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Cascading vs. Aligning OKRs – Which is Better?

Cascading OKRs vs. aligning OKRs
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In the era of digitalization and AI, organizations both large and small, are constantly seeking ways to maximize productivity, improve performance, and achieve their desired outcomes. 

Two popular approaches that have emerged for goal-setting and alignment are Cascading OKRs and Aligning OKRs. These methodologies offer distinct perspectives on how companies can drive performance, but which path should your organization take? Should they cascade OKRs or focus on aligning goals across the company? 

Let’s delve into both approaches to better understand the benefits and challenges of each.

What Are Cascading OKRs?

Cascading OKRs is a strategic framework used by organizations to align and coordinate goals across different levels and departments within the organization. 

It involves breaking down high-level objectives which are set by the top management into more specific objectives and key results that can be tracked at various levels of the organization. This ensures that everyone is working towards a common vision and that their efforts are synchronized to achieve overall company goals.

What Are Aligning OKRs?

Aligning OKRs refers to the process of ensuring that the goals and metrics set within an organization are interconnected and supportive of each other.  The goal of aligning OKRs is to produce a transparent and integrated structure of goals that cascades down from the organizational level to the team and individual levels. Because of this alignment, everyone is guaranteed to be working towards the same aims and to make a positive impact on the larger organizational objectives.

How Cascading OKRs Looks Like

cascading OKR

CEO’s OKRs

Objective: Grow annual revenue to increase the valuation

  • KR 1: Grow ARR by 35%
  • KR 2: Expand business in the NA

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Head of Sales

Objective: Grow ARR by 35%

  • KR 1: Increase revenue from expansion by 15%
  • KR 2: Increase revenue from new and old deals by 30%

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Regional sales head

Objective:  Increase revenue from expansion by 10%

  • KR 1: Successfully onboard and train new NA sales team
  • KR 2: Collaborate with marketing to generate leads in the NA Market

The above OKRs give us a prime example of How OKRs Cascade. The top-level Management (CEO) sets their OKRs, and then it is cascaded by the department head and then to the individuals. This ensures that everyone is working towards the same vision and goal.

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Datalligence-OKR-onboard

How Aligning OKRs Looks Like

Aligning OKR

From the above picture, we can understand that all the OKRs are interconnected. All the departmental OKRs are interconnected with one another and lastly aligned to the objective of the CEOs.

The OKRs from the Marketing Team can be aligned with the Product OKR and Sales OKRs and Vice Versa.

The main purpose is to ensure that everyone is working towards common goals and that their efforts are focused on achieving those goals. 

Benefits of Aligning OKRs

Shared Vision

All parties involved understand and share a common vision for the desired outcome. They have a clear understanding of the end goal and the reasons behind it.

Long-Term Vision

Aligned goals are not just short-term targets; they contribute to the realization of a long-term vision. This ensures that the efforts of today align with the aspirations of the future.

Collaborative Environment

Aligned goals encourage collaboration rather than competition. Individuals and teams are willing to share resources, information, and insights to help each other succeed.

Measurable Objectives

Aligned goals are defined in specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) terms. This makes it easier to track progress and assess the impact of each party’s contributions.

Continuous Alignment Assessment

Regular check-ins and reviews are conducted to ensure that goals remain aligned as circumstances evolve. This helps identify any potential misalignments early on and take corrective actions.

Recognition of Individual Contributions

Aligned goals emphasize how individual contributions contribute to collective success. Recognizing and celebrating achievements at both individual and team levels fosters motivation and engagement.

Priority Setting

In cases where there are competing objectives, aligned goals aid in setting priorities. When everyone understands the bigger picture, decisions can be made based on what will best serve the overall mission.

Clear Communication

Communication is crucial when it comes to aligned goals. Regular updates, status reports, and transparent discussions about progress help to keep everyone on the same page and allow for adjustments when needed.

Difference Between Cascading vs. Aligning OKRs

Difference Between Cascading vs. Aligning OKRs

Challenges and Solutions for Cascading OKRs and Aligning OKRs

Challenges of Cascade OKRs

Misalignment and Disconnection

Cascade OKRs involve breaking down high-level objectives into smaller, departmental, or team-level objectives. However, if not done carefully, this process can lead to misalignment between different levels. The objectives of different teams might not contribute effectively to the broader organizational goals, leading to a lack of cohesion and a disjointed approach.

Solution: 

  • Clear Objective Mapping: Ensure that each department’s or team’s objectives directly contribute to the higher-level organizational goals. Regularly review and align objectives to ensure they are still relevant.
  • Cross-Functional Collaboration: Foster communication and collaboration across departments. Hold regular cross-functional meetings to discuss progress, share insights, and address any misalignment.

Loss of Autonomy and Creativity

As objectives are passed down from higher levels to lower levels in a cascading manner, there’s a risk of stifling individual team creativity. Teams might feel pressured to follow the predetermined objectives without having the flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances or come up with innovative solutions that might not fit neatly within the predefined framework.

Solution: 

  • Adaptive Framework: Develop a flexible OKR framework that allows for adjustments and iterations during the OKR cycle. Encourage teams to propose modifications if they believe there’s a better approach.
  • Innovation Time: Dedicate a portion of team resources to innovation and experimentation outside the regular OKR structure. This encourages creativity without compromising the primary objectives.

Delayed Communication and Response

In a cascading structure, information flows from the top down. This can lead to delays in communication and response time. If the higher-level objectives change or pivot, it might take some time for the changes to filter down through the levels, causing teams to work on outdated or irrelevant goals.

Solutions:

  • Transparent Communication Channels: Implement a communication platform where changes to higher-level objectives are communicated promptly. This ensures that teams are aware of any shifts and can adjust their objectives accordingly.
  • Agile Methodology: Incorporate agile practices that allow for quick adjustments and adaptations in response to changing priorities.
Datalligence-OKR-onboard

Challenges of Aligning OKRs:

Conflicting Priorities

Different teams might have their own objectives that seem important to them but conflict with the objectives of other teams. This can lead to internal competition for resources and confusion about where to focus efforts.

Solution:

  • Cross-Functional Planning: Encourage teams to collaborate on defining objectives and priorities. Hold joint planning sessions where teams can align their objectives and identify potential conflicts early on.
  • Executive Arbitration: If conflicts arise, involve leadership to arbitrate and make decisions that prioritize the overall organization’s objectives.

Lack of Clear Hierarchy

In a complex organization, it can be challenging to clearly define which objectives are more important than others, especially when they span multiple departments. This can result in misaligned efforts and confusion about what truly matters.

Solution:

  • Strategic Framework: Develop a strategic hierarchy that clearly outlines the relationships between different levels of objectives. This framework helps teams understand how their objectives contribute to the larger picture.
  • Regular Review: Conduct periodic reviews to assess the hierarchy and make necessary adjustments to ensure objectives remain aligned.

Measurement Consistency

Aligning OKRs requires standardized ways of measuring progress and success. If teams use different metrics or measurements, it becomes difficult to compare and assess the overall progress toward the shared goals.

Solution:

  • Standardized Metrics: Establish a set of standardized metrics that all teams can use to measure progress. This ensures consistency and allows for meaningful comparisons across teams.
  • Training and Education: Provide training to teams on how to measure and track their progress using the agreed-upon metrics. This helps teams adopt the same measurement practices.

Choosing the Right Approach for Your Organization

The debate between cascading and aligning OKRs is not about declaring one approach superior to the other. Instead, it’s about finding the right balance that suits the organization’s culture, industry, and growth stage. Some organizations may benefit from a more structured cascading approach to ensure alignment, while others might thrive in an agile environment where teams have more autonomy to align their OKRs. In the end, the goal is to create a culture where OKRs serve as a compass guiding every individual and team toward shared success. 

Key Questions to Consider:

  1. What is the organizational structure and culture? Does it support a top-down cascade or a collaborative alignment approach?
  2. How fast does the organization need to respond to changes in the market or industry?
  3. Are there specific teams or departments where a cascading approach might be more effective, while an alignment approach is better suited for others?
  4. How will communication and transparency be maintained in each approach to ensure everyone understands their contribution to the larger goals?
  5. Can a hybrid approach be implemented, combining elements of cascading and alignment based on specific objectives?

How Can Datalligence Help?

At Datalligence We help companies identify the best way to bridge the gap between these approaches, ensuring your organization’s success by effectively implementing and managing your OKR framework. Datalligence offers a comprehensive OKR platform designed to streamline the OKR process, regardless of whether you choose cascading or aligning methods. With features like goal setting, tracking, progress visualization, and performance analytics, Datalligence empowers organizations to effectively manage and execute their OKR strategies. Talk to our Experts and Coaches to gain more insight on this insightful topic or Try “Datalligence” for free for yourself.

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