Developing an Objective and Key Results plan, otherwise known as an OKR, is a well-accepted trend in bigger corporations but hasn’t caught on nearly as fiercely in the small business world. OKR plans are a lean and direct way to keep your business goals front and center, something that small businesses ought to do more. The 4th Annual Staples National Small Business Survey found that more than 80% of small business owners don’t keep track of their business goals. The same survey found that 77% of those same small business owners had yet to achieve their original vision for their small business. Any business owner knows that it isn’t enough just to want to grow your business. Growth comes with concrete plans and one of the best ways to develop those plans is with OKRs.
Elements of an OKR Plan
OKRs are metrics that encourage growth through alignment. The best OKRs probe at a business’s weak points and focus on them relentlessly.
Objectives: Your OKR’s “O” needs to be a concise but targeted plan of attack. Beyond general growth, what does your business want to do or become? Talk with your staff and do some introspection yourself about what you’d like to see change in your business five, or ten years down the line. The best “O”s are snappy phrases like “Maximize Digital Sales” or “Revamp the Customer Experience.”
Key Results: Key results must be tangible changes you hope to achieve because of your new objective. In the case of the “Maximize Digital Sales” objective, some useful “KRs” could be: “Increase Sales from Company Website 30% Compared to Previous Year;” “Overhaul Website Appearance by the beginning of Q4;” or “Decrease Digital Storefront Bounce Rate by 30%.” As you can see, Key Results must be bound by a deadline and/or quantity. Without those measurements or deadlines, OKRs become a wish list rather than a company credo for growth. It’s much more manageable (and tangible) to increase sales by 30% rather than just generally increase sales.
Why Use OKRs?
Well-developed and pointed OKRs have the power to inspire and empower a workforce to make seemingly insurmountable change in your business. OKRs are a great exercise in, and means to normalize, talking about the future of your business. As inevitable as the future may be, talking about the distant future isn’t necessarily a common practice in small businesses. It’s enough work balancing each quarter; talking about five or even ten years is a luxury for many small businesses. By breaking down your major goals into smaller, manageable, and calculable OKRs, your business is actually setting itself up for major growth – maybe even growth you didn’t think was possible.
Building Better OKRs
Genuinely Share Plans with All Employees
OKRs aren’t meant to be presented to employees. OKRs should be developed alongside all staff members, as they’ll be just as responsible for making your plans produce results. Consider setting aside time for a series of meetings introducing what OKRs are and then asking employees to bring their own ideas into consideration. After your team puts together a meaningful OKR plan, set aside a regular time for meetings specifically discussing OKRs. These plans shouldn’t exist in the background. The only way OKRs can lead to actual growth is if your team is aligned and actively engaged with their goals.
Failure Isn’t Failure
Even if an OKR doesn’t hit its mark, learning how to post-mortem a missed OKR is another great way to realign your staff. A missed OKR is almost just as valuable as those reached because you can efficiently dissect exactly what didn’t work. Use the information learned from misses to inform future ORKs.
Failed OKRs cannot lead to retaliation in any capacity. By tying OKRs to retaliation, staff may grow to resent their plans. Don’t let OKRs become a source of employee stress. This is obviously easier said than done, but an important step to getting your employees onboard with OKRs is proving that the plans won’t be used against them.
Never Discuss OKRs in Performance Reviews
If your business does regular performance reviews, treat them as a separate entity from your Objective and Key Results. The quickest way to turn your employees against their OKRs are to, in even a tangential way, tie those results to compensation.
OKRs should encourage increased productivity and results, but full completion ought not be a certainty. The best OKRs are on the cusp of what is possible for a business and force employees and management to get creative to find solutions. Not every OKR will be a raving success and that needs to be part of the growth process as well. If employees are afraid failed OKRs will affect their compensation-determining performance reviews, they will grow to resent the goals that should inspire them.
OKRs Shouldn’t Add to Employee Load
OKRs aren’t meant to be new responsibilities or bullet points for employee job descriptions. Your Objectives and Key Results ought to encourage your team to do their same work but in the direction of your OKRs. Everything employees already do should be in some capacity already serving the overarching OKR meant to overhaul your business’s output. If OKRs are getting in the way of an employee’s work, something is likely wrong with the OKR or its implementation in the business.
Transparency Breeds Productivity
A beautiful byproduct of effective OKRs is transparency between staff and management. If management and staff are all working toward the same central goal, teams are more likely to be on the same page rather than silo themselves. Beyond your regular OKR meetings, consider making a public spreadsheet that clearly shows how close you and your team are to achieving your OKR’s goals.
Make sure communication lines are clean and clear, going from manager to employee and employee to manager. If OKRs are chosen for employees instead of letting employees develop them alongside management, those OKRs will uniformly be less effective than ones developed with employee input.
No Business is Too Small for OKRs
The ultimate goal of Objective and Key Result plans is to foster sustainable growth in your business. While corporate giants may have popularized OKRs, the results of OKRs will be beneficial to businesses of any size. The philosophy behind OKRs is to align staff and management to a goal that is only achievable through alignment, transparency, and continuous hard work; and that’s what small businesses are known for.