Embracing OKR Culture to Encourage Innovation

First published by PerformanceIN, July 2021.


Innovation: it’s a word that gets thrown around a lot, but when it comes down to it, innovation is a key part of business growth and development. In many ways, it can seem like an abstract idea, but successful innovation is tangible and can be measured.

More and more established businesses are choosing OKRs as an effective means of measuring and developing new innovations.

What are OKRs?

OKRs, or Objectives and Key Results, define a key objective that the business is working on, and then puts key results in place to measure employees’ progress toward that goal.

OKRs are visible to everyone across the business and are designed to be stretching and ambitious, so will be measured in terms of ‘how close did you get?’, rather than ‘did you hit it?’

OKRs cascade, though not directly. So, they start at the top with the business strategy but then we should be aligning ours not only to that but to the leads within each area.

Ambition and Innovation

Without ambition, you can’t possibly have innovation. Innovation is about the new and exciting. It’s about pushing boundaries and finding interesting and effective ways of doing things. OKRs act as stretch goals. They’re the shoot for the moon type goals that keep us always striving for the best. In this way, OKRs and innovation go hand in hand.

OKRs are about taking a big, exciting objective and giving employees a sense of direction when it comes to getting there, without losing the enthusiasm for the bigger overarching goal. They enable employees to feel a sense of ownership and pride over their work.

The other key benefit of them for employees (and differentiator vs normal objectives) is that they are not about how you do your job but how you progress, both professionally in terms of specific promotion, but also how you push forward your abilities and core skills, moving you out of a comfort area and into real growth. I think that’s the biggest thing: looking at how you stand out and then having a written OKR that encourages you to achieve that, as opposed to just delivering your work to a high standard (which shouldn’t need writing down for you!).

Taking Ownership

Employees should be owning their OKRs outright with only guidance and refinement from others. Ultimately, when we feel like we have more control over how we’re contributing to the wider business’s goals, it drives performance, engagement, and, yes, innovation.

If OKRs are assigned top down, then employees are likely to be less engaged. If everyone in the team takes ownership of their own OKRs it means everyone has focus and drive toward a goal set in a way that motivates them, as well as serving the wider business.

Perhaps most importantly for innovation, OKRs give employees a safe space in which to express their thoughts and ideas, and to experiment. Experimentation and creativity are at the heart of innovation and OKRs give everyone in the business a chance to innovate.

Aligning Teams

Innovation can’t happen without alignment, and OKRs are a brilliant way of making sure the team is aligned. OKRs ensure everyone is on the same page and that every individual knows what their role is in the business’s wider success.

They also ensure that everyone is clear about the priorities of the business and how these priorities and focuses can be fulfilled across every level. OKRs simply the process of understanding the role every employee has to play in achieving the business’s goals. It highlights that success relies on everyone playing their part and that no one person can achieve these ultimate goals alone.

Being Agile

OKRs make it easy to pivot and refocus as and when business plans change. This is because they address both short-term tactical plans and long-term strategy. They’re usually set up monthly or quarterly so that the business is nimble enough to adapt and respond to changing situations. A focus on output instead of outcomes means that it’s ensured whatever makes the most impact is done.


First published by PerformanceIN, July 2021.