Deciding how often you should evaluate your progress is a crucial part of getting started with the OKR methodology. The most commonly used OKR evaluation cycle or cadence is weekly or monthly check-ins with quarterly and annual review. While this approach works for most organisations, it may not be the best option for you.
In this article I’ll walk you through the process of finding an OKR cadence that works the best for you.
What is OKR Cadence?
The OKR framework delivers multiple tools for performance management. Perhaps the most powerful of these tools is limiting the number of goals you can commit to during a year and using qualitative and quantitative metrics to measure progress towards them.
OKR cadence determines how frequently you evaluate your Objective and Key Results during an OKR cycle.
In the OKR framework, the best Objectives are inspirational goals. Typically a deadline for completing an organisational objective is one year but in some other cases a deadline may not apply. For examples Google mission to ‘Organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.’ isn’t necessarily a time bound objective.
On the other hand Key Results need to be both measurable and time bound. Setting an OKR cadence for your team or your company includes setting a time table for evaluating both Objectives and Key Results.
Finding your rhythm
Keep in mind that finding the best OKR rhythm is an iterative process. At the same time setting and evaluating goals too frequently can quickly turn into a massive organisational overhead and in the worst case bring any kind of progress to a stand still.
On the way to figuring out your OKR cadence here are a couple of points to keep in mind.
Goal setting culture
You need to start the process by figuring out how goals are set in your organisation. In most organisations goals are set for the coming year and teams or business units are tasked to create tactical plans around the organisational objective.
In more sophisticated organisations strategic objectives aren’t kept static. Instead leadership teams regularly analyse and evaluate current business and market conditions and introduce course correction. In such organisations specific goals are set on both strategic and tactical levels.
Level of uncertainty
Knowing the level of uncertainty specific to your business or industry also determines how frequently you will need to evaluate your objectives and key results.
A business operating in an industry with a relatively high uncertainty e.g. medical equipment or pharmaceutical may not be able to set long term objectives and might require more frequent evaluations.
On the other hand insurance or utilities providers operate in a highly regulated environment with low uncertainty allowing them to set long-term objectives with little to no need for frequent evaluation.
Setting your OKR Cadence
I recommend setting specific strategic and tactical objectives. This will make your OKR adoption and alignment go a lot smoother. On top of that knowing your business environment will help you avoid any surprises.
When you’re getting started with OKRs I suggest the following this cadence:
A quarterly evaluation is when you check progress and evaluate organisational Objectives and Key Results. This is the time to determine if an Objective is carried into the next cycle or not. If it’s not carried forward then this is the time when it’s replaced.
I recommend using a mid-quarter evaluation where the individual teams are asked to check their progress and evaluate their own OKRs. If there are any weak points in the organisational OKRs, whether it’s the objectives or specific key results, this mid-point check will bring them to the surface.
Monthly & Weekly sessions
Finally, use monthly and weekly sessions where team leaders or appointed OKR coaches can discuss progress within individual teams. The purpose of the check-in and check-up sessions is to ensure that people are following through with OKR correctly.
OKRs aren’t a macro to-do list
I mentioned earlier that your objectives might be strictly time bound or your industry might have high uncertainty forcing you to use a much shorter cadence. If that’s the case then you can switch to a quarterly evaluation. I’ll recommend sticking to the monthly and weekly check-in sessions.
If you decide to increase the frequency of evaluations and/or check-in please remember this simple rule.
OKRs are not another way to manage your to-do list.
Your objectives and the related key results must deliver a measurable business impact. If your objectives or key results start looking like a to-do list and your check-in sessions turn into a Scrum then it’s time to go back to the drawing board.
Should you use multiple cadence in the same organisation?
In some organisations it’s common to have a shorter cadence for the development team and a longer cadence for the sales and marketing teams. Again the level of uncertainty and the type of goals are at play here. Although managing multiple schedules can quickly become complicated and might even require extra resources to manage.
I sincerely recommend sticking to the same cadence across all teams.
In previous articles I’ve shared why I got started with using OKRs and the mistakes I made during the initial adoption phase. I hope that reading about my experience might save you from repeating some of the mistakes I made.
- Quarterly and Yearly OKR Cadence is not a rule.
- Your OKR Cadence should depend on your business and your objectives.
- Setting specific strategic and tactical objectives is better than setting only high-level strategic goals.
- Your organisation’s goal setting culture and your business environment are crucial factors in finding your OKR Cadence.
- I recommend using a quarterly, bi-quarterly, monthly and weekly evaluation + check-in frequency.
- Do not increase evaluation frequency so much that OKRs become a daily task list.
- Finding your cadence might require some trial and error. Be smart about how you use this process because too much evaluation quickly becomes a major organisational overhead.
Link to an OKR Worksheet I put together in Google Sheets. I’ve purposefully kept it simple and included an FAQ to help you quickly get up and running.