5 tips on how to improve your OKR Check-Ins

Get more out of working with OKRs

OKRs as a concept to improve focus, alignment and value-creation in companies has gained a lot of popularity the last couple of years. Many companies experiment with them–with very different results.

One reason for that is the often insufficient implementation of the OKR cycle and its components: OKRs are built around a cyclical model of continuous improvement that consists of OKR Definition, Alignment, OKR Check-Ins and OKR Reflection. Every part has its unique challenges and unique values–and it’s worth exploring each of them and their specific potential to get the most out of working with OKRs.

Especially, the OKR Check-Ins are often criticized by the teams for being an additional administrative burden that bring little added value for their work–at least in the beginning.

However, OKR Check-Ins are the motor of every OKR execution–and without them you will lose a lot of momentum. 

Of course, if implemented badly they tend to become boring status update meetings or meaningless discussion platforms. So how can you avoid that?

Here are 5 tips and good practices on how to improve your OKR Check-Ins to get more value out of them:

1) The quality of your OKR Sets determine the quality of your OKR Check-Ins

It all starts with good quality OKRs! You can only facilitate valuable OKR Check-Ins, when you have defined OKR Sets that are relevant, well understood, measurable and easy to follow-up. If this is not the case, unfortunately no facilitation trick will significantly improve the OKR Check-In outcome.

Here is one example:

As long as your Key Results mainly cover “yes/no” decisions that make it almost impossible to discuss progress over the course of an OKR cycle, the risk is high that the OKR Check-Ins in short iterations will either be meaningless or the discussions directly move into the realm of tasks and next steps without keeping the bigger picture (and the reasons why) in mind.

Types of Key Results

Good practice:

It is crucial for valuable OKR Check-Ins to invest enough time to define clear, concise, valuable OKR Sets at the beginning of your cycle and leave enough room in the process to reach a solid understanding of the new goals. You also want to pay close attention to the types of Key Results you set for your Objectives and whether or not you can actually discuss progress over time–use that as a re-check already in your OKR Definition.

OKR Definition Workshop Guide

You want to guide your team through a valuable process to define good-quality OKR Sets?
The OKR Definition Workshop Guide shows you how:

2) Invest in preparation

The OKR Check-In follows the same principles as all the other meetings in your calendar: If you prepare them well, you get more value out of the actual meeting time. For the OKR Check-In this means blocking the meeting time, updating your numbers, having clarity around roles and responsibilities during the meeting and paying attention to clear communication UP FRONT.

Especially when working remotely, another factor comes into play: Synchronous versus asynchronous parts of the OKR Check-Ins.

Good practice:

Ask yourself the following questions when you design the OKR Check-In in your teams:

Which parts of the Check-In (e.g. updating the numbers, reading through the OKR Sets to refresh your memory) can sufficiently be done in an asynchronous way and what do we need to clarify and commit to in order to make that happen?

And which parts bring additional value when discussed together synchronously (e.g. reach common understanding, clarity, decision making etc.) and how can we best structure the OKR Check-In to sufficiently allow the relevant conversations to happen?

3) Have a clear goal for the OKR Check-In

For short meetings like an OKR Check-In it is especially important to be really specific about what you are trying to achieve in the given timeframe. Without a clear goal the discussions will likely turn sideways and the majority of the meeting time is not spent on the most important topics.

Good practice:

Set a clear goal and align it with all team members BEFORE you start your regular OKR Check-Ins.

The goal of course depends on your timebox, your OKR System and how you connect the OKR Check-In to other meetings / process steps, but here is an example to get you started:

“In the OKR Check-In we want to reach transparency of the status-quo of our OKR Sets and their status, achieve a common understanding of the current challenges and successes and commit to the next important priorities for each OKR Set.”

4) Learn to distinguish the goal and the execution level

This is the aspect many teams struggle with the most. The better you learn to distinguish these levels the easier it will be to discuss what’s important in the OKR Check-In on a goal level and LATER (or in a different conversation) move further into the execution level and discuss the details of the initiatives and the tasks necessary to reach your goals.

Good practice:

Learning to distinguish the different flight levels takes time and practice–don’t expect yourself and your teams to get it right the first time (or the second). A good way to check whether you are still on the right level is to ask yourself or your team if you are still talking about the “why” and the effect / change you want to make happen–or if you already drifted to talk about WHAT you want to DO in order to get there.

5) Business integration

If you fail in business integration you will fail at OKRs! And the same is true for the OKR Check-In.
If the OKR Sets you built are not relevant for you and your team and don’t help you solve any (currently important) challenges–why should anyone properly engage to discuss them on a regular basis instead of doing something else? And if the OKR Check-In is a super inconvenient time-block in your calendar instead of being reasonably integrated into current ways of working the engagement will not be at an all time high.

Good practice:

Business integration is one of the key success factors of OKR implementations. When you are currently struggling with your OKR practice–this is where you should start to investigate further potential by asking: “Do our OKR Sets cover the MOST relevant topics for the people involved in achieving them”? And “How can we even better integrate the OKR events and process steps into current ways of working to make it less of a hassle for everyone”?

BONUS Tip: Don’t conduct the same OKR Check-In 52 / 26 times per year

Regular meetings can get boring quite fast and engagement is low. Switch it up once in a while to keep the engagement high - and allow for different conversations to happen - you might be surprised of the value the new insights will bring.

Good practice:

(1) Focus topics:

Focus on different aspects / topics in each OKR Check-In, for example:

  • What has changed since last check-in (instead of walking through all O and KRs)
  • Focus on one 1 Objective (and just briefly summarize the rest)
  • Focus on red flags or the biggest achievements
  • Discuss confidence levels (so how confident are you that you will reach the set goals) mid-cycle instead of the status quo

(2) Rotate moderation – every facilitator has their unique way of moderating and asking questions

(3) Use different little Check-In questions / games / techniques to start the OKR Check-In

Moving the item “OKR Check-In” to done is easy, whereas gaining valuable insights without too much extra effort while having all engaged in the process is not.

Explore the potential of your OKR Check-Ins–all people involved in the OKR process will benefit from it!

OKR Check-In Guide

You would like more tips on how to structure and prepare an OKR Check-In?
Check out the extensive OKR Check-In Guide!

More resources:

More resources from OKRs AT THE CENTER (OKR Definition Workshop Guide, OKR System Design Template and much more) can be found here.

You would like to join our international OKR Practitioner community to discuss with and learn from others? 

Join our remote meetup group!