Writing Good Objectives

How do you write a good Objective for your OKRs?

Before writing an OKR you need a good understanding of what you want to fix, create or improve and why this matters. Writing a good Objective starts from having a good understanding of what OKRs are used for. The OKR methodology is used to tackle quarterly challenges or go after new opportunities in order to grow and succeed as a team or a company.   

Objectives are inspirational and ambitious goals that should give the team direction and focus. 

First focus on understanding what your team needs to achieve. Try to write it out as descriptive as possible. Once you are clear about the focus area, you can phrase your Objective as a short inspirational statement.  

Think of the potential focus areas for this quarter and ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What problems or challenges do we need to solve? How do we solve them?
  2. What is stopping us? How can we overcome it?
  3. What could be changed for us to have better results as a team?
  4. What could we achieve in one quarter?

Remember, Objectives are not projects, and not everything you do in your organization will be directed towards achieving an Objective. On average, teams spent only 20-40% of their time working towards ambitious Objectives. The rest of the time they need to deal with business-as-usual, recurring tasks and things that just need to get done. 

Business-as-usual keeps us where we are but OKRs are meant to drive the company forward. 

To not scatter your focus, you should stick to 1-3 quarterly Objectives per team. More than that and you will lose focus and people won’t see the benefits of the OKR methodology.

After you have picked what are the focus areas for the quarter, you can move onto phrasing an inspirational Objective for your team. 

Here are some key tips to keep in mind when you are writing down the Objectives: 

Objectives should be inspirational and easy to remember

If people do not know or can’t remember the Objectives or team has, it’s also quite hard to make sure that they are working towards achieving them. When you are writing an Objective, start with a verb. Do not just write “customer loyalty”. Instead, start with improve, create, increase, maximize, grow, build, leverage, etc. Frame an Objective in positive language (do more of this rather than reducing something). It’s human psychology to aspire to growth rather than cutting back on something.

Don’t be lazy and add Objectives like:

“Reduce the production costs to earn more profit”.

Doesn’t sound inspiring, does it?!

Objectives should be qualitative 

… which means they should not have a measurable target in them. If you put the number into your Objective, people might start listing activities as their Key Results. It just guides their thinking in the wrong direction. All the measurements belong to Key Results. You can add numbers if it’s just there for inspiration, e.g. Become the number 1 SaaS company in Germany. 

Objectives should be actionable and achievable in a quarter

Sounds easy but it’s actually common to set goals that are too broad and not actionable by the teams independently. 

For example, “Reduce churn” might be an important goal for a Sales Team but it is not a good quarterly Objective – it is not specific and not actionable. First, it’s almost impossible to make such a big impact in just one quarter. Second, the churn is a summary of many contributing factors. It’s the question of marketing bringing in enough quality leads, it’s about the product being in demand and keeping customers satisfied and it is also about the current economic situation affecting the business. Sales team plays its own role in reducing churn and they should set goals that would focus on what the team can actually improve and influence from their side.   

Objectives should provide business value

Objectives focus on problems to solve, areas to improve or new opportunities to take. If an Objective is achieved, it should bring positive business value. E.g. “New marketing plan” is not an Objective because it is not connected to real business value. Why did we need a new plan in the first place and what is it supposed to achieve? Instead, to demonstrate real value, the Objective could be to “Improve our brand awareness”: then more people know about our brand,  it brings value to the business. So do not confuse what you do (activity) with where you want to go (Objective).

Read here more about how to set good Objectives.

It is also important to consider what Objectives should not be

Objectives should not be easy.

If you are starting out with OKRs, achieving 100% of your Objective in 3 months is pretty common. It will help to support team morale and motivate people to set more ambitious goals next quarter.

If an Objective is achieved well before the end of the quarter you weren’t thinking big enough. And if you don’t reach anywhere near that, you may have set an annual goal instead.

When you become more comfortable with OKRs, you will want to make them more ambitious. When you hit 65-70% of an ambitious goal, it is still quite an accomplishment! This is why you should expect to only achieve 2/3rds of your Objective in a quarter.

That being said, you want to make sure that 2/3rds don’t become the new 100% for your team! Everyone should always aim to achieve 100% of their Objective by coming up with new ways to produce better results.

Objectives are not projects with sub-tasks.

Objectives are aspirational goals. They are not one-off activitiesthath would be considered as tasks or plans.

So if we wanted to write an Objective for a sales team to increase the  revenue in Q3, a good focus area  could be to:

Increase product reach in Germany 

This Objective works, since it’s aspirational, time bound (Q3), and helps move the sales team forward.

An example of a bad Objective would be:

Write a product marketing plan for Germany

This is a bad Objective as it is not telling us what we are trying to achieve with this new marketing plan, nor is it telling us what is the actual business value behind it. When you are writing an Objective, think about the reason and desirable value behind achieving things. 

Objectives are not your business-as-usual targets

Achieve $2 mln in revenue is not a good Objective. It doesn’t set any kind of focus, neither for the company nor for the teams. It’s not surprising that you want to make money – every company does. Those targets are important but they are KPIs, not OKRs. Both of those methods are serving their own purposes but mixing them brings no benefits.  There’s no point in setting bad OKRs which are just your targets rephrased in another way that carry over quarter to quarter without any improvement. Learn more about the difference between OKRs and KPIs here or watch this video below.

You can see more examples of Objectives for your given field at okrexamples.co. To play around with defining OKRs, sign up for free at Weekdone.

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