OKRs for Service Businesses

Posted on July 31, 2023.
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Most of the writing on OKRs is focused on products and the teams that build them. What if you work in a services business though? How do OKRs work for agencies, consulting companies, law firms and other organizations that provide pure services rather than products? Let’s take a look at the success metrics you should set for your teams and your business and ones to avoid. 

OKRs that work for service businesses

Let’s say you work for a content creation agency. You write short and long form content for authors, industry thought leaders and aspiring keynote speakers. Your clients hire you to save them time and to help grow their brands. You sell your expertise and your time. How do you set OKRs for a business like this?

When it comes to objectives you’re going to set one that reflects the strategic focus of your agency. In this case, let’s assume you’re focused on executive leaders who want to build public credibility on social media and eventually write books. So your objective could be something like: 

Provide credible, monetizable brand growth services for busy executives by the end of 2024. 

Now to set your key results we’re going to use our key question: [Who] does [what] by [how much]?

The “who” are your clients. The “what” could be things like renewing their contracts with you, reducing the number of requested rewrites per customer, and inbound leads to your business that come as referrals. “How much” is a growth metric that you believe is realistic to your business. For example:

Existing clients renew their quarterly contracts with us at least 75% of the time. 

In house writers, reduce the time spent rewriting and editing each client’s weekly LinkedIn article by 50%. 

Inbound leads come from referrals from existing clients at least 30% of the time. 

We could also write OKRs that are internally facing to target things like the efficiency of bringing on a new client, invoicing and billing processes and other operational goals. 

Avoid goals outside of your control

Notice that in all the examples above I didn’t get into the results generated for the clients. I avoided things like, “increase LinkedIn followers by 50%” or “drive at least 10,000 books sold.” I think goals like these – those that are one step removed from your control – are risky. You can write great content for someone. It can perform well on social media. And the client then goes on to post some content on their own that performs less well. Or they give a speech that’s poorly received. Maybe their company gets tangled up in a scandal.

As tempting as it may be to sign up for your client’s success, it’s risky to set your OKRs up to reflect those goals. There are too many variables outside of your control. This goes for other types of services businesses as well. If you develop software, for example, you shouldn’t sign up for the commercial success of that software. If you provide legal services, you likely aren’t going to sign up for some percentage of successful court decisions. There’s just too many things in those scenarios that could sway the results that you can’t influence. 

Keep your service OKRs realistic

OKRs work well in a services business. The measures of your success should reflect the behavior changes you can control. The quality of your work will be reflected in your staff’s behavior changes and how your clients react to them. Anything outside of that is risky and should likely be avoided as your key result.