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How to Get Executive Buy-In for OKRs and Goal Setting

February 5, 2021
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While our dreams of success may seem out of reach or overly ambitious at times, goals help us break down our personal and professional aspirations into smaller, short-term objectives that keep us on track. And the same is true on a larger scale for corporations.

Without goals — or with ineffective ones — employees might duplicate efforts, get distracted, or waste time working on projects that don’t bring the company any closer to its desired results. However, with effective goals, businesses can streamline progress, ensure employees understand the company mission and direction, and keep teams engaged and motivated by their work.

But while it’s crucial for businesses to practice effective goal setting, introducing a new goal-setting framework for the first time or giving your company’s current goal strategy a much-needed overhaul may be met with resistance, like any large organizational change. One of the first steps of creating your HR team’s new goal-setting strategy is getting executive buy-in. The executive team will likely have questions and concerns about your new goal-setting strategy, so when you meet with them to propose the new framework, be sure to come prepared with the necessary information and answers to address their concerns.

Here’s a look at the most common questions and concerns leadership teams have about OKRs and other goal-setting frameworks, and how HR teams can tackle them with confidence and expertise.

Answering Common Questions and Concerns

1. “Implementing a new goal-setting strategy will take too much time. We need results now.” 

Success doesn’t happen overnight or without a plan. Chances are, if you’re proposing a new goal-setting strategy to your executive team, there’s a reason you’re having this conversation in the first place: Something your company is currently doing isn’t working, or could be improved upon.

To address your leadership team’s concerns about how long implementing this process could take, first walk them through how a new goal strategy could benefit the business. Explain how efficient goals can ensure every department, team, and individual is aligned and steadily moving toward your overall company objectives. Effective goals guide your teams’ efforts, keep employees laser-focused, and help the organization achieve the desired outcomes quicker and more efficiently. Without an overarching plan, teams might have conflicting goals or duplicative efforts, which can slow down or hurt company progress.

The right goal-setting framework doesn’t just benefit your company; it helps employees, too.

“If you need results now, you need to focus your employees on what is most important. Goals provide the mechanism for focus by giving employees three to five important objectives so they know exactly where they should direct their attention,” said Edi L. Goldberg, PhD, President of E. L. Goldberg & Associates, an HR consultancy specializing in talent management strategy.

Goldberg said HR departments should remind executive teams that goals can have immediate and long-term positive effects on business performance. By taking a little time up front to roll out the processes and training properly, your efforts can have a big payoff down the line.

“The time that it takes to set goals with your employees will pay off in improved individual and organizational performance,” Goldberg pointed out. “OKRs can help an organization shift from working harder to working smarter.”

The right goal framework ensures your company remains organized, strategic, and, most importantly, flexible in the face of unexpected change and as your business grows. 

2. “How can we be sure this will impact the organization the way we want it to?”

Goal setting at any business should have a top-down approach. Your leadership team should set the overarching core organizational goals for the quarter or year, and then ask every department to create their objectives around those goals. Then, continue that process until every team and individual has specific, measurable goals that ladder up to the overarching company targets. This ensures that your mission and strategy cascade down through every level of your organization and keeps your entire workforce focused and efficient.

In order to reap the benefits of a new goal-setting strategy, it’s crucial to implement it correctly. This starts with communicating your overall company goals throughout all levels of the organization. It’s not enough for your executive team to know your targets — you want every employee to be well-versed in them. To start, discuss them in company all-hands meetings and periodically share updates about company and department progress in company-wide communications, department meetings, or email newsletters.

Next, make sure managers know how to set effective goals. You can bake this into existing manager training programs and any supplemental training you offer around performance reviews. It’s essential that managers know how to help their direct reports set effective goals, as well as how to hold them accountable.

Lastly, ensure your employees understand how their personal goals are tied to the business’s overall success and strategy. When done correctly, this can positively impact employee engagement, job satisfaction, and motivation. 

OKRs are about tracking outcomes, not effort. This is a significant mindset shift from traditional ways we have measured performance in the past,” noted Goldberg. “When we specify aspirational objectives, we get employees fired up about the impact they can have on the organization’s success. But tracking the results and activities that make a difference, or key results, helps companies achieve more. OKRs ensure employees are focusing on tasks and activities that are not only challenging, but also important to achieving critical results.”

3. “How will we be able to track progress and effectiveness?”

When executed effectively, OKRs allow you to easily track progress and success. For each objective, you must specify two to five key results that will help you evaluate success. For example, if one of your business’s goals for the year is “Hit $100M in sales in 2021,” your key results might be, “Earn $25M in sales during Q1,” “Launch our product/service in a new market,” “Reduce customer churn rate by X%,” and “Increase annual service renewals by X%.” All of these key results act like smaller micro-goals and checkpoints to help keep you on track and measure how you’re pacing against your goal.

Having this framework in place at every level of your organization gives you a full picture of efficiency down to the individual employees. “An objective like ‘Increase annual sales by 10%’ is too distant for an employee to understand where to focus their energy,” Goldberg cautioned. “In this case, an individual’s key results should be scaled down to specific activities that still produce the desired outcome. For a sales employee, their personal OKRs could look like ‘Call on 1,000 accounts to yield 250 new customers’ or ‘Conduct 100 product demos in Q2’ to give them more direction and immediacy.”

OKRs keep your employees focused and motivated, while explicitly reminding them how their day-to-day tasks and responsibilities help the company get closer to its objectives.

4. “We don’t have a budget for expensive goal-setting software right now.” 

Adopting OKRs and goal setting doesn’t have to be an expensive endeavor. You can use Microsoft Excel, Google Docs, or a system like Lattice to set and track goals, as well as hold your departments, teams, and employees accountable. After all, studies show that you are more likely to achieve your goals just by writing them down.

What’s really costly is ineffective goal setting. Without team alignment and communication, your company might be wasting time, effort, resources, and money on unstrategic projects and initiatives that don’t get you any closer to your overarching business goals.

Not to mention, goals can keep employees happy and help retain talent. “Goal setting increases employee engagement, which, in turn, will increase employee retention and reduce the high costs of turnover,” said Jackie Ross, certified leadership, executive, and career development coach and founder of coaching consulting firm Jacqueline C. Ross LLC.” Goals help teams prioritize tasks, play to employee strengths, highlight development opportunities, and ensure everyone feels they are working toward a common mission or purpose.”

Remind your leadership team that goals empower employees — and your organization as a whole — to be proactive, rather than reactive. Goals push people to be forward-thinking and strategic, so your staff can take action today to set your business up for success tomorrow. When done right, this can not only save your company money, but also time and effort. 

5. “If we don’t meet our goals, employee morale will suffer.” 

This concern is valid but easily avoidable. If your company continuously falls short of its goals, you’ll need to look deeper into what could be causing that. Sometimes, it’s just that your executive team is setting unrealistic goals that inadvertently set the staff up for failure.

While it’s good to have stretch goals, you need a balance of achievable wins and aggressive reaches to keep morale up, while still pushing employees to do their best work. Overambitious goals could result in unethical behaviors, unhealthy competition, and increased risk, as they could create a company culture that pushes employees to cut corners to get ahead in the short-term and deliver unsustainable results.

It’s also important to address that goals and OKRs are a huge driver of employee morale and job satisfaction. If your company doesn’t have a strong goal-setting framework in place today, you might already be feeling the effects of an unmotivated team.

6. “What we’re doing now is working just fine.”

Goals aren’t just for the here and now. Your company’s current goal-setting approach might be working in your favor for now, but will it continue to set your organization up for success in the future?

Remind your executive team that adopting OKRs and a more formal goal-setting framework is future-proofing your company. It will help foster alignment at all levels of your organization, which is especially important as your company grows.

When a new employee joins your organization, not only will they know the company’s overarching business goals right off the bat, but they’ll also understand how their work contributes to bringing the company closer to success. That’s a huge win for productivity, engagement, and job satisfaction, which will enable you to retain the people you need to help your business succeed. That in and of itself is a compelling business case for investing in a proper goal-setting framework.



Success rarely happens without a plan. It’s usually the result of hard work, luck, dedication, and realistic yet challenging goals. Goals act as checkpoints for success and provide direction, motivation, and focus — three characteristics that are beneficial for every workplace.

As leadership shares their questions and concerns about your HR team’s new goal strategy, you’ll be prepared with responses to quell their doubts and help them understand the importance of having the right goal-setting framework in place. By showing executives what the company stands to gain from this change and getting their buy-in, your organization will be able to adopt the goal-setting process it needs to succeed today, tomorrow, and in the future.