Selling OKRs to an executive team: 5 common objections

Some of the world’s most renowned business leaders have embraced the OKR framework to help their businesses adapt, grow and thrive--from Jeff Bezos to Bill Gates. Known as Objectives and Key Results, OKRs help encourage more ongoing, strategic goal setting at the company, team and individual levels.

However, with any new initiative comes a slew of questions and concerns. This is especially true among the executive team, whose sole goal is to keep the business “machine” running efficiently. In this disruptive climate, though, where well established businesses and industries are being turned upside down, executive leadership can no longer afford to stick to the same old way of setting company goals. If you’re trying to sell the OKR model to your executive team, here are some ways to respond to common questions and objections.

1. “Why would we waste time rolling something out that our employees may not even want?”

Who wouldn’t want to be more productive and collaborate better with their teams? That’s what OKRs are designed to do. And in a world where only 15% of employees are engaged in their work, leadership needs to ensure that they’re not only empowering employees to do their jobs well, but that they’re developing an ongoing line of communication and feedback that encourages them to push their productivity and creativity to the next level. U.S. employee engagement is slowly rising due to increased focus on company culture and providing appropriate recognition for accomplishments. Again, OKRs support both of these goals. They encourage ongoing cross-functional communication and collaboration, and transforms quarterly planning meetings into monthly or even weekly check-ins. All of these benefits can and should be communicated across the organization in order to drive awareness, excitement and, of course, adoption.

2. “How can we be sure teams are setting the right goals?”

You can improve organizational alignment through the creation of top-down and bottom-up OKRs. In the former, team- and employee-level goal setting is done once company goals are established. In the latter, bigger-picture company goals are based on the OKRs that individual teams create. While top-down OKRs are the most common, bottom-up OKRs are valuable for companies that are still testing their value and impact. Regardless of the approach you take, this cascading of goals helps ensure everything is connected and that employees are focusing on the right things.

3. “How can we be sure employees and teams are working towards their goals?”

In order to make a true impact, an OKR should act as a team (or company’s) North Star. It should guide their individual work and even their conversations with colleagues and managers. Teams and the broader organization can shift to a more ongoing meeting structure, where employees and managers focus on key status updates and action items. OKRs make these meetings more productive and help ensure that company and team-level goals are top-of-mind every day. This ultimately helps provide greater transparency into productivity and workloads, and even improves employee accountability.

4. “What if we don’t see the results that we expect?”
This is perhaps the biggest mind and culture shift for executive leaders. Used to quick results and tangible benefits, your leadership team may be put off by the fact that some goals will not be accomplished. Unmet goals equates to failure. But OKR best practices say that objectives should be aggressive to encourage employees to push themselves creatively and strategically. If they don’t meet their goals within a certain amount of time, the team or company should revisit the OKR together and determine whether it needs to be revised. If the objective remains in tact, everyone should leave the meeting with clear takeaways and action items so they can get on the right track.

5. “We don’t have the budget to adopt any new technologies or systems.”
The best part about the OKR is that it doesn’t require any tools or technology--at least in the beginning. We understand that it’s difficult to justify this type of investment, especially if there aren’t any tangible results or benefits realized. You can begin your journey with one or two teams creating and managing OKRs using free tools, such as spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations. Once they begin to see the benefits, you can determine which functions and teams to roll out to next. As you begin to scale, your organization will need an OKR tool to better manage processes and track progress. By then, you should have the justification for your investment--or at the very least a pilot!

OKRs require new ways of thinking, working and collaborating. But in the end, they provide a turnkey, yet impactful framework for setting and working towards goals. Download this guide to see why 14 of the world's most innovative brands use OKRs to see why. And when you’re done, share it with your executive team!

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