4 reasons why individual OKRs don't work

In this article, we'll explore at which levels companies set OKRs and why team Objectives is a preferred approach instead of individual ones.

Good in theory, bad in practice

A general recommendation when adopting OKRs is to have several levels of them. From the company-level to the department, to teams and down to the individual. Each level sets their OKRs in alignment with the higher level.

In theory, it sounds reasonable and logical. And it's a preferred approach for managers since they can track goals of team members.

However, if you try to implement this approach in practice, it simply doesn't work! And companies, such as Spotify, ditch individual OKRs.

Below are the main reasons why individual OKRs don't work.

1. It's bureaucracy that slows down and doesn't add value

To work effectively, you need to sync OKRs with other teams and teammates. If you set in stone and don't change your Objectives for the whole period, it's ok. But often you'd need to course-correct your plan along the way. Each change in your higher-level Objectives would trigger a formal cascade of meetings and changes up to the personal level. This level of detalization usually is unnecessary and sucks the energy in endless meetings and synchronizations.

Further mode, such OKRs would add a tone of work for your managers. They'd need to do extra check-ins and admin work to manage personal OKRs of their team members.

You'd instead want to be swift and flexible, defining the priorities on the higher level, and allow your team members to figure out the details on their own. And save time with fewer meetings.

2. They can quickly turn into micro-management and misuse

Having personal Objectives would give your managers too many opportunities for micro-management since every employee's Objective would need to be synced with them. Moreover, if you want it or not, individual OKR would be referred to during the performance evaluations. Why not reference it if you already have this data on such a detailed level. If done so, no one in your team would set aspirational moonshot objectives. And you wouldn't get one of the key benefits of OKRs — achieving beyond expected.

3. Forced individual Objectives deteriorate the whole OKR process

Good OKR should be value-based, not a set of activities or a to-do list. However, on the personal levels, your employees usually don't have a metric that they can fully own and be responsible for. Building a company and a product is a team sport. Your whole engineering team works on the next release; the marketing department works on increasing brand awareness, etc.

If you force such OKRs, your co-workers would most likely set small activity-based tasks that they can do themselves. It would make most of the OKRs look tedious, too detailed and not providing value for anyone from the outside. So your OKRs wouldn't be referred to as a reliable source to understand the team direction.

4. Individual OKRs encourage individualism instead of collaboration

When given team-level and individual OKRs, each of us would naturally prioritize personal OKR higher then the team Objectives. Especially if you'd use them during the performance evaluations.

Is that really what you want? A group of people each pulling strings towards their side? I doubt so. Highly-productive teams focus on how to collaborate better together. And this is what OKRs are designed for.

Is there room for individual OKRs?

Individual OKR makes sense when the person can fully own the metric or the process and can be fully responsible for the Key Results. For example, a Customer Support representative that handles the requests within a pull of customers. Or a sales rep that is selling to a group of clients.

However, even in these cases, most likely, some parts depend from other co-workers. Sales need excellent product and proper marketing to sell better. So collaboration would be required with other teams sooner or later. So why not to make it a team sport from the very beginning?

Summary

OKRs are designed to be collaborative, so use them on the team level.

Organizations need to adapt to the new approaches in the workplace and create processes that would help everyone in the company foster collaboration, personal growth, and development. And it's best achieved on the team level.

That's why in our free OKR tool Plai we implemented only team-level Objectives. That way, we help organizations create better processes from the very beginning and prevent them from stepping onto the wrong path.
30 July / 2019
Author: Andriy Bas
co-founder & CEO Plai

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