The 101 of using OKRs for SMB goal setting

OKRs are one of the world’s most popular ways of setting goals. If the acronym OKR is new to you then here’s the 101 of OKRs and why if you’re an SMB looking to grow they may be the performance accelerator you are looking for.

The basics

OKR stands for Objectives and Key Results. It is one of a small group of popular ways companies use to set goals. At the basic end of the spectrum you have budgets and forecasts. Some companies and teams then evolve to using KPIs with targets, and perhaps SMART goals – another goal acronym (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound).

An Objective is a qualitative statement that describes what you want to achieve. Key Results describe how you propose to measure the success of your Objective, with there typically being 2 – 4 Key Results per Objective.

Here’s an example of an OKR for a coffee shop.

Objective: Be the preferred way to start every day

Key Result: Get 1500 customers to download our new loyalty program app

Key Result: Increase same week 5th cup free redemptions to 750

In the OKR the coffee shop is trying to see if they can get local customers to make buying coffee from them a daily ritual and in doing so reward that loyalty.

What’s great about OKRs is that other OKRs can be created to support the achievement of this OKR. For example, perhaps they want to ensure they really do offer the best latte in the area as that’s the most popular drink and a great product also drives loyalty. A supporting OKR might look like this:

Objective: We’ve the best Latte in 10 blocks

Key Result: 80% of customers when blind tested preferred our latte

This OKR is a brave one. To get competitors’ coffees together and blind taste test them. The aim would be to slowly evolve to a place where most customers preferred their latte.

Notice how with both of these OKRs the Key Results are measurable and not activities or to-dos. Having that separation of a desired measurable outcome and the things you could or need to do to achieve that outcome is part of OKR best practices.

Next steps, ideas and plans

Once you have your OKRs you need to share your ideas and reasoning behind your idea for achieving the goal. Once you have everyone’s ideas you will need which ones to move forward with first. This is a basic kanban approach to planning and making work that is focused on achieving goals.

This way of working falls under the agile working umbrella with execution planning and alignment conversations being a key stage in helping you achieve your OKRs.

Keep progress and plans updated

A goal that is set and then forgotten is not really a goal. It is also not a goal that is likely to be achieved because of intent, focus and hard work. 

To achieve OKRs you will want to have a weekly or fortnightly meeting to discuss progress, plans, problems and wins. Making any necessary adjustment, sharing ideas and learnings and congratulating people where it is due.

These conversations are the engine room of OKR achievement and committing to them and then having them is a mistake some are made to learn the hard way.

OKR management

When you are small you could use a whiteboard, a document to make OKRs visible. As you grow beyond about ten people or if you work remotely then OKR software like ZOKRI is a sensible investment.

However ultimately, documents or software are simply the recipients of good planning and great execution, so make sure that is in place first. The rest can follow.

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