Why enterprises can't do OKRs without the software

Not sure how to choose OKR software? Download our Buyer’s guide:  51-step Guide to Avoiding OKR Career Suicide: Finding the Right OKR Software for Your Business

Many enterprises choose to start OKRs “on paper” (spreadsheets, word, PowerPoint…). It is an intuitive approach. When starting something new – start simple.

The idea is to first master OKRs and then adopt software.

At Gtmhub, we love working with enterprises that have been through the hell of “OKRs on paper” for few quarters or a year. These organizations are at the end of their wits after running in circles for such a long time. We don’t really have to sell the value of software. They just buy it.

Think selling an Advil to a person that had a headache for one year. Not really a Glengarry Glen Ross type of situation.

First, some context

Why enterprises adopt OKRs in the first place?

  • Alignment – make sure everyone is pushing in the same direction
  • Focus – let people work only on things that are important
  • Accountability – make it clear who is responsible for what
  • Transparency – people cannot be aligned, focused, or accountable if they don’t understand what’s going on

Furthermore, adopting OKRs will always have four components:

1. Education (Training) 
Everyone involved needs to have a basic understanding of what OKRs are, why they are important, and how to use them.

2. Process Design 
Regardless of how simple or complex, some rules of engagement have to be defined. For example, the decision to do quarterly OKRs is one of such rules.

3. Supporting the Process 
Once the process is defined, it should be followed. The more people involved, the harder this gets.

4. Benefiting from OKRs 
Finally, the whole reason for using OKRs is to reap the benefits of OKRs. Are your teams more aligned? Has the focus improved? And ultimately, are you achieving your objectives. At scale!

As we all know, enterprises are large, complex organizations. Basically, nothing an enterprise does is easy, simple, or small.

Two ways to fail with OKRs “on paper”

So, why doesn’t it work? It’s always one of the two reasons when doing OKRs “on paper“:

– Irrelevance : Enterprise decides to start OKRs with only 10-20 people (usual senior leadership) to avoid the problems of scale. This renders OKRs irrelevant as it does not deliver alignment, focus, accountability, and transparency to the organization. OKRs exhibit extremely strong network effects . Limiting the adoption of OKRs is similar to inventing a language, like Esperanto , that only 1,000 people speak fluently. Interesting theoretical exercise, perhaps even a very elegant language – but completely irrelevant. Limiting the number of people is directly preventing transparency – it’s a tautology.

– Chaos : Enterprise decides to start OKRs with a large enough group. Let’s say a few hundred or a few thousand people. They share the URL to the spreadsheet with everyone, after which complete chaos ensues. No one is really sure what to do, there are all kinds of objectives, all kinds of measurements, no alignment of any sort… I have seen spreadsheets with up to 10,000 OKRs.

In both cases, the OKRs program will fail. In case of Irrelevance there will be no benefits, just overhead. In case of Chaos , in addition to very little benefits, frustration will become unbearable.

While there are two ways to fail with OKRs , there is always just one root cause: Organization is not serious about OKRs . There is no serious sales organization without CRM. There is no serious engineering organization without source control. There is no serious enterprise without an HCM system.

Bottom line – don’t sign yourself up for a gym, if you don’t plan on going. It feels “good” only for a day or two (hey! you are doing something), and then it haunts you for months.

What is the role of software or technology?

The entire idea of software, or more broadly, technology – is to make something possible that otherwise would not be possible.

Going from London to NYC would not be possible without ships. Going from London to NYC on the same day would not be possible without airplanes. There really is no “keep it simple” or “start small” way to go from London to NYC.

OKR software helps organizations with all four components or OKR adoption:

The software can help people learn by example, but also provide tips and structure to speed up the ramp-up, but also increase the quality of the OKRs.

– Process design 
The software will outline the main elements of the OKRs process and allow you to adjust it to your organization. For example, who can own OKRs (teams/individuals/both), how many OKRs can someone own (1, 3, unlimited), how often should OKRs be updated, etc.

– Supporting the process 
Sophisticated OKR software can help you manage the OKR program for thousands of people, by automatically updating progress (from Salesforce or Jira), have automated rules and actions (e.g. tag OKR as achieved when it’s over 70%), identify misalignment, and just generally help you find what you need when you need it.

– Benefiting from OKRs 
Finally, the only reason to adopt OKRs is to benefit from them. OKR software can visually show alignment (or lack of), identify areas that need attention (on time, not two quarters later)… or put shortly – great OKR software helps you achieve what you want to achieve.

Bottom line

Should your enterprise adopt OKRs or not is a valid question, but it deserves a separate blog post. However, if you have decided to adopt OKRs , do yourself a favor and do it the right way – with specialized software.

Otherwise, I can tell you right now what you will be doing in 6 month time… 😏


Not sure how to choose OKR software? Download our Buyer’s guide: 51-step Guide to Avoiding OKR Career Suicide: Finding the Right OKR Software for Your Business