How OKRs Drive Performance: Q&A with Catherine Chen, Founder of OKRs Coaches

November 4, 20212:20 pm1472 views

The business landscape has undergone a dramatic transformation during the pandemic. In today’s unchartered reality, organizations are looking for ways and approach that can make a business stronger and more resilient. OKRs, the acronym of Objective Key and Results, has become one of the most effective and most popular goal management methodologies. But how can this approach help drive performance? Catherine Chen, Founder of OKRs Coaches reveals the answer for HR in Asia.

Read on..

  • Catherine, recent survey highlighted a decline in productivity as Malaysians are working in remote-based arrangements. How does such ‘productivity tax’ happen?

Answer: I was chatting with an employee when I visited her company. She told me that she felt detached from the company. Before the pandemic, the company had many activities every year, such as festival celebrations, training, department lunch, annual dinner, etc.

Since last year, most employees started to work from home, and the company has much less engagement activities. She contacted one of her colleagues and found out the colleague had already left the company half a year ago. Then she realized that she had no idea how many employees were in the company, what was going on and how the company was doing.

She was not the only employee who had such experience when working from home. It happens because how to manage employees remotely become one of the biggest challenges to employers.

Employees may feel unmotivated for two main reasons: First, no transparency in the information shared within the organization. Hence, the employees are in the dark about what’s going on and what’s next. Second, no ongoing effective conversation between the employees and managers so the bonding between employees and managers were dramatically reduced.

When our employees detach from us, their productivity will drop.

  • At the same time, employers not ready to trust their remote workforce are using surveillance software to monitor online activities. As a leader, do you think such a measure necessary? Why or why not?

Answer: The technology made it possible for employers to track employees’ activity on computers. If your company is using surveillance software, you will feel resistance from employees. The resistance comes because more and more of your competitors provide a more friendly remote working environment to talents. And your talents know this.

How do they know? Check those websites like,, and they can find more and more vacancies for working from home with great benefits and company culture. That’s why if your talents feel they cannot have your trust, they will leave you.

  • Based on your observation, what are the challenges businesses facing when tracking and motivating workforce productivity?

Answer: Even when we were all in offices, there was a constant challenge. Now that more companies have adopted working from home, it is an absolute a more significant challenge.

Some of the most common complaints we hear are one-way communication, meaning top-down communication, instead of two-way communication; delegation: not delegating work effectively.

That’s why some employees struggle with motivation, especially if they are not given assignments with clarity and cannot make decisions independently. They feel there is a lack of respect from their supervisors.

  • Many people still believe; the busier, the better. What’s your advice to change such a mindset?

Answer: Can we assume that a busier employee is a good employee that contributes better to your company goals? I am afraid not.

How can you guarantee that he is doing his best to utilize every minute fully and not daydreaming? How can you make sure that he is working on the right thing which provides value to your clients and your company, or is he doing the job for the sake of doing it?

We have to change our management approach and adapt to the new work world: manage objectives, not time.

  • If productivity should not be based on the quantity of hours worked, then is there a better
  •  approach to track employee’s efficiency without infringing on their privacy?

Answer: Those world-class top-performing companies create a transparent discipline system by using OKR (Objective and Key Result) where everyone’s objective, action plan, progress are known by everybody in the company, or at least, the same department.

This has proved that the transparent discipline system can improve employees’ accountability and eliminate low performers without infringing on employees’ privacy.

  • Adobe, Google, and Netflix are among top companies that have implemented OKR to astounding success. So, what’s the key to successful OKR adoption?

Answer: Firstly, most organizations I worked with have a strong business rationale for why they are using OKR. Some of them use OKR because they want to reduce the gap between company strategy and employee daily execution. Some of them use OKR because they want to improve their focus.

If the company has a good WHY, it is easy to engage employees together in the journey of OKR. Otherwise, if the why is not clear enough, employees will not put aside their huge workload and concentrate on your company OKRs.

Next, they provide OKR coaching to help employees develop qualified OKRs. If your employees’ OKRs are not well-written, you cannot utilize any benefits of OKRs.

  • Which type of organizations would benefit greatly from the adoption of OKR? Is it possible for small businesses like startups integrate this method to their HR strategies, too?

Answer: OKR is a methodology and framework to engage your employees to achieve your organization’s goals faster and more effectively.

According to our experience, it works across all industries and organizations. Of course, it works for a small business like startups very well.

Almost every founder of startups has to keep asking themselves: are we in the right direction in the early stage? Does this goal make sense to us now? As a business partner, HR should consider utilizing OKR to improve the agility of the startup. This is because OKR is very agile, and it keeps track of progress, what works and what does not.

  • Last question, if businesses are looking to implement OKR, what pitfalls or challenges should they pay attention to?

One of the significant challenges is: Many companies blindly copy and paste Google’s OKRs approach, which later leads to the failure of OKR implementation, even employees turnover.

Any company that wants to implement OKR should develop its own OKR deployment plan based on its culture, policy, and performance management system. Every company is unique in terms of business, culture, and challenges. That’s why do not simply roll out OKR to the whole company without a customized deployment plan. In summary, if you do not plan, you plan to fail.

Another common challenge is: assume your employees will learn OKR via self-study. However, after a period of trial and error, the expected business results were not achieved. That is when they turn to us to find out the reason for their failure. After an in-depth assessment of their implementation process, we found that their employees were not doing OKR but working on a task list.

It is not easy to write an effective OKR. However, identifying the right OKR is absolutely crucial—if you don’t have this right from the start, then the subsequent efforts you spend on this OKR will amount to nothing.

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Catherine Chen is the founding member of OKRs Coach Network, and she focuses on OKRs coaching to improve execution.

Her experience includes leading the Talent Development & Management program for a Fortune Global 500 company. Her achievement in Talent Development was rewarded by the Excellence of Education Awards of Life Office Management Association, the United States.  In 2021, she was rewarded New Prominent Entrepreneurs in China.

Content rights: This exclusive interview content is produced by HR in ASIA. Any redistribution or reproduction of part or all of the contents in this interview is prohibited. You may not, except with our express written permission, distribute or commercially exploit the content.

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