The four primary benefits of OKRs are Focus, Alignment, Engagement, and Stretch. In this short article let’s explore the first – Focus. Over the next couple of weeks we will examine each of the additional benefits in greater detail.
You would be surprised at how many organizations I have encountered over the years that do not have a coherent strategy in place. And I’m not just talking about start-ups here. As an OKR Consultant, I have worked with large companies – organizations with a global reach – who still can’t clearly define their strategy. The absence of a clear strategic direction for your company can create a host of problems, including scope creep, expensive inefficiencies, misdirected resources, competition between functional groups, poor morale and high turnover. But most importantly, if you don’t know where you are going, how will you ever know when you have arrived? Indeed, in the absence of a destination, any road will do.
If your teams and business units appear to be headed in different directions, or if everybody in your organization is working overtime but nothing seems to be getting done – it’s likely you have a problem with strategy.
THAT STRATEGY THING
A lot has been written about strategy over the years and many consultants have made a lot of money through expensive, time-consuming and oftentimes counterproductive strategic off-sites. When it comes to strategy, many executives tend to believe that if it isn’t complicated, it isn’t good, (and a lot of consultants muddy the water with wickedly complicated ‘methodologies’ that reinforce this notion). The good news is that when it comes to strategy, less is more! Remember, if you want to link the action of your people toward your overarching strategy, they need to be able to understand it first. So what goes into a good strategy? Simple – Vision, Mission, Value Proposition, OKRs. That’s it; anything more and you are over-complicating the process. Let’s look at each.
A Vision is a qualitative, aspirational articulation of your Future Picture…how you see your company in its ‘ideal state’ in the future. The Vision should give you goose bumps, and even make you a little nervous as you think, ‘can we really achieve that?’ For example, we recently worked with a medium-sized company whose vision was to ‘Become The Most Trusted Company in the World’. Seriously. Now that’s aspirational! And while this may seem like a strange vision to you, they had a very clear, mission-related reason why this became the company’s vision, and their workforce loved it. Your Vision is your North Star – that guiding light in the sky that the entire enterprise is moving toward.
The mission statement is perhaps the most overthought and overwrought element in strategy building. I have literally seen mission statements that ran four pages long (and nobody read it but the person who wrote it!). All an effective mission needs is three elements – What do you do? Who do you do it for? Why do you do it (what are the results you seek)? That’s it. No more, no less. Anything more and you are over-complicating your efforts to create focus in the organization. (Read my book, Lessons From the Line for a thorough explanation on the power of purpose – Mission.)
For example, our Vision at OKRsTraining.com is to ‘Become the global leader in OKRs Coaching, Training and Certification’. And our Mission is, ‘Through OKR Coaching, Training and Certification, help organizations large and small get focused, aligned and engaged on what matters most, so that they may achieve their Big Vision’.
What we do: OKR Coaching, Training, Certification For Who(m): Organizations large and small Why: So that they may achieve their Big Vision
Remember this dictum: the more complicated you make a thing, the less likely it will achieve what you are after. What. For Who. So What. That’s all you need for an effective mission.
Why should anybody choose your product or service over the competition? What is it that separates you from the crowd? How is what you do in any way unique? These questions are crucial because your answer(s) will become your Value Proposition; and you must be laser focused on your ‘uniques’ because they will become your primary selling/marketing message. This is how you separate yourself from everybody else.
For example, I fly Southwest Airlines regularly. Why? Because of it’s Value Proposition – Low fairs, Great service, No-frills, On time. Have you ever seen a commercial from SWA where they were promoting one of those key uniques? Of course, all the time. Here’s another example: People will spend a lot of money on water filtered over ground beans because of the Starbucks Value Proposition – high-quality coffee, customer intimacy, atmosphere. Have you ever gone into a Starbucks store and not been blown away by the aroma wafting out the door?
Or here’s our Value Proposition at OKRsTraining.com: Our Experience, Our People, Our OKRs Framework. With each prospect we meet we review these attributes that are unique to our company so that they can ‘see’ how we are different from everybody else. These are our differentiators.
Remember – you can’t sell a thing if you aren’t clear why people should buy it. That’s your Value Proposition.
Once the Vision, Mission and Value Proposition are in place, it’s finally time to put take this pie out of the sky and put it on the table and give everybody in the organization a taste of it. Objectives and Key Results are how you link your strategy to action, and how you begin the process of aligning everybody in the enterprise to your overarching strategy (we will talk about alignment next week).
So, you will need a handful of corporate-level OKRs to compliment your strategy and begin the process of organizational alignment. But where do you start? How do you begin?
When we work with our clients, we provide the starting line for them by asking them to create OKRs aligned to the four lenses of strategy – Financial, Customer, Business Process, and Organizational Learning (workforce). This conversation give context and a starting line for the executive team as they begin the process of creating corporate-level OKRs. Once these high-level OKRs are in place, you now have created a line-of-sight trajectory for the rest of your teams and business units as they begin to craft and align their OKRs.
See how it all works? See how it all ties in together? Vision – Mission – Value Proposition – OKR. These are the four essentials of strategy, and once you get clear on each of them, watch what happens to your organization!
A FINAL WORD ON STRATEGY – COMMUNICATION
In order to craft OKRs that align to the strategy, the strategy must be communicated. It sounds simple, but a perfect strategy that is never communicated is no better than having no strategy at all. Every team member needs to understand where the company is going. A clear map to the future provides the necessary “context” for creating OKRs that turns your strategy into action. This enables teams to frame their work within the boundaries of company strategy. Better yet, this enables teams to show how their work directly supports the objectives of the business. If those objectives are never communicated, it’s very difficult for teams to create alignment to them. Strategy must be communicated if it is to be effective.