10 OKR mistakes to avoid (and how to fix them)

10 OKR Mistakes to avoid (And How to fix them)

We all make mistakes, and honest mistakes made in pursuing practical solutions and strategies should be applauded as they provide the best learning opportunities. Every day is an opportunity presented to leaders to shape an environment wherein it is very good to make mistakes; as long as they are honest and framed as learning opportunities that are immediately acted upon, they are actually clear steps taken toward success.

Read the following insightful Harvard business review article on how to transform failure or mistakes into learning experiences:


There are mistakes we should avoid if we want to succeed with OKRs. These mistakes are generally very detrimental to Performance:

1. Not creating psychological safety in your teams

People in survival mode, still figuring out which relationships to build and how to be excellent at their roles, are very unlikely to pursue stretch goals until they experience a sense of psychological safety. It is up to us, as leaders to deliberately create an environment of safety, trust, and inspiration.

Sincere praise and belonging queues such as :

‘You are essential to this team’

‘I have a lot of faith in you

‘ The work you did to gain momentum on this key result was extraordinary’

Should be a staple in your team communication.

2. Not checking in likely means not succeeding

Weekly OKR Check-ins allow you to have your ‘finger on the pulse’ of OKRs and empower you to be proactive in iterating on your key results and actions.  Our advice is to stick to a weekly cadence of short yet powerful OKR check-ins. Failing to have regular check-ins often results in being re-active and failure in achieving your OKRs.

3. Lack of immersive experiences of OKRs

Poorly trained team members who have little to no understanding of OKRs are unlikely to be excited by OKRs and will likely be poor at drafting Powerful OKRs. A critical success factor of OKR roll-outs is to offer immersive experiences (meaning they are already practicing the skills of recruiting OKRs and aligning them within workshops) to all team members involved.

4. Lack of effort to obtain sufficient buy-in

Without a high level of buy-in into the idea and motivating mechanisms of OKRs, it is likely that OKRs will prove to be unsuccessful and not sustainable within your organization. By creating numerous OKR champions and advocates in your organization and thoroughly ‘selling’ the purpose and benefits of OKRs to all involved you have taken meaningful strides toward obtaining buy-in. Thoroughly managing resistance to change and showcasing how OKRs align to the compelling Vision and excellent strategies of the organization are additional measures to ensure optimal buy-in.

5. Lack of a resources assessment

       Failing to assess if we have the financial capacity, the necessary human resources capabilities, and the skills required to achieve a specific OKR makes it extremely difficult to achieve your goals. A thorough resource capacity assessment while drafting OKRs is an essential best practice.

6. Reverting to command control when anything goes wrong

OKRs is a ‘muscle’ that you build over time and it takes between two and five OKR cycles for teams to achieve excellence at OKRs, generally speaking. In some cases, top management becomes impatient very quickly if they see no immediate positive results from OKRs and then revert back to their default of ‘command and control’

7. A void when it comes to purpose

In general, people want a career path, a community, and a cause (purpose) for them to be truly engaged at work. When people experience a lack of meaning and impact in their work they are very unlikely to pursue stretch goals. Providing people with an operationalized purpose is another essential success factor, not only when it comes to OKRs but also in relation to Organizational development as a whole

8. Being output focused

We see so many output focused objective statements such as , ‘Create a new feature’ , ‘Build a new website’ and more. These statements does not make the value added nor the impact desired from those activities and are therefore not inspirational. We are 30% more likely to achieve goals that are more Outcome focused as they are more inspirational and clear in terms of benefits and value-added.

9. Having no strategy or a vague strategy

Strategy is points of differentiation from the competition that are both valuable and meaningful to all stakeholders, and differences that we can preserve. Strategy is not a list of goals nor is it the use of certain tools such as Agile methodologies. Anyone can apply it, therefore it does not establish clear and meaningful differences from the competition. If our strategy is not clear, how do we successful align our goals thereto? We can make our strategies clearer by first co-creating them and secondly by presenting them as choices. For example, Netflix made the clear strategic choice of creating their own original content over only streaming others content.

10. Just following and not creating your own OKR playbook

Every organization is unique, has its own life cycle, culture and challenges. Purely following others ways of introducing OKRs in your organization is a mistake. Yes, it is good to follow OKR best practises to at least have a ‘flexible framework’ as you roll-out OKRs , but eventually you need to end up with a playbook that reflects your unique organization.

Learn a practical approach to avoiding general OKR mistakes by journeying through our suite of courses:

Talent Development Director of the OKR Institute