OKR Implementation
The OKR Coach: Guiding Your Team to Success
More than half of the companies that become enthusiastic about implementing OKR (Objectives and Key Results) revert to traditional management methods within six months. The primary reason? The absence of a change agent, an internal OKR coach. This article outlines the profile of this critical role in detail.
What is OKR?

First, let's briefly clarify what the abbreviation OKR stands for, its origins, and its purpose.
OKR (Objectives and Key Results) is an agile approach to strategic execution that enables employees, teams, and the entire company to move flexibly, focusedly, and coherently toward clear and ambitious goals.
OKR evolved from the classical Management by Objectives (MBO) when Andy Grove at Intel noticed that traditional industrial methods were too cumbersome and rigid for the unpredictably changing high-tech business environment.
Thus, he proposed three key changes:
  1. Set 2-3 ambitious goals per quarter, focusing only on the most critically important, strategy-related ones.
  2. Ensure goals are not dictated top-down but involve employees in their formulation, aligning objectives vertically and horizontally.
  3. Formulate goals with two components: an inspiring, concise objective and 3-4 measurable key results.
John Doerr, a disciple of Andy Grove, implemented this system at Google, becoming a pivotal factor in their success, as noted by the founders themselves.
Today, OKR is applied in thousands of companies worldwide, across various industries. OKR embodies the agile approach and complements popular agile frameworks like Scrum and Kanban. As practice expands, expertise grows, and the modern OKR system is refined, maintaining its flexibility and adapting to specific company conditions.
People and Interaction Matter More Than Processes and Tools

No matter how excellent a system is, it is implemented by people. In classical goal management, everything is built vertically and directive, with a clearly defined circle of leaders overseeing the process. In OKR, one of the key principles is the involvement of all employees in goal-setting and a significant degree of self-organization.

Here lies the catch.
When we think of self-organization within a company, we often assume that everything will magically organize itself. This is the biggest misconception and disappointment for advocates of teal organizations and holacracy. Systems tend to seek homeostasis. Without a reinforcing force, any well-intentioned innovations left to their own devices will gradually fade, replaced by habitual behaviors. Consider your personal attempts at change—eating only healthy food, not raiding the fridge after 7 PM, doing yoga every morning, learning 20 new foreign words daily, getting up at dawn to write 10 pages of your book... Even if you are a person of iron will and easily integrated all of these into your life, there is probably at least one habit that didn’t stick due to a lack of motivation and support. The same happens in companies. This is why it is crucial to organize a supportive environment from the first steps and strengthen it as resistance from the system grows. And this environment is created by people.
As the classic change management expert John Kotter noted, for successful change management, it is necessary to assemble a team of reformers, change agents. Those who will not only initiate changes but also accompany the entire process.

In the case of OKR implementation, it is critically important that not only the leader or HR initiates the launch of the system. There need to be employees who take on the key role in implementing and supporting the system’s functioning. These employees are known by various names: OKR Ambassador, OKR Champion, OKR Leader, and OKR Coach.

Since OKR is an agile system, it seems logical to adopt the title OKR Coach, analogous to the already accepted Agile Coach, especially since the competencies and functions performed in these roles are very similar. Essentially, OKR Coach is a more focused designation of Agile Coach, emphasizing implementation and maintaining the viability of OKR.
Like agile, there are both external and internal OKR coaches. An external OKR coach acts as a consultant, helping set up processes at the start and then transferring the technology to the company by training internal OKR coaches.
Without internal OKR coaches, the system’s functioning will quickly begin to wane and cease, reverting the company back to familiar tracks.

Therefore, successful implementation critically hinges on the proper selection of internal OKR coaches, their training, support, and retention. If a company already has Agile Coaches, it is logical for them to also take on the function of OKR implementation. However, in most companies we have worked with, this is not a separate position but a role taken on by an employee, regardless of their hierarchical level and primary job. It is better if the coach is not alone, but several, with the team replenished by new volunteers. Often, HR specialists, marketers, and product managers become OKR coaches. Taking on the role of OKR coach offers a very attractive opportunity for diagonal growth, where one’s responsibilities include organizing OKR activities for the entire company and leaders at all levels, including the top.

Competencies of an OKR Coach

OKR coaches, especially during the implementation phase, act as change agents, so it is important to choose individuals (preferably several) who:
  1. Genuinely believe in the system's effectiveness and use it in their own work.
  2. Possess sufficient authority and respect among leadership and employees.
  3. Embody the agile mindset and values.
The competencies required for an OKR coach are similar to those of an Agile coach (for example, as outlined by L. Adkins).
Key Responsibilities and Powers of an OKR Coach

The role of an OKR coach can vary significantly in different companies, as much of the organizational effort to support the system may be handled directly by teams and leaders.

Additionally, over time we have started to distinguish between the roles of OKR Master and OKR Coach by analogy with agile practice. The Master facilitates the application of OKR at the team level, while the Coach sets up and supports the system at the company-wide level.

Below is a set of competencies, main responsibilities, and powers of an OKR coach based on our experience at the OKR Academy and agreements with fellow OKR experts, as documented in the OKR Standard.
Who Can Be an OKR Coach?

As you can see, the role of an OKR coach is multifaceted and requires substantial personal maturity and a wide range of soft skills. Does this mean you need to hire a specially trained person for this position?
Not necessarily. From our experience, the most successful implementations occur when OKR coaches are employees well-acquainted with the company and its team. They may feel confined in their current role, and the role of an OKR coach provides them with "diagonal growth"—organizing OKR activities across the company. Sometimes this role is voluntary, while some companies offer additional pay for the extra workload, especially during quarterly planning. In any case, it is crucial not to underestimate the importance of this role for successful implementation and to support OKR coaches from the highest leadership and HR.
By embracing the role of an OKR coach, employees can drive meaningful change, foster an agile culture, and significantly contribute to the company's strategic success.