3 Questions About OKRs

Posted on December 27, 2021.

In the spirit of this blog – practical, useful, actionable content – I’m going to wrap up the year with a short, three-question FAQ about objectives and key results. These came out of a recent session I held where we ran out of time to get through everyone’s questions during the session itself. Let’s dive right in.

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What if a team is only given high-level “business priorities” and nothing else? What should they do next? 

Typically, an organization measures its success with a common set of metrics: sales, revenue, profit margin, customer satisfaction, et al. If you are given one of these goals, for example, “Increase revenue in Latin America by 15%,” it’s understandable that your team may struggle to determine where to start. 

To break down this problem, start with the following questions:

  • What does your team have control over? Understanding which elements of your business, product or service your team can influence is critical to determining your next steps.
  • Which customers will you target first? Next, your team needs to determine which target audience it will attempt to reach in order to increase revenue in Latin America. It’s important to be specific here. For example, “Latin American customers” is likely too generic of an assumption. “Latin American customers who spend at least $150 annually with us” starts to paint a more specific picture of your target persona.
  • What behavior from this audience drives sales? And, are there parts of your customer journey keeping them from that behavior? Before a purchase, there are usually behaviors that every customer exhibits.  Analyze your clickstream data along with the desired user journey to get a sense of what happens prior to a purchase and where your audience drops off along that journey. 

At this point you have the components you need to generate an OKR for your team. Take the obstacle you identified your audience is facing in the customer journey and turn that into a positive statement. For example, “Reduce friction in the checkout process.” That’s your objective statement. Then, take the behaviors you identified that happen prior to purchase and determine what kind of change would make a meaningful impact on revenue. This could look like, “Reduce abandonment during address selection by 90%.” This is your first key result. You may have one or two others to add here as well. 

At this point your team has a goal to target that is specific and actionable. It makes the strategic business goal, “increase revenue,” tangible and points the team towards a direction where they can start experimenting. 

In an international company teams may hesitate to do research with customers because they don’t speak the local language. What can we do to mitigate this concern? 

If your team is based in one part of the world and your customers are in another, finding a common language to share product feedback can be difficult. In this case I think it’s ok to make an exception to the rule of “don’t outsource your research.” There are two ways that immediately come to mind to do this:

  • Find a local colleague who can help you. Is there someone in-country who can help you source and speak with folks in their native language? A multinational corporation should have enough folks on the ground in the markets in which you operate to offer up some local employees who could help.
  • Hire a local research agency. This is something I’ve had to do not only with language but with cultural challenges as well. It’s one thing to find someone to help you with the language. It’s even more important to ensure that the way you structure the entire research experience aligns with local norms and customs. In this case a local research agency can help tremendously. They are often fluent in multiple languages as well. 

Can you use OKRs in regulated environments? 

The short answer is yes. Like any environment, medical, governmental, financial and other regulated organizations should always work towards improving their services and the welfare of the people they serve. The things you might see adjusted in these environments are longer timelines for behavior change, lower targets as goals and different definitions of what constitutes behavior change for “customers” as well as internal staff. 

The best example I’ve found publicly for this so far is the annual CEO OKR Scorecard from the Cleveland Clinic (summarized on Page 44). 

The Cleveland Clinic’s annual OKR scorecard

You’ll notice here that behavior change happens with patients, caregivers and clinic administrators as well. The goals all reflect providing great care and a great, sustainable place to work. 

Thanks again for reading this blog. It’s been the best year for us (we’ve crushed our OKRs!) and we look forward to helping you along your design, product management and business building journey in 2022.