All Objectives and Key Results (OKR) programs are different. This isn’t to say, obviously, that there aren’t common mistakes to avoid and best practices to help guide you to success, but understanding that you can adapt the program to your culture will help you find the right rhythm for quarter-over-quarter success. When it comes to setting Top Company Objectives at the executive level, there are three different styles we see work for different organizations.
The Sprint/One-Vision-One-Focus Objective
If you’ve read Measure What Matters by John Doerr, then you’re already familiar with this type of top company OKR in action, as he provides a number of examples. Essentially, when the business sees a strategic opportunity or threat so clearly that the singularity of focus on execution of that goal trumps all else, then your top company OKR should reflect that.
Often, this is more common for smaller startups that face existential threats daily, but it can be relevant for any size company for certain quarters.
Here are two examples:
In his book, Doerr discusses Intel’s response to the grave threat that Motorola’s 6800 microprocessor posed to their business. In response, the whole company was asked to prioritize OKRs to align to the following:
Corporate Objective: Establish the 8086 as the highest performance 16-bit microprocessor
Key Results (As Measured By):
- Develop and publish five benchmarks showing superior 8086 family performance (Applications).
- Repackage the entire 8086 family of products (Marketing).
- Get the 8MHz part into production (Engineering, Manufacturing).
- Sample the arithmetic coprocessor no later than June 15 (Engineering).
The window of opportunity was small but clear to Intel’s leadership, and they developed the above OKRs to galvanize action.
As another example, imagine you’re a seasonal business where the success of your year depends on one month or quarter. You might have plenty of work to keep the lights on throughout the rest of the year, but you can keep an eye on the future by focusing action on preparation for this crucial season. This is another great reason to focus the whole company on that one purpose or event.
Sample “Top Company Objective”
To ensure our company is prepared for our greatest “selling season” yet:
- Revamp online portal for self-service signups.
- Create a campaign around our new slogan.
- Hire and train an “onboarding” team.
- Add new feature to announce at global conference.
By looking at all barriers to success from the last “selling season,” you can prioritize the key initiatives that will have the greatest impact on the success of the next one.
Another style of top company objective is Departmental OKRs. I see this type used often at companies that have hit their stride with OKRs. They’ve successfully used them for multiple quarters, and they want to ensure clear visibility between departments.
Consider it a useful framework that saves some time in the objective planning phase because you already know that every department head will own one top company objective. Organizations that are successful with this model are still disciplined and thoughtful about what those objectives are, but they save the mental effort of figuring out who will own what this quarter.
Sample “Departmental Objectives”
Head of Sales – Book $2,000,000 in ACV
Chief Human Resources Officer – Build a world class employee experience by launching a career development program
Chief Product Officer – Improve our market offering by launching a new product
Chief Customer Officer – Develop new system to measure and improve customer satisfaction
You may find that your CEO doesn’t own an OKR under this model. However, your CEO can and should still own OKRs that align to some of these.
For organizations heavily focused on developing cross-functional collaboration (which is itself an OKR worthy initiative) it’s common to focus on inspiring themes that your organization hopes to address and to encourage departments to own key initiatives that relate to these themes. Not every department lead needs to own a key result for each “thematic” objective, but you’ll start to see 4-6 different functions collaborating more closely.
Sample “Thematic Objective”
Position our company as the most innovative in our space.
Each department should be able to prioritize something to help address this broad enough theme of innovation. Marketing can address with storytelling, clearly, but product can have a say as will customer success. Other useful themes I see often focus on modernization, alignment, agility, and delighting customers.
These types of objectives are not too dissimilar from the Sprint/One-Vision model, but this idea tends to be useful when an organization believes a singular focus on cultural change is crucial for the health and survival of the organization. Culture is tricky to mandate, but holding ourselves accountable to company values is a good way to start. Consider this example from Zume Pizza, as referenced in Measure What Matters:
From Mission Statement: Delight Customers
Detail: Feeding people is a sacred trust. To maintain that trust, we have to deliver the very best customer service and the very best food quality. To succeed as a business, we must ensure that our customers are so happy with our service and product that they have no choice but to order more pizza and to rave about the experience with their friends.
Net promoter score of 42 or better.
Order Rating of 4.6/5.0 or better.
75% of customer prefer Zume to competitor in blind taste test.
If you believe the way you reach your goals is as important as the goals themselves, consider this a useful approach.
A Note on Aspirational vs. Committed Objectives
Many organizations follow Google’s lead in designating some OKRs as committed (expected to reach 100%) and some as aspirational. As far as setting top company OKRs, by default, aspirational is better. One of the biggest benefits of top company OKRs is their ability to inspire and motivate, and that’s easier to do with a big, outside-the-box objective. Where I do see committed objectives in the top company objectives are for operational targets that are typically owned by finance or sales leaders in the “departmental” model described above. Finally, you should avoid having an aspirational objective contributing progress to a committed top company objective and vice versa because this will completely confuse your progress measures.
For more insights, get your free copy of Betterworks’ brand-new Ultimate Guide to Utilizing OKRs within Continuous Performance Management® to learn more about creating a goals process that truly drives results for your business.