goal-setting systems such as KPIs, MBOs, and/or balanced scorecards in place already, but they feel something is missing. They want to introduce OKRs, but they feel introducing another system could be a step backward, based on a legitimate concern that adding more acronyms and jargon to their existing goal-setting system could increase overhead. Nonetheless, these organizations are asking us to train their staff to focus more on outcomes, connect their work to strategy, or even to just get better at writing goals in general. In these cases, we bring OKRs coaching into organizations that choose not to formally deploy OKRs. We explain to the staff that as OKRs coaches, we ask structured questions designed to improve their existing goal-setting process. We ask fundamental OKRs questions such as:
■ Why is this objective so important now?
■ How will you know you’ve achieved the objective by the end of the quarter?
■ What is the intended outcome of the task?
These questions force their staff to engage in critical reflection and inevitably help optimize their existing goal-setting system, even though we may not be naming it OKRs. When working with such clients, we provide ad-hoc coaching rather than taking the phased approach outlined in Chapters 3, 4, and 5.
- The number of OKRs that an organization defines is trending down. Back in 2011, we often heard “5 +/– 2” as the guidance for the optimal number of objectives an organization should set. This translates to three as the minimum, five as typical, and seven as the recommended maximum. By 2016, most of our clients targeted three to five objectives, each with three to five key results. As of 2020, nearly all of our clients defined at most three objectives, each with just two to four key results. We consider this a good development, as OKRs are often intended to drive focus.
- “Objective descriptions” are replaced with “Why now?” Back in 2016, we recommended including an “objective description” after each objective.8 This confused our clients, and not everyone adopted the recommendation. By mid-2018, all of our clients adopted “Why now?” in place of objective descriptions. They align on three to five sentences that explain why the objective is so important right now. The emphasis on “Why now?” tends to educate and motivate 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?” is an excellent opportunity to add value as a coach. Several of our clients report that getting clear about why each objective is so important right now is the biggest benefit of their OKRs program. Leaders often announce OKRs by presenting the objective and the analysis of “Why now?” on a full slide before presenting key results.
- OKRs cycles are shifting to four months. The default OKRs cycle time is still a quarter. However, beginning in 2019, nearly half of our clients adopted four-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 three-month to a four-month cycle report a preference for three OKRs cycles each year rather than four.
This book elaborates on these six trends and more. As noted earlier, each section concludes with an exercise. If you’d like to skip this exercise and read Chapter 1, that’s fine. However, the exercise below comes first for a reason. This is your chance to share your origin story and what led you to pick up this book.
- To learn more about the network, visit www.okrscoach.network.
- For details on how to share your story, see the exercise at the end of this introduction.
- Refer to “Questions OKRs Coaches Ask” in the epilogue for more OKRs questions.
- For more on the Left-Hand Column exercise, see the end of Chapter 1.
- For more on Dikran, see the Contributor Bios at the end of this book as well as his coaching tips in Chapter 5.
- 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 three 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.
- This definition for OKRs is as follows: A critical thinking framework and ongoing discipline that seeks to ensure that employees work together, focusing effort to make measurable contributions.
- Think of objective descriptions as “the rationale for being, like a note to the CEO justifying why this objective should exist.” From Objectives and Key Results: Driving Focus, Alignment, and Engagement with OKRs.
- High Output Management by Andy Grove introduces OKRs
- How Google Works by Eric Schmidt & Jonathan Rosenberg, with Alan Eagle, details Google’s use of OKRs
Articles & Slide Decks
- How to Make OKRs Actually Work at Your Startup, Learn how Swipely implemented OKRs using Work.com to grow from 80 employess to a $1B company
- Dr Gail Matthews Dominican University Research: “People who wrote down their goals, shared this information with a friend, and sent weekly updates to that friend were on average 33% more successful…”
- Never Before Disclosed Oracle Planning Techniques by Jeff Walker, Oracle CFO, describes Oracle’s use of MOKRs (Mission Objective Key Results)
- Sears Holding Company Study Concludes OKRs Impact the Bottom Line, Research concluding OKRs increased revenue by 8.5% and increased odds of getting promoted
- Google Ventures Video featuring Rick Klau on OKRs, 80-minute workshop detailing how Google uses OKRs
- Small Wins (authors of the Progress Principle), Harvard research analzying the importance of making progress at work
- Simon Sinek – Biological explanation of why OKRs work
- Executioner’s Tale: 20 minute video by Christina Wodtke, Fable of how OKRs saved a small startup
About Ben Lamorte and OKRs.com
Ben Lamorte coaches business leaders to define and make measurable progress on their most important goals. Building off his success helping hundreds of managers draft and refine their team’s OKRs, he founded OKRs.com.
Ben holds a graduate degree in Management Science and Engineering from Stanford University and has 15 years of experience as a management consultant, sales and marketing executive, financial modeler, and OKRs coach. Recent engagements include 1) applying the OKRs methodology to identify company and team-level performance metrics for a mid-sized government contracting organization, 2) coaching 50 team leaders to draft and refine their OKRs at a leading education software company, and 3) designing and implementing a coaching program for F100 organization to improve the quality and impact of OKRs. Email: Ben@OKRs.com.
WHAT CLIENTS SAY?
Dun & Bradstreet
Senior Leader, Customer Analytics & Insights
Ben is a forward-thinking and collaborative business partner to Dun and Bradstreet. We regularly engage Ben for advice and guidance for all of our OKRs and priorities for Marketing. He has truly pushed our thinking and helped us establish meaningful and aspirational OKRs. We owe a lot of our success to Ben’s guidance and support.
It’s been enlightening working with Ben on our OKR framework. He is experienced and brings such to the table helping us learn very quickly. You witness his passion and thirst to perfecting his craft.
Chief of Staff
Dikran’s approach to OKRs is well-structured and to the point. He supported our deployment with a combination of training workshops and coaching feedback. I highly recommend Dikran as an OKRs coach.
First OKR Facilitator and Practitioner
Ben delivered an informative and energetic OKRs training for both our HR colleagues and Managers. It helped shape how we approach OKRs and has updated our understanding of OKRs. Thanks a lot for this great training.
Director of Services
Gerri has been instrumental in helping the management team at Pablo Group develop, deploy, execute, and measure our OKRs. Gerri was more than a consultant to our team. She was an active advisor invested in our success as a business and an engaging coach advocating for full team participation focused on helping us find our answers... I happily recommend Gerri to our colleagues.
Chief Product Officer and Co-Founder
Ben is the epitome of an all-star coach. He’s incredibly perceptive, a great listener, very socratic in his approach, and laser focused on improving performance. Given how powerful OKRs are to the focus and productivity of an entire organization, I’d say Ben is the most valuable consultant I’ve ever hired.
Dikran facilitated an effective and extremely informational OKRs workshop with our leadership team. He was able to quickly educate us on OKRs and was flexible as we applied OKRs questioning throughout the day. Dikran gave us what we needed to take a shot at running through the three steps of an OKRs cycle on our own.
Philip G. Clark, Ph.D.
Ben brings his considerable experience working with a variety of clients to helping 3M identify how OKRs can be used within different teams and different situations. We particularly appreciated him helping us identify the “Why?” behind our objectives which in turn made us have stronger and more meaningful OKRs.
I’m delighted with Catherine Chen’s coaching service! The amount of effort and time saved driving results and accountability with Catherine’s help has been massive. We see increased alignment through focus on goals.
Ben and I worked together on implementing OKRs at Booking.com. I really enjoyed our collaboration as Ben is very easygoing, helpful and patient… He is always happy to continue the discussion and help grow your OKR knowledge.
Dikran helped us get OKRs implemented and on track. He was very engaging and quickly responded to questions. In a short period of time, it felt like he was part of our team, not an outside consultant.
Vice President, Engineering
Ben has helped us to rethink our approach to OKRs from the ground up. He has a unique ability to take what can be a very theoretical topic and make it very practical and straight forward. He has been a game changer for our organization.
Jason A. Meyerhoeffer
President and CEO
Dikran was extremely helpful. We had started with OKRs ourselves and were struggling with the implementation of the framework. Dikran was able to answer our questions and coach us through the process.
Head of Finance & Customer Care
Ben provides ongoing support on introducing OKRs at Zalando in a very pragmatic way. He kicked-off Objectives & Key Results as a mindset shift. I highly recommend Ben as an enabler for organizational mindset changes regarding target setting – always a pleasure to cooperate with him!
Gerri helped me understand the best way to apply OKRs methods for my company. The acceleration we had thanks to the work done with Gerri has been impressive.
Harry, Wang Zhizhong
D.Light Design Limited Group
Co-Founder & Managing Director
At the end of 2017, I met Ben Lamorte. It was the tenth year of D.Light Design Limited as a world-renowned organization. It was at a time when the new businesses of subsidiaries in various countries were developing rapidly, and the organizational structure and performance appraisal mechanism urgently needed significant adjustments.
Ben’s guidance, support materials, presentations and willingness to speak directly with our teams contributes hand-in-glove with TCGplayer’s ability to continue to scale up successfully. We are very happy to recommend Ben’s amazing OKR guru work, as he has helped us advance quickly in a short period of time.
The LegalTech Fund
Co-Founder & Managing Director
We needed an OKRs Coach to help us create and implement OKRs. Gerri taught, coached, listened, and engaged our entire team and provided the tools we needed to stand up our OKR program and take it to the next level.
Regional Overseas Leadership Team
The biggest takeaway from Ben’s OKRs training is that by knowing how to set objectives and key results, we have the information of “Who does what? When? And How”. We now have clear information which can move the needle.
Speedway Motors Inc.
VP People, Purchasing, and Marketing
Ben’s coaching style is easy to work with while still being straight forward. He listens to your needs/ideas, provides objective feedback and is able to structure what you are saying. It's been an absolute pleasure to hop on a Zoom with Ben. I'm looking forward to a long future together.