How to do great check-ins with OKRs

Every year we hold about 200 sessions with our client's leaders. One of the key subjects for these sessions is how to follow up on your OKRs. Read on to learn more about the main concepts behind our training.
Check in on OKRs
Check in on OKRs

by making check-ins that explains what you think will happen, it will become much easier to reflect and draw insights

There’s an old 80/20 rule on goal setting saying that you should spend 20% planning and 80% “doing”. What research shows however is that most of us spend too much time planning, ending up with 80% planning in a bad scenario, and no “doing” at all at worst.

OKRs is not a set-it-and-forget-it type of goal setting, but instead something that must be constantly attended to. One of the key characteristics of OKRs is the focus on continuous follow-up, or as it’s called – “checking in”.  This is one of the reasons why it is so popular, bringing more than just reporting spreadsheets by stimulating reflection, insights, feedback and real learning.

The concept of check-ins is however also one of OKRs main challenges. Although not complex – it is hard for a new routine to stick. One could use some help getting started, and one thing we think helps is to categorise the types of check-ins you should consider when working with OKRs.

We’ve categorised our best practice of OKR Check-Ins in the following way:

  • Context
  • Progress
  • Confidence
  • Next Up
  • Outcome
  • Insight & Blockers


Let’s go through them in detail.


Context Check-In

Should be checked in every time a new key result is either created or changed in a substantial way. The Context should answer the question “Why is this key result important?” and contain the overall tactic for the rest of the quarter that you intend to employ in order to maximize your chances of achieving the OKR.

Let’s say you have a key result that is “200 new leads”. The context should explain why you set that very specific number. To say “well, I had to come up with something” is common, but try to take the opportunity to provide some data on the current state of things, eg. how many leads you have today.

The key result may be something that needs to be achieved in order for something else to happen, like be able to employ another salesperson for example – if that is the case, make sure that that is clearly explained in your context check-in.

You should also consider including your main tactic in the Context. How do you intend to reach those 200 leads during the coming quarter for example? Is it via email marketing? Google Ads? Calling people at random (bad idea)?

Do you need to create new content, or can you use existing content and instead focus on discovering new marketing channels? Remember the value of learning as you work with your OKRs. It is just as much that as it is a tool for accomplishing great execution, and hence – it is important to document how you thought about a plan beforehand to draw better conclusions as you progress through the quarter.


Progress Check-In

No different from your normal progress report on goals, but with the exception that you are not only reporting the progress (34 / 200 new leads) but you also provide a comment on that progress.

It is highly recommended to not only settle for that actual progress update but also provide some additional updates to that specific update.

Eg. if you made progress from 20 to 34 new leads, what did you learn during that period? Has the confidence of achieving your key result increased or decreased? The progress check-in can use any or all of the below types of check-ins to give a better picture of why you are at the level of progress that you currently are.


Confidence Check-In

If the progress check-in is the most common type of check-in for most goal-setting methods, then the Confidence check-in is the most characteristic especially with OKRs.

In the confidence check-in, you start with estimating how likely it is that you will achieve the key result. Then make sure to list what you think is needed and/or what can stand in your way or risk that the outcome won’t be as successful as you’ve estimated. Finally, add what you think you can do to mitigate that risk.


Next Up Check-In

Next Up is a simple plan that you should check in every time you check in on a key result. As a short version of the tactic that you write in the context check-in (see above), it is basically the plan you have with your key result in the coming week or two and often starts with “By next Friday I will…” or something similar.

A good rule of thumb is to try to write your Next Up as explicitly as possible. We coach people to not only write what they will do, but also how they will do it. Compare for example that you write “have a meeting with Laura about new marketing channels” as a Next Up vs “investigate and come up with our 3 most impactful options for developing new marketing channels and then present them to Laura to reach a decision on which to go for”.

The latter one includes an explicit tactic and it is not only giving you more details, but it does also serve another purpose – by making check-ins that explains what you think will happen, it will become much easier to reflect and draw insights (eg. “Laura couldn’t make a decision during the meeting, note to self is that I should have sent the 3 options on beforehand so she could have been more prepared”).

Important: A good rule is to make sure you always leave each Key Result with a Next Up so you know what to focus on until next check-in. If there isn’t, the probability is high that that key result may be left unmoved until the next time (and an unmoved key result eventually become a dead key result).


Insight & Blocker Check-In

When General Electric abandoned their 40-year-old performance review practice, they opted in for a new way to drive personal development reviews, using only two main themes for feedback – behaviours that the person should continue doing and things to consider changing.

As a specific feature in our tool you are able to underline a check-in as a noteworthy insight drawn, for example in a Confidence check-in as described above. The same goes with Blockers, which we think is the real gems to the development values of using OKRs – if you try to push the envelope with your OKRs, you will most certainly run into problems and find stuff that is in your way. The important thing here is to identify what those blockers are and come up with a way to go around them.


Try it out for yourself

Excited to get going with continuous check-ins and learning more from your OKRs journey? Have a look at our OKR Program or just book a free call with one of our OKR coaches to learn more.


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