This article was published on March 8, 2017

How to fit OKRs into your company’s mission and values

How to fit OKRs into your company’s mission and values
David Hassell
Story by

David Hassell

David Hassell is the founder and CEO of 15Five, lightweight performance management software that delivers a full suite of integrated tools - David Hassell is the founder and CEO of 15Five, lightweight performance management software that delivers a full suite of integrated tools - including continuous employee feedback, objective tracking (OKRs), pulse surveys, and peer recognition. Named "The Most Connected Man You Don't Know in Silicon Valley" by Forbes Magazine, David has also been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Inc., Wired, Fast Company, and the Financial Post. You can learn more about 15Five and David Hassell at

In Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk entitled, How Great Leaders Inspire Action, Sinek refocuses companies away from thinking first about what they do, and instead advises them to figure out why they’re doing it. This not only impacts their services and products, but also the people who build out and fulfill the company vision.

No matter how great your vision, the world will always be pulling your company away from fulfilling your higher purpose. Management has to consciously and intentionally move toward it with everything they do, by asking questions and inspiring important conversations. The worst thing one can do in having a corporate philosophy is to write it on the wall and never talk about it again.

Drifting away from purpose will set the company on a course toward rampant cynicism. Employees will point to the wall of values and say, “Be the Change? Ha! We’re not that, that’s a joke.”

In cases like this, companies are better off not having values at all, rather than a lack of organizational integrity and trust.

At 15Five we drive home the values by asking this question on a regular basis, “Which company value are you most aligned with this week and why?” By answering this question employees can embody each value as it applies to their work week as a way to achieve their goals and do their best work.

For example, during some weeks, employees may have benefited from our value of Dare to Dream. At other times, Find the Leverage, may have been the gateway to top performance.

The power of questions

Questions are so powerful that they influenced the creation of objective based management.

In the 1970s, Intel’s Andy Grove developed a management process called Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) in response to two questions: Where do I want to go? How will I know I’m getting there?

These questions are really asking people how they focus their time at work. With OKRs, yearly and quarterly objectives are broken down by team and again by employee. Each objective fits into the company mission, vision, and values.

At the First Round Capital CEO Summit, LinkedIn CEO, Jeff Weiner, discussed how the company grew to a $20 Billion valuation by developing a strategy to achieve objectives in a fiercely competitive market. OKRs are how companies fulfill their mission while staying aligned with their vision and values.

According to Weiner,

Missions can be defined in terms of concrete objectives, and a company can be measured by how well it achieves them.

How OKRs work

Cultural development is important, but results are not achieved at the meta level. Here are the six basic steps for effectively creating objectives, achieving results, and learning from what went well and what did not:

  1. The company sets three to five objectives for the year and for each quarter.
  2. Each team sets three to five objectives that are aligned with the ones leadership sets for the company.
  3. Employees work with managers to set three to five objectives and corresponding key results that are aligned with team and company objectives.
  4. Employees and managers gain mutual agreement on set OKRs as stretch goals that are not easily achievable and are not tied to annual performance reviews.
  5. Make OKRs transparent throughout the company so that everyone sees the bigger picture and can hold each other accountable.
  6. Employees evaluate their key results (score them) at the end of each quarter — targets set by the company are typically between 60 percent to 70 percent success.

Critiques of the system

There are those nay-sayers who disagree with management by objectives. For example, some of those folks feel that OKRs are a dangerous practice and that they’
re out of sync with the pace of the market.

In other words, market conditions may require businesses to shift away from previously established quarterly priorities, but OKRs are not set in stone. Below I address two of these misconceptions.

Misconception #1: The process of creating OKRs will slow down my team.

Truth: OKRs improve the rate of performance, by planning ahead and keeping the team aligned.

Some employees will feel overwhelmed by the three to five lofty objectives they set every quarter, and overwhelm can cause shut-down. There are a couple of ways to handle this:

  1. Do not create too many key results. Six is the absolute maximum so as not to risk overextending the team.
  2. Never set any business goal and simply walk away. Managers should check in frequently to ensure that employees stay on track.
  3. Go beyond the metrics and ask qualitative questions. “How are you doing? What challenges are you facing? How can I help?”
  4. Break down quarterly objectives into weekly and monthly goals. Taking small bites feels more manageable and provides a roadmap to completing the larger goal.

Misconception #2: Employees lose focus because they are worried about achieving results.

Truth: Key Results are stretch goals that don’t impact reviews or compensation.

Employees can be intimidated because they are afraid of repercussions for not accomplishing their objectives. Management can assuage their concerns by explaining that key results are independent of criteria for performance reviews:

  1. Don’t tie key results to performance or compensation.
  2. Key results are graded at the end of the quarter. They are stretch goals that should challenge the employee. The goal is 60 percent to 70 percent complete. If employees hit them all, they are not striving high enough.

The CEO is responsible for setting the direction of his or her company. Not only to develop yearly and quarterly objectives but to be the chief advocate of the company mission, vision, and values. Every company leader must connect each action and initiative to the deeper purpose, and check in regularly to make sure the team is inspired and the company philosophy is alive and well.

While the company’s mission and core values set the direction and keep people on course, structure is needed to encourage people to perform at peak productivity. Taken together, culture based conversations and management practices like OKRs are a powerful formula for success.

Get the TNW newsletter

Get the most important tech news in your inbox each week.