Scaling OKRs Part 2: Writing OKRs from Strategy

Posted on May 22, 2023.

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Many organizations want to scale OKRs throughout their organizations, but they don’t know where to begin. First things first: You need a solid, clear strategy. Second things second: You need to share the strategy throughout the organization so that it is understood by everyone. That is the foundation of scaling OKRs.  

Once you’ve done those things, you start getting into the nitty gritty: writing OKRs based on the strategy (a.k.a. strategic OKRs) and having all teams write their team- and department-level OKRs based on the strategic OKRs set at the top. It sounds more dizzying than it is. 

So, let’s dive in. How do you write strategic OKRs? 

Strategic statement → objective statement

For the purposes of this article, let’s say your company is a lender in the financial services industry. The leadership team set the following strategy for 2023: 

Successfully expand our low-cost U.S. online lending practice into the student loan market by Q4 2023.

This strategic statement answers the two questions we need it to most. 

  • Where will you play? Your online lending practice in the U.S. 
  • How will you win? By successfully establishing your low-cost lending business in the student loan market for the first time by the end of the year 

When the strategic statement answers those two questions well, it should also be unambiguous in the ways we need for it to be a solid objective. In other words, it’s specific, qualitative, aspirational, inspirational, and time-boxed. Check and check? Then the strategic statement becomes your objective in your top-level OKRs. 

Photo by Dave Photoz on Unsplash

Identifying top-level key results

After answering the questions “Where will you play?” and “How will you win?” the next question you need to address is “How will you know you have won?” Your answers become your key results. 

Typically, with OKRs, key results should be rates or ratios (e.g. “Increase [behavior] by X%”), because rates and ratios give us a better sense of how we’re trending, quarter over quarter. 

The trick, though, is that in order to be able to measure a percentage increase or decrease in something, you need a baseline. You need to have some idea of where you’re starting and what percentage change would be substantially beneficial for your business. If you’re in the position of starting something new—creating a new product or, as in the case of our example, expanding into a totally new market—you don’t have the baseline numbers yet. Your baseline is zero. When that’s the case, your key results can start as absolute numbers. 

For our lending company, whose goal is to expand into a new market, the key results might look like this: 

Objective: Successfully expand our low-cost U.S. online lending practice into the student loan market by Q4 2023.

  • Key Result 1: Acquire 20,000 new student loan borrowers
  • Key Result 2: Generate $1M in revenue from the student loan service

After you’ve worked with these key results for a quarter or two and have a real baseline to operate from, you can set rates and percentages for your next OKRs. If you swung too high or too low on your original numbers, you can reset with more informed estimates. 

Once you (leadership) have finished setting the top-level, strategic OKRs for your organization, then every department and team can set their team-level OKRs, each one identifying how their work affects the targets in the key results and what they believe they should focus their own work on to support the strategic goals.