Using OKRs to set objectives for EX and employee engagement

Emma Bridger

09 Mar 2023
Employee Experience
Employee Engagement
Setting objectives for the work you do sounds straightforward, but in practice can often be challenging, and when you add the idea of setting SMART objectives into the mix it can become complicated very quickly. This is where using the ‘OKRs’ approach can be helpful.

I’m sure you’ve heard about ‘OKRs’, but if you haven’t, it stands for Objectives and Key Results. Put simply, an objective is what we want to achieve, and a key result is the impact we want to have as a result of delivering that objective. And the key results we outline should demonstrate how we’ll measure our success.

Setting OKRs helps to ensure we’re really clear about what we are doing, and how we’ll know if we’re successful. The beauty of this approach is that considering how you’ll measure your objective ensures the objectives you set are more likely to be SMART and more meaningful. When I’m working with teams on setting OKRs, I often say that if they’re struggling to understand how they’ll measure the objective (the key results) then the objective probably isn’t right in the first place.

Whilst the OKRs approach is simple and powerful, to put it into practice often requires some serious thinking and discussion time. Again, when working with teams to develop their employee experience and employee engagement strategies, this is often where we spend the most time. But it is a really critical conversation to have, and process to go through. Once you have your OKRs in place, the direction is clear, and the plan comes together – everyone understands what we need to do and how we’ll know when we get there.

The challenge within the world of employee experience and engagement is that we often use terms without getting under the skin of what we think they mean, what we need to do, and how we’ll measure it. It is impossible to measure something you haven’t clearly defined – but I’ll save that for another time!

Everyone agrees that improving the employee experience so that our people are engaged is a great idea, but I often observe a struggle with setting OKRs because teams aren’t clear on what employee experience and engagement actually means in their organisational setting. It’s a bit like saying a holiday is a good idea, everyone agrees, but I’m packing for a summer road trip taking in a load of festivals and my colleague is thinking it’s going to be an all-inclusive two weeks in the Caribbean. Maybe not the greatest example, but hopefully you catch my drift. One team are focusing on fixing broken moments in the employee life-cycle, while another team are reacting to survey findings, and another are putting on socials events. All well-intentioned, but not joined up, or strategic…

Let’s look at some examples.

Your goals or vision

Start with the big aspirational goal or vision you’re going for. Ask yourself why does your team exist?  
For example:

  • To deliver an exceptional employee experience
  • To become an employer of choice
  • To be a great place to work
  • To help our people have more good days at work

So what are you going to do to achieve this vision or goal? These are your objectives, the ‘what’.

For example:

  • Design and deploy an employee experience which attracts and retains the right people
  • Develop our leaders to enable them to improve the experience and engagement of our people
  • Improve the engagement of our employees across our organisation  

On their own these objectives can feel vague and intangible; establishing your Key Results helps to overcome this. For example:

Design and deploy an employee experience which attracts and retains the right people 

  • Reduction in employee attrition by 15%
  • Positive feedback from new hires in top quartile
  • Overall experience of our people, as measured by specific EX items in our survey, greater than 85%
  • ENPs score of 80 or more

Develop our leaders to enable them to improve the experience and engagement of our people

  • Leaders rated as good – outstanding by their teams, measured via 360 feedback
  • 90% leaders have been through EX capability programme
  • 80% leaders report confidence to improve EX within their teams
  • 80% leaders access their EX-toolkit and usage measured via return of team action plans
  • Reduction in employee attrition by 15%
  • Reduction of 20% of comments linked to ‘manager is the reason I’m leaving’ in exit interviews

Use this process of ‘translation’ to get from the big picture to something clear and measurable, and don’t forget to identify how you will measure it too!

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