There are lots of choices when it comes to strategic planning methodology, but there are few that provide laser focus, like using objectives and key results.
What are objectives and key results?
The definition of “OKRs” is “Objectives and Key Results.” It is a collaborative goal-setting tool used by teams and individuals to set challenging, ambitious goals with measurable results. OKRs are how you track progress, create alignment, and encourage engagement around measurable goals.
So, why should your leadership team use OKR’s to set your strategic direction? Simplicity. OKR’s provide a framework that is both simple and team-driven.
Too many strategic plans are driven by the senior leadership group and fail to translate down to their organisation layers. More important than the strategy itself is the execution, and the most junior job might drive the implementation in your entire organisation.
You can’t expect every person in your business to read pages and pages of planning notes. You need to share the overall vision with them and enable them to do their part without the need for micromanagement.
The value in using OKR planning is that it focuses you and the objectives (i.e. where you want to land) on outcomes that will significantly shift your business.
For example: Improve our website is an objective, but only if it will make a difference.
What if 70% of your sales come from other sources? It may be a vanity objective that serves little value.
But if those 70% of sales need to be educated on your value proposition and feel that the website is letting you down, then improving the website may provide a conversion lift to 80%.
If we take that objective and break it down, it may look something like this:
Objective: Improve the company website to enable the delivery of sales information.
- Key result 1: Source online specialists to audit the website and make recommendations.
- Key result 2: Engage website designer and developer to build a new website to meet needs.
- Key result 3: Develop a new content strategy and engage a writer for a new website.
- Key result 4: Optimise website for search engines based on search trends and customer profile.
- Key result 5: Create a top of the funnel offer to engage users to request more information about your product.
What you can see by this simple example is a pragmatic approach to the way you deliver the objective through key results.
What are key results?
These are the actions taken to deliver the objective – strategy versus strategic execution—planning versus doing.
In the example above, you should be able to see how the actions will deliver the result. By working in this way, you can break down the process and share it with your team.
In my experience, OKRs need to have a few as possible active goals at any one time. When you have too many goals, you will find your time and resource is stretched to the point that you struggle to achieve any of the results.
Another benefit of OKRs is its focus on accountability and NOT aiming for perfection. In John Doerr’s book Measure What Matters, there are endless examples of companies like Google that accept that sometimes 80% success is far more important than 100%.
Why? OKRs are about making strategic progress in the most critical parts of your business. If they are business as usual goals, then there is no stretch, creativity, and positive change. If you are working towards perfection, you should expect failure.
A close friend once said that often 5% is not growing; it’s just standing still; if you want to grow, you have the reach for the goals that will stretch you. That’s OKRs.
How do you use OKRs in your strategic planning process?
As you can see, the concept behind OKRs is to make strategic planning and results accessible to your whole company while creating significant change.
Strategic planning is no longer the magic that is only conjured up in the boardroom but a process and tool that the whole company can help create and participate in.
Before you get to your OKRs, there is the housekeeping that we all need to do when we are revising our strategic plans. Where are we now? Where are we heading? Who do we want to serve? Where are you going to play?
Without the fundamentals in place, the strategic objectives may be taking you down the wrong path. Get the basics right before you jump into the big moves; you can find out what these are here.
Most OKRs are delivered over 90 days in part or whole, some OKRs may take years to produce, but you will chip away at them in 30 or 90-day cycles. This will enable you to get critical momentum and not overwhelm your team.
OKRs are not there to kill creativity but to ensure that you use your time wisely on the most important things. And they may change. As you move through several cycles, you will learn what is essential and what isn’t.
In our last OKR cycle, we realised that one of the 90-day objectives was unattainable and not going to drive results. So we scrapped it.
That’s the beauty of it; with such focus, you can make quick decisions on what is working and what isn’t, enabling you to change so you can keep on track with your overall vision.
Once you have the groundwork done its time to answer some key questions:
- Where do we want to be in 90 days?
- What is the thing that will make that happen?
- What do we need to park for the next 90 days?
- Is what we are trying to achieve going to stretch us but also deliver results?
- Who needs to be involved?
- Who will be accountable for delivering key results?
Everything in objectives and key results is about clarifying the objective and clarity of accountability on delivery.
Most strategic plans die in a drawer somewhere, only to be revealed once you have missed the target and are looking to blame someone.
Once you have outlined your objectives and key results (3-4 objectives and 3-5 key results for each), make sure that you communicate the information with everyone that can directly affect the objective’s aim.
You do not need pages and pages of waffle when it comes to sharing your vision. This is an opportunity to allow your entire team to drive the success of the business. Your job as a leader is to provide all the support and resource they need to deliver the result.
How do you create accountability around your OKRs?
Over-communicate them. If you do morning huddles, check in on them. If you have weekly team meetings, discuss if you are on track or off track and any support your team might need.
Look for constant feedback so you can tweak them if they are straying off course and correct quickly.
Above all, with this level of focus, you must be patient. OKRs are about the discipline of taking many small actions that deliver deliberate and focused outcomes.
What makes for great OKRs?
- Less is more
- Aspire and do
- Share the responsibility
- Be patient
- Communication is king
- Progress, not perfection!
Objectives and key results have helped some of the world’s largest companies innovate and deliver tools and services we take for granted every day, some taking years to develop. OKRs can work for you too.
If you are struggling to focus your energy on the RIGHT things, you can get started today with our strategic planning courses or book a workshop with our Head of Client Strategy to realise your potential today.