The process of brainstorming Objectives for the Company or Team level helps you see your main issues and improvement opportunities clearly, and not mix them up with day-to-day operations.
In this article, we will cover the step-by-step process for writing good Objectives for the Company and Team levels.
How to write Company Objectives
To brainstorm Company Objectives, focus on big problematic areas that you can currently see.
Consider these two suggestions as starting points for your brainstorming session:
- If we have a lagging Key Performance Indicator (for example, “our website traffic has dropped from last quarter”), where does this problem come from? In other words, what is broken? What do we need to fix?
- If we are doing alright but we want to grow faster, what is the most impactful improvement area we can go after? Is it a new market? A new audience? A new service line? Upselling to current customers? Building relationships? Forming partnerships?
A Company Objective should be a quarterly improvement area that several teams would be working on.
It should be broad enough to invite the teams to brainstorm the most impactful Team Objectives, but also specific enough so that it is clear what the direction is.
- Find the product / market fit for the product ABC
- Become number one service provider in market ABC
- Add more competitive value to the platform to appeal to audience ABC
Before finalizing high-level Objectives, leadership should ask for feedback from the teams and clarify expectations in case something is not clear enough. Very often, leaders would need to define words like “value” or “success”, and explain what it looks like in their mind’s eye.
Learn more about outcome-based management style.
- An Objective is not a KPI target or an ambitious business metric of any kind. So “increase revenue by 300%” or “achieve 10,000 daily active users” are not good Objectives.
- An Objective is not a strategic pillar (like “employee engagement”, “customer focus”, “innovation”, etc.) or a category of business activities (like “growth” or “partnerships management”).
- An Objective is not a project that you already decided to deliver before you defined your OKRs. So “relaunch our app for Android”, “Update website”, or “Create a new marketing strategy” are not good enough.
- An Objective is not a sequence of big but empty words like “Let’s be the best in everything that we do”. That’s good for a speech but does nothing to focus your executional effort.
- And finally, an Objective is not a business-as-usual functional job responsibility, like “Ensure legal compliance” or “Support marketing team with quality design”.
Team OKRs will be driving the progress of Company level Objectives, serving as Company level KRs. This means that on the Company level, you do not need to write measurable Key Results. Because if you do, those KRs end up being high-level metrics that no team can directly impact.
If no team can drive a metric directly, this metric has no real owner.
When EVERYONE is responsible for it, NO ONE is owning it. And why would you need a bunch of KRs that no one is accountable for? (If a team does own driving a metric, then it’s probably not a Company KR but a Team’s KR).
High-level metrics are important to have and monitor but you should put them in their rightful place – in the bucket with all of your KPI targets.
💡KPIs should not mingle with OKRs because numbers are not problems to solve. Numbers are too abstract, they tend to scare good ideas away and block innovative potential from the discussion.
As Team OKRs will be driving the progress of a Company Objective, it is very important for every functional team to understand what the high-level Objective is.
How to brainstorm Team Objectives
Team Objectives are inspirational goals aligned with the overarching company direction.
They should give the team purpose, a sense of urgency, and focus. A team as a group of people working towards the same outcomes should be responsible for writing their collaborative OKRs.
Keep in mind that an Objective (within the Objectives and Key Results framework) is a qualitative statement that communicates either a problem that needs to be solved or a new opportunity that a team will go after.
This statement is directional and should not include any business metrics. All of the measurable outcomes that define the success or failure of an Objective should be written as Key Results. Hence, the name of the methodology – Objectives and Key Results.
Now let’s talk about brainstorming Team Objectives.
Brainstorming is often reduced to letting everyone speak their mind and exchange ideas with no restrictions. These are the meetings that last for hours, very often bringing no practical value in the end.
To tap into the collective intelligence of your group, it would be useful to introduce some restrictions to the ideation process. Creativity asks for restrictions because, evolutionary speaking, our brain works better when it’s challenged with overcoming obstacles. Restrictions force us to think harder and think better.
So before scheduling a brainstorming meeting, structure your teams’ thought process and ask them to answer these questions:
The answers to these questions would present good ideas for your Objectives that could be further discussed and recorded in a shared document for later review and feedback.
When the answers are thought through and added to the shared document, allow a week for reading each other’s thoughts, give feedback, and hold 1:1 discussions.
When the most shared concerns are clear and particular Objectives are upvoted by most of the team, you can finally schedule a brainstorming meeting with a clear purpose: to come up with Key Results and Initiatives (action plans) for execution.
There should be no more than 3 Objectives per team. In a perfect world, we would say, there should only be one Objective per functional team. But for that, you need a black belt in prioritization skills.
If your Objective is defined as a problem statement, and your Key Results are written as measurable outcomes connected to the business value, there is no way in the world your team can manage to achieve more than 3 OKRs.
If you have 50 Objectives, you don’t have any, you just have tasks that might be grouped by categories based on the problem they are solving. And solving that problem would be your actual Objective.
So how should you prioritize? Everyone has their own tricks but one of the most popular ones is evaluating each idea you have with the ICE score.
ICE stands for Impact, Confidence, and Ease.
First, you put all ideas in front of you (virtual or real whiteboards, shared documents would do).
Then, you ask everyone to rate these ideas on a scale from 1 to 5 considering Impact on revenue or growth (1 being low, 5 being high), Confidence that this impact would actually happen and isn’t too hypothetical (1 – low, 5 – high), and Ease of execution (1 being extremely hard, 5 being very easy). Finally, you calculate averages, and whichever idea has the highest score wins.
Examples of good and bad Team Objectives
Let’s contrast and compare some good and bad examples of Team Objectives to learn how to write good ones.
Bad Objective: Launch marketing campaign
Why is it bad: it’s a project, a deliverable, and its purpose is not clear
How to improve it: Ask “what are we doing this for?”. What are we trying to impact with this campaign?
Decent Objective: Improve our digital presence to attract younger audiences
Notice how the first part of the Objective (“Improve our digital presence”) suggests a general improvement area, and the second part of the Objective (“to attract younger audiences”) explains why you are doing it in the first place.
Bad Objective: Implement feedback
Why is it bad: it’s vague and more likely a project, a deliverable, and can mean anything
How to improve it: define what every word really means. What is this feedback supposed to solve? And why is it important to implement?
Decent Objective: Adjust internal workflow to respond faster to customer needs
In this example, the focus area is improving internal processes but the reason behind it is to impact customer satisfaction.
Bad Objective: Acquisition of customers
Why is it bad: there is no active verb and no “what are we trying to achieve” statement
How to improve it: change it to a “problem statement”. What are you trying to fix? What is the real reason why this is so important right now?
Decent Objective: Improve sales demo quality to ensure recurring purchases and long-term relationships with customers
This might be, actually, too long of a sentence, and you might want to put some parts of this information in the comment section under the Objective. But it’s a decent Objective because it tells you both the focus area, and why it is important.
Bad Objective: Achieve 50% increase in MRR
Why is it bad: it’s a performance target you want to achieve but it does not suggest how you are going to get there.
How to improve it: ask “how are we going to get there?”. What do we need to fix or improve? Do we need to try something that we haven’t tried before?
Decent Objective: Expand our services to offer more value to enterprise clients
Here, the focus is enterprise clients so whatever we define as “value” for this audience would be the central focus of our attention.
So your Team Objectives should be connected to a bigger picture and focused exclusively on the things that could have the biggest impact right now, and everything else should wait. When everything is a priority, nothing is.
Not everything you do for your business should be considered an OKR. OKRs cover the areas you need to improve: from the ways you work (internal processes) to the ways you think about growth opportunities.
Whenever you feel like there are a billion improvements you absolutely have to implement, remember that in the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few. So keep your eyes on the prize, and don’t give in to distractions.
Good Objectives unite teams, create long-term improvement habits, and put you on a rocket ship to success.
If you’d like to learn more about Objectives, we encourage you to read the article about aspirational versus committed Objectives.
If you are clear on the topic, go on to learn how to write measurable outcome-focused Key Results.