Avoid these four pitfalls of goal setting and OKRs

Outcome-based, measurable goals are essential to make a focused effort toward your goals. But, are there prerequisites and ground rules for any goal-setting approach to work? I think, yes.

Firstly, from a product manager’s perspective, your three primary objectives are to shape, ship, and align. Shaping the product, shipping the product, and aligning with the stakeholders and customers. So, a good set of OKRs help in all three areas. However, overzealous teams have to guard against these pitfalls.

Lack of good objective

A good objective has alignment with your company and product strategy. Also, it’s one that your team can accomplish with good effort. Meaning: it’s not easy but not too hard — just right in your team’s sweetspot. If you can’t explain how the objective is aligned to your strategy, it’s time to pause and adjust. Similarly, if an objective is too difficult to achieve, look out for warning signs of morale issues that come with missing targets.

Fuzzy or no Key Results

You call them OKRs — which stand for Objective and Key Results — but you don’t emphasize KRs. When that happens, watch out whether it’s because you’re lazy to define them or if there’re deeper issues at play. For example, you have trouble describing how the objective helps one of the key components of your ecosystem: customers, business, infrastructure, etc. If your objective is merely referring to a completion date, ask what’s the significance of that timeline. Differentiate between a project vs. product.

Ignoring the maturity levels

Setting up long-term and strategic goals is good when you’re executing well. However, if you’re struggling with delivering, setting up BHAG (Big, Hairy, and Audacious Goals) is only going to add more pressure on your team. As a leader, first meet your team where they’re at. Then, take them along for a journey. Set your team up for success with short-term wins and build momentum.

Along the lines, ask: what’s one meaningful objective you could hit to make the maximum impact. Focus on that or the limited number you identify. Less is more.

Not taking local feedback into consideration

I understand why companies, as they grow big relies more on top-down objective-setting. That’s one way for the organization to keep all wings in alignment, at least in theory. Involve your teams in the goal-setting exercise. And, empower them to provide feedback on which goals they’re excited about. Equally importantly, let them voice their opinion on which initiatives they don’t see value in proceeding forward. Mission-driven teams are empowered to say ‘No.’

Also see my other post on OKRs: Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) – Measure What Matters.

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