Jan 21 / Savannah Barker

5 Common OKR Mistakes (and how to fix them!)

New year, new you? Many nonprofit organizations spend the month of January setting goals to ensure they will accomplish what they hope to that year. But as commonplace as goal-setting may be, few goals will ever come to fruition, or really push an organization to achieve great things.


In our blog How to Draft OKRs for Your Nonprofit, we explained the 3 most important steps to setting effective goals by utilizing Objectives and Key Results. In this post, we will examine the most common mistakes people make when setting OKRs for their organization, and offer easy action-oriented solutions to make your goal-setting even more effective.

Mistake #1: Setting OKRs That Don’t Challenge You

While it may be tempting to set goals you know you can achieve, doing so won’t push you or your organization to truly grow. Remember, you should only have about a 50% chance of achieving your goals. If you are constantly blowing your goals out of the water, they are probably too easy. 
Solution: When writing your goals, ask yourself: Do I have a 50/50 chance of achieving this? If your goal seems way above a 50% chance, odds are the goal isn't challenging enough.

Mistake #2: Setting OKRs That Are Unrealistic

Being ambitious is great, but being too aggressive with your goals can actually backfire. If you set OKRs that feel impossible, you risk demotivating you and your team by setting yourselves up for failure. Try to set OKRs that are challenging, but possible. 
Solution: When writing your goals, ask yourself: Do I know what my next steps are to achieve this, and can I achieve this in 90 days? If either answer is "no," then it may be best to review your objectives and choose something more realistic. 

Mistake #3: Having Too Many OKRs

This one is important! One of the key benefits to utilizing the OKR methodology is that it forces you to focus on what’s most important for your organization. If you find yourself drafting 6 or 7 OKRs, challenge yourself to prioritize. Remember: OKRs should capture your stretch goals, not a task list or business-as-usual outcomes.
Solution: Try to limit yourself to 3 Objectives and 3-5 Key Results per Objective. If you're having difficulty limiting yourself to only 3, remember that you can always tackle the other OKRs in a later quarter. 

Mistake #4: Using Ambiguous Key Results

Key Results are how you hold yourself accountable, so make sure they are SMART—Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Bound. If your Key Results are too vague (e.g. “increase fundraising” or “improve programming”) you’ll have no way of knowing if you’ve actually achieved your goal. 
Example:

Ambiguous Key Result: 
Grow the NotleyEDU platform 

SMART Key Result:
500 users join the Notley EDU digital platform by end of Q1
Notice how by adding measurable and time-bound constraints to this key result, we are now able to more easily track success, and hold ourselves accountable.

Mistake #5: Failing to Track Progress Regularly

So you and your team put all this energy into drafting your perfect OKRs. They are challenging without being impossible, they are focused and they are specific, but you don’t refer back to them until the end of the quarter only to find you’ve totally missed the mark!

For OKRs to work, you should check in on them weekly. If you notice you have spent the week working on things outside of your OKRs, use that as an opportunity to refocus on your North Star and prioritize accordingly. 
Solution: Dedicate time once a week to check in on OKRs with your team. Use this as an opportunity to not only review your team's progress, but celebrate success! At NotleyEDU, we use Asana to check in on our goals and projects every week, and celebrate each other frequently in our "wins" slack channel.

Implementing OKRs is tough stuff, and it will likely take you and your team a few tries to get it right, but doing so effectively can transform your organization. Don’t give up! 
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