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Marketing Leadership Updated on: Oct 6, 2023

Promoting accountability with OKR owners

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Who should you look to when your goals aren’t being met? The manager? The team? Or were your goals simply not feasible in the first place?

If you don’t define the owner of each goal in advance, it’s difficult later to find a particular person or team to hold accountable for its underperformance.

It’s much easier to answer these questions when the goals and OKR owners have been agreed upon right when they are generated. This means talking with the team to agree on what challenging but reasonable goals look like and who will be accountable for each goal’s progress and then holding the team to these expectations.

Structuring your team’s goals with objectives and key results (OKRs) allows you to break larger goals that may not be as easy to assign and quantify into smaller, more actionable key results. Deciding who will be responsible for each of these key results is not always simple, however, nor is outlining what being the “owner” really means.

What does ‘ownership’ entail?

Beyond just assigning someone to a task, a true goal owner is involved in its creation, reporting, management, and completion. At the end of the day, they are ultimately responsible and accountable for its success and failure. The buck stops with them.

To properly establish an OKR’s owner, you’ll need to discuss the goal with them while it’s being defined and ensure that you align on what success looks like. This often means some negotiation between what’s possible and what’s ideal. Concessions will likely need to be made on both sides. 

The result should always be a goal that the owner feels comfortable committing to and that the manager agrees is a marker of success.

Why assign OKRs?

If you are setting goals that benefit the entire team, why assign OKR owners at all? You aren’t looking to point fingers when things go wrong; it’s a team effort. So why get into specifics about who is responsible for each result? 

Assigning owners is not about blaming team members for what’s gone wrong. It’s about promoting ownership and ensuring that your team has the visibility and support they need. It’s also important to properly frame your discussions around ownership with team members. Instead of speaking about assigning ownership of goals as loading responsibility onto them, talk about it with them in terms of a project that they will be taking the lead on. It’s not just about blaming someone when things don’t get done but working together towards a shared goal, supporting their efforts, and celebrating their successes.

Who should own OKRs?

It’s clear that it’s important to assign OKR owners that are involved in the creation of your goals and will know that they will be accountable for them. What’s not always as clear, however, is who that owner should be. If you’d like to produce three new blogs in a quarter, for example, should that key result be owned by a specific content writer, their manager, or the content team itself?

Let’s take a closer look at each of these different approaches to OKR ownership:

Ownership by team

One way to assign ownership is by making an entire team responsible for the key result. Often, a key result depends on the collaboration of many people. Pinning its success to one team member can feel strange. 

If a team is small enough, it may make the most sense to simply assign the goal to an entire team and have them delegate responsibilities amongst themselves.

But in most cases, assigning an OKR to an entire team makes it hard to check on progress. Because everyone is responsible, no one is responsible. Offering support also becomes difficult since it’s hard to identify the true reasons for underperformance. 

It’s often better to select a single team member to own the key result project. This way, you can check in with them regularly and let them act as the manager and take accountability for the results.

Ownership by manager

If you are assigning your key result to produce three blogs to a content team member, is it better to assign it to the team manager or the content writer producing the blogs? If more than one team member is working on a project, it may be wise to assign the goal to their manager, who will be the source of direction for and information on the project.

Ownership by contributor

In cases when a single contributor will be working towards a key result, assign the key result directly to them as opposed to their team or manager. This way you are checking with them directly on progress instead of their manager and they are accountable both for the work and the end result.

Involving them in the goal-setting process makes it so that they are not only executing a task assigned to them but also working towards a goal they decided on. Allow your team to take ownership of their goals and see their progress and impact.

This is the approach we have found to be most effective at Kalungi, which is why we designed our own OKR management tool to allow individual users to be assigned to each key result.

OKR owner examples

This way, it’s clear to the whole team which team member is accountable for each goal.

Building accountability through OKR owners

Owning a goal means that you’re taking responsibility for its management, direction, success, and failure, but this is only impactful if you think the goal is impactful and important. Regardless of who you assign as the owner, keeping those goals center stage will be essential for getting them done.

To keep your OKRs top-of-mind, the Kalungi App makes your most important goals easy to access, assign, and remember with weekly progress emails and personalized in-app notifications. If you’re working on your next quarter’s OKRs, try building them with the Kalungi App with a 14-day free trial. Get started here.

Working on a new batch of OKRs? See these related resources for more best practices and examples:

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