How to overcome difficulties when implementing OKR

How to get teams to work together towards common and ambitious goals? How to keep all individuals motivated and agile at the same time? More and more organizations find an answer to these questions thanks to the OKR (Objectives and Key Results) model; because it allows:

  • to link the strategic vision to concrete objectives and actions;
  • align teams on short and medium term priorities;
  • to accelerate the pace of execution while allowing rapid adjustment of the direction.

Many organizations, such as Google, Spotify, Renault, and Veepee, have successfully used the OKR model to achieve ambitious goals by aligning their teams and accelerating their pace of execution

Below, discover an excerpt from La Méthode OKR, Objectives &  Key Results: le guide pratique. Written by Elie Casamitjana, Henri Sora and Juuso Hämäläinen, this book gives the practical keys to effectively deploy the OKR method for more dynamism, efficiency and agility!



Everyone was able to experience a project where, after the initial enthusiasm, everything stops completely. What we were doing with enthusiasm until last week will start to slow down, or even stop dead. OKRs are no exception to this rule. (…)

According to the Lippitt-Knoster model, a successful transformation has six components:

  1. Members of the organization must first understand what the common vision is: where are we going and why.
  2. Then, there must be a consensus of all staff members on this direction and its importance.
  3. Getting results requires the right skills.
  4. Each person must also know what the incentives for change are. In other words, what benefits will be drawn from the change, both from the point of view of individuals and of the organization.
  5. Successful change requires the provision of adequate resources. Time being the most universal resource but other means must often be engaged.
  6. Success is finally ensured by a clear action plan.

The implementation of the OKR system is a perfect example of a transformation project for which the Lippitt-Knoster model applies. Most often, the difficulties related to the implementation of the OKR model can be linked to one of these six components.

Figure n°16: The complex change management model, adapted from the Lippitt-Knoster model. Adapted from Knoster, T. (1991). Presentation at the TASH conference, Washington DC. Adapted by Knoster for Enterprise Group, Ltd. 


Vision - confusion - OKR

Figure 17: Lack of Heading Causes Confusion

In general, the lack of direction is linked to a lack of vision. Confusion arises when individuals do not know where the organization is going. In this scenario, there is no consensus on a common future, on the horizon to be reached, or on what is good.

In change management, the absence of vision means that we do not understand the reason for this change. (…) This happens quite commonly when management, which itself understands the value of the OKR model, enthusiastically applies it to the organization but forgets to manage change. Sometimes we forget to communicate about the things that seem obvious to us.


A common characteristic of all Valleys of Death is that things don't move forward. It is the same with confusion. When the members of an organization are disoriented, we stop moving forward because we don't know what to do. When you stop progressing, you have to look for the reasons.

The confusion also translates into language, with phrases like, “What's going on? ", " Where is that from ? ", " What's the point ? ", and " Why this ? » (…)

If we fear that confusion reigns, we must attack the root of the problem by asking the right questions. (…) If the project has not yet been launched, confusion can be avoided through communication.(…)

In all OKR communications, the following points should always be stressed:

  • Why is the OKR system implemented and what is the objective?
  • What culture change is desired, and why?
  • What can be achieved with OKRs?
  • Why is the implementation of OKRs a good thing for the members of the organization? (…)


If the project is already underway and you discover that things are not moving forward, and that the confusion is paralyzing, it is time to return to the inspiring speeches from the beginning of the project. Bring everyone together and tackle the issues head-on. Confusion can be alleviated by actively clarifying, again and again, the end goal.

It's especially helpful to focus on "what it looks like when it's good", that is, what the future will look like. It's good to think about the good the OKRs will do, and how they will help the entire organization move toward that future. Talk about what it looks like when it's good from the perspective of customers, staff members, an organization, and the world. (…)


lack of adherence

Figure 18: Lack of Consensus Causes Sabotage

The first valley of possible death came from a lack of vision and the resulting confusion. Another possible valley of death arises when people do not adhere to the chosen course. (…) And when you don't actively accept a course, the consequence is subversion.

A subversive individual:

  • Challenges the objective with ironic questions and causes disorder;
  • Hinders progress by concealing his work;
  • Actively or passively resists the progress of the project;
  • Tries to convince others to also resist change;
  • Conceals essential information;
  • Takes the organization in a direction diametrically opposed to that which has been agreed.

These problems frequently stem from the fact that these people have not been able to participate sufficiently in the development of the new direction. (…)


Among the reactions of defiance, active malevolence is the most difficult to identify, because things often happen behind the back of management. If we can talk openly about the confusion, the lack of consensus, we talk about it more in the corridors.

It is not uncommon for managers, when faced with management, to signify their agreement and get involved in the change. But the following week, the same managers tell a completely different story to their teams: “Another rubber initiative. Just bring something that satisfies the bosses, but don't spend too much time on it”. (…) To identify subversion, all you have to do is talk to different people, at different levels of the organization. (…)


The earlier people are involved and can act on the changes, the deeper the consensus will be. When we allow people to express their ideas and concerns, we show that we listen to their opinion. (…)

There is also the fear that a change will reveal previously hidden problems. The transparency of the OKR system can be daunting for someone who has previously been able to present things in a better light than they actually were.

The transparency requirement may also raise concerns within management. This problem can be prevented by emphasizing from the start that you should not be afraid to fail. (…)


The OKR system deprives the destabilizers of their power to harm. The greater the transparency, the more the actions of an individual that slows down or hinders evolution are visible. (…)

Efforts to prevent the placement of OKRs can be undone by making this placement the first OKR. This is the solution we almost always recommend. The implementation of the OKR model must be a common mission for the whole organization; so it's a logical first objective.

If a subversive person attempts to prevent or slow down this establishment, they end up preventing themselves from achieving their own goals. (…)


Anxiety results from a lack of skills

Figure 19: When you lack skills, anxiety arises

The third type of problem in change management: individuals do not have the skills required to achieve the objective. The fear of not having sufficient skills to deal with the new situation is a source of stress and anxiety. (…)

For teams, setting goals can be very difficult at first – especially if goals so far have been dictated from above. (…) We are also asking more of managers, and a new structure is needed for these management methods. (…)

All these problems and new requirements can give the impression that one does not have sufficient skills. The OKR model brings a lot of things at once, and at first, it can feel overwhelming. This is when anxiety can rise.


Anxiety is linked to feelings of insecurity. The feeling of security fades as soon as a person begins to wonder if he is capable of doing what is expected of him. If this anxiety is not detected, discussed, and addressed, a wide range of consequences can ensue.

In an OKR project, anxiety can manifest itself, for example, in the avoidance of tasks for fear of taking action. Latent anxiety can lead to repeated absences or even sick leave. Conversely, anxiety can also manifest itself in courageous posture and apparent success. But what really matters is not done. (…)

A typical manifestation of anxiety in OKR implementation projects is the desire to be perfect immediately, which slows down implementation. This leads to overthinking and spending months planning, perfecting, and discussing. (…)


To avoid anxiety, communicate from the start that the implementation of the OKR model is going as planned, even if it fails. Each failure provides critical information to the organization. Improvement has to start somewhere, and getting there is a thousand times more important than striving for perfection.

From the outset, the emphasis must be on learning: it is something that is learned together. (…) Of course, the theory and the learning material must be provided, and a sufficient number of people in the organization must be familiar with the model. (…)


When, in the middle of a project, anxiety appears, you have to react gently. We present the problem without judging it and discuss the skills the person feels they lack; in other words, one treats the origin of the anxiety. (…)

As the OKRs are integrated into the weekly evaluations, they are as many occasions to speak about their shortcomings and anxieties. The development of OKRs is the subject of open discussions between everyone. It is vital for the team to see the issues identified as opportunities for progress and not failures.



For lack of rewards, resistance sets in OKR

Figure 20: Lack of incentives creates resistance

(…) In the absence of incentives, resistance may appear within the organization. They can appear for the same reasons as sabotage. If management imposes the OKR model on someone, they will probably tend to oppose it. If the reasons for change are not inspiring enough, or if it is imposed from above, an essential element is missing. (…)

Since OKRs are never linked to a financial bonus, they lack the most common incentive: money. Hence the importance of insisting on the daily benefits.


(…) The best way to identify resistance, such as confusion, is to ask the question directly. Don't ask "Do you see the benefits of OKRs?" because it's easy to answer yes, even if you don't know. (…) Instead, use an open-ended question: “How do you benefit from OKRs in your work? ". Depending on the answer, you will easily know if the benefits of the OKR system are well understood and integrated.


To successfully implement OKRs without opposition, we need to talk about incentives. Right from the start, the benefits at the individual level and at the company level should be underlined.

OKRs allow [among other things] to achieve the following things:

  • People are freer to determine their goals and how to achieve them.
  • Each person achieves the level of responsibility they want in their work.
  • There are fewer ongoing projects when focusing on important issues.
  • It is easier to prioritize work when each person knows what matters most at the moment.
  • The activity becomes transparent and each individual can measure the contribution of his work to the objectives and the vision of the organization.
  • No sanctions when you don't achieve your goals. We have the right to try things to go further. (…)


We must deal immediately with the behavior of a person who opposes the common line, the missions, and the ways of doing things. Management needs to be able to face this person, state the problem briefly, and have a difficult conversation. If someone repeatedly misses their OKRs without changing their approach according to the objectives and key results, this should be addressed immediately. (…)

Instead of blaming, it is very important to try to understand what emotions, fears and thought patterns are behind harmful behavior. Taking an interest in the person as a whole as a human being is the only way to get him to open up about the reasons for his behavior. This intervention should be gentle but firm.

Finally, the very last resort in the face of resistance or sabotage is to let the person find new opportunities outside the company. (…)


Lack of incentives creates resistance

Figure 21: Lack of means is a source of frustration

The most common valley of death is the lack of means, especially time. This is the most frustrating for staff members. (…)

We find ourselves in a situation where we already expect a lot from people, and we ask them for something else. That's what happens when everything is a priority, everything is for yesterday, and you can't see what you could not do. In this case, we also do not see that doing several things at the same time generates waste and additional work. (…)

If the problem at the start is that there are too many things to do and not enough means, the start of the OKR model can quickly come to a halt. On the other hand, this implementation might just be the best way to deal with this evil, provided you start the process. (…)


Without an action plan, the end result is a treadmill

Figure 24: Without an action plan, the end result is a treadmill

(…) We have a treadmill problem when we haven't established an implementation plan for the OKR model. On this mat, the rhythm is impressive, and everyone is doing a lot of things all the time, but the organization is not really moving forward.

It happens when you start, but you haven't had enough time to organize a support system. (…) But the strongest treadmill effect occurs when key results are not linked to daily activity and do not inform progress towards goals. (…)


We can see that we are on a treadmill if, at the end of the quarter, the OKRs have not progressed in the right direction. There may be a lot of things that have progressed a bit, but not gotten very close – if at all – to the goal itself. (…)

What happens when nothing changes is that key results and missions are not evaluated based on the learnings of the previous quarter, the workload of the organization is not lightened, and people continue to run on a treadmill.(…)


Yes, we've emphasized throughout the book that the most important thing is to

get started and that over-planning is harmful, but that doesn't mean a plan isn't necessary. This plan, like the entire OKR model, is declinable and will be modified when faults appear. But without a plan and without discipline, there will be no improvements.(…)

It is essential to know who does what and when. That's how we start. The plan, support structures, processes, and progression will be modified when the results are known. It is also essential to communicate clearly on how the deployment of OKRs must be reflected in daily activity. (…)


We have seen OKRs set up without a plan, with vague guidelines such as “each unit is responsible for its own deployment”.

As a result, in some cases, there were nine different interpretations of the model within an organization and it was not possible to get an overview. It's never too late to go back to square one and tackle the whole problem step by step. (…)

Discipline is the most important element of successful change because the change that takes place over time is more stable and sustainable. (…)


(…) The valleys of death can be avoided by keeping the following things in mind:

  • The vision is clear when the reasons why the OKR model is implemented are explicitly communicated.
  • Consensus is reached when people are allowed to participate in the decision-making process.
  • Necessary skills can be taught or brought to the organization to get the model started.
  • Incentives are business benefits, such as clarity, focus, and prioritization of assignments; so many elements are provided by the OKR model.
  • Having too many resources, especially time, is always better than too few.
  • A stable action plan allows everyone to know what is being done, why it is being done, who is doing it, and when.

If these six dimensions are taken into account during the start-up and continue to be evaluated regularly, it will be a success for transformation leadership.

Our experts Elie Casamitjana and Henri Sora together with Juusso Hämäläinen share their experience with OKR through the books La Methode OKR. The above is a translation of this content.