The Future Looks Promising For OKR Programs: Senthil Rajagopalan

In a recent interaction with BW People; Senthil Rajagopalan, COO & President, explained the prominence of OKR platforms; it's surging demand in the new normal, and the roadmap ahead.


1. How do you determine a good OKR? 

Objectives (the O in OKR) are qualitative and inspirational, time-bound (typically in a quarter) goals to be executed by a team (say, Recruitment) or an individual. Objectives should be motivating short, memorable statements. Every team member should be able to recall their Objectives from memory without referring to their app or system.

Objectives need to be energizing, not dull.

Here is an example of a good Objective: Grow the business in Europe

Key Results (KR), on the other hand, quantify the objectives and break it down to specific metrics that can be used to measure the achievement of the Objectives. Key Results should be less than 5 for every objective.

Key Results are ‘Results” not “tasks.” The above objective can be broken down into the following Key Results:

KR1: Improve ARR (Annual Revenue Run rate) from $2M to $ 10M

KR2: Improve “Trial to Paid” conversion rates from 25% to 60%

Good OKRs should overall move the needs of the company, motivate the teams, clarify goals, and interdependencies with clearly defined metrics and timelines.

2. To what extent do you think transparency is important? What are the benefits of maintaining transparency?

While OKR is a great system to get things done it sits on a bedrock of an enabling culture. Transparency is a crucial part of this culture. Transparency ensures that employees are aware of the company goals as well as the OKRs of other teams. As they have visibility to the performance of other teams, it motivates individuals and teams to perform like the high performing teams”. Also, it can help people to collaborate to help the teams that need to improve with resources and all support required. When the company’s culture and reward policies encourage teamwork and collaboration, this can result in a thriving environment that can improve overall achievement. Also, as the scoreboard is available to everyone it improves the sense of “fairness’ all-around.

3. How can we track day to day work on OKRs in your system?

The OKR framework mandates periodical Check-ins. Typically the check-ins are done on a weekly basis, followed by reviews across the various teams and the entire organization. For certain functions, the system provides the flexibility to do daily check-ins as well. For example, an outbound sales rep may have to make at least 50 calls a day, a testing professional may have to run a test at least 5 times a day. The OKR software provides the capability to record and track these deliverables on a daily basis. In addition, OKRs can be broken down into “Tasks” in the system and can be tracked daily. Finally, the system offers alerts, notifications, and a rich set of reports and dashboards for managers to track work on a day to day basis.

4. In the new normal, agility is the need for every individual. What are the major three things that leaders need to focus on even more now?

Leaders are generally advised to focus a significant chunk of their time on “long term strategy”. However, the new normal brought in by COVID-19 has reduced the visibility for most businesses as the situation in their markets rapidly changing with lock-downs, second waves, and reopening varying region by region.

Leaders today need to focus on the following:

1. Stay connected to their Markets: Monitor their markets closely for demand-side and supply-side disruptions. Having a great digital marketing platform and good risk management systems should give the leaders quick alerts about their markets and help them to act fast to mitigate and scale up as required.

2. Focus on Execution and Outcome: With resources being limited this is a great time to focus on execution and track outcomes closely. For leaders in several industries, this could be a matter of survival of their companies in these turbulent times.

3. Focus on Customer success – During uncertain times customers tend to do business with known suppliers with whom they have a valuable relationship. Hence helping Customers to realize value from the products and services that they have paid for and expanding revenue opportunities from them is a great way to ensure that your company comes out of this crisis in good shape. Top leaders hence focus on Customer Success.

4. Employee wellness

5. According to you, what are the upcoming challenges for the people leaders or CHROs across the industry?

1. Low Visibility: The rapid changes in the operating environment due to lock-downs and COVID-19 inspired changes in consumer behavior means CHROs are operating in a low visibility environment. This is similar to driving on a windy mountain road under foggy conditions. They need to plan for the scale-up/scale-down of human resources at fairly short notice based on the rapid changes in the “demand situation”.

2. Customer preference shifts causing structural changes: As customer preferences have shifted to digital contactless experiences, there has been a structural shift in the industry. For CHROs indirectly affected industries like restaurants, entertainment, etc. this means scaling down in one part of their business while at the same time scaling up their delivery and streaming business operations respectively.

3. Recruiting Right Talent; the surge in available candidates has left many CHROs grappling with a problem of plenty. They have 10X number of profiles to choose from. As many positions have moved to “Remote work” and location not being a constraint, this problem has multiplied. This makes the task of recruiting the right talent difficult. CHROs need to use technology and establish processes to handle this deluge and still execute the demands of the business.

4. Burnt Out Employees: Employees are working longer hours during the pandemic as the commute hours have been replaced with conference calls worldwide and for many employees, the line between work and free-time is blurring with the always-on WFH (Work from Home) environment. Smart CHROs are rolling our employee wellness programs, instituting fixed hours per day for meetings while reserving the rest of the day for deep work and flexi scheduling, giving allowances to employees to set up a comfortable work environment, and even giving the middle of the quarter day-offs to improve employee wellness.

6. Do you think this system makes things seamless for employees or is it creating a barrier?

1. In many work environments, employees feel like a mere “cog in the machine” as they are unsure of how their work contributes to the overall corporate goals. With OKRs as we mentioned earlier transparency ensures that employees are aware of corporate goals. During the planning process in fact they align their goals to corporate and the other teams. This gives immense satisfaction to employees as they know exactly how their work contributes to the overall company goals.

2. A good OKR software can become a single system for knowledge workers to get their work done. They have their quarterly goals in the system. The deliverables that they produce (documents) can be attached to their OKRs in the system, they can check-in and provide their commentary on the platform. Managers can review the check-ins and have a weekly review session, all of which are recorded in the system.

3. A good OKR platform can also integrate with other systems used by companies like collaboration software (Slack or teams), CRM systems like, this can help check-ins to be automated. This improves adoption.

Overall a good OKR platform makes an employee feel connected to the company, provides them visibility to goals and achievement of various teams, provides them a single system to get their work to be done and reviewed.

7. How does the future looks like for OKRs programs?

The Future looks promising for OKR programs across enterprises – from Fortune 500 corporations to start-ups. Paraphrasing what Steve Jobs says about Apple products, OKRs “work like magic”. The proof is in the below chart. The top 4 companies by market cap in the US are all tech giants that have been practicing OKRs and they are conquering several sectors like Media, Entertainment, education, advertising, and commerce.

We are seeing companies in other verticals like Insurance, Banking, Telecom, Manufacturing, and even Government departments interested in adopting OKRs and becoming successful” execution machines” like the above Technology behemoths.

The COVID-19 induced demand uncertainties have made OKRs invaluable for companies. The current volatile environment demands agile execution with the various teams in a company working with complete focus and alignment. OKRs by definition demand focus by limiting the number of goals and insisting on the alignment of the goals across teams. OKR Programs also require teams to adopt stretch goals pushing them out of their “comfort zone” and forcing them to aim higher, eventually improving the competitiveness of the company.

Finally. Searching the term OKRs in Google Trends gives an unmistakeable indication of the growth in popularity of OKR programs in the last 2 years and the trend is quite clear.

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OKR platform Senthil Rajagopalan new normal


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