How to set impactful business OKRs to achieve high performance

There’s a good reason why Google, Intel, LinkedIn, Airbnb and Spotify set business-level OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) and cascade these throughout the whole business. They provide a highly effective way to define and communicate common business goals, establish a clear direction of focus and effectively manage performance. Having business-level OKRs greatly increases the chances of achieving your desired business results as teams become aligned and engaged with business goals.

A CEO or MD usually sets business-level OKRs. They have a central vision for the business that addresses how they want the business to progress over the coming 12-month or 5-year period. At Reclaro, we use the award-winning 1-3-5® methodology as a framework to structure and cascade OKRs throughout various teams within a business. Essentially, this means each team and/or individual has a 1-3-5® plan, which is made up of 1 central vision, 3 objectives (these are the Objectives in OKRs), and 5 goals per objective, (these are the Key Results in OKRs). Check out our blog on OKR examples to help you get started to find out more about how this works in action.

So, to set truly impactful business-level OKRs, there are a few things to consider. First, you always start with your centralised vision. Your vision needs to be clear, positive and personal. Let’s look at what these mean in more detail:

Clear: You need to be 100% clear about what your vision for the business looks like to you. We find it best to think about what success looks like in your role as CEO for the next 12 months. Jack Canfield, co-author of The Success Principles: How to Get From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be, states:

Vague goals produce vague results.

It’s important to drill down specifically into what business results you want to achieve. Your vision should be about 5-6 sentences, which can be challenging in itself. Once you start to think about what a great year looks like, you can get carried away. You either a) overshoot things and try to achieve too much in a year, or b) go off on a tangent and start considering everything that you could achieve, rather than focusing on what you must achieve. At the start it is most importantly about having a tighter focus. One of my favourite sayings is:

In order to achieve more, you need to focus on less.

Positive: Once you are 100% clear about what you want to achieve in your business, it’s imperative to use ‘positive language’ to articulate this. Our brains have a real challenge trying to process negatives. If I ask you ‘NOT to think about a large pink rabbit,’ you’re probably thinking about exactly that! So, when you’re writing out your business vision, make sure you only think about what you want to achieve rather than what you don’t want. Write about what sort of business you’re leading, what sort of team will you have, what sort of customers will your business be serving, what pain will you help solve. Also, it is worth considering who you will help, be it your customers, shareholders or teams? Is it all 3 stakeholders? You can write this in your vision. As you write, keep an eye on the word count – you may need to be ruthless here. Mark Twain, one of the greatest authors of all time, once said:

I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one.

This certainly applies to your vision, it takes more time to ensure this is short and succinct, but it will definitely serve you better once finalised. Every single word in your vision needs to justify its place, no fluff, no filling, be concise.

Personal: Your vision needs to be personal to you and considered of great importance in your life. It should combine your ambitious nature with your immense drive and passion for what you do. This is not just a corporate exercise – it’s got to matter to you. If you’ve read the book Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill, then you’ll be familiar with his concept of having a ‘Burning Desire.’ Ideally, your vision is going to become your burning desire for the next 12 months. It’s a strong word, but you want to ‘aggressively’ pursue the completion of your vision.

Furthermore, your vision should be:

  • Written in the present tense, as if it has already been achieved

  • Concise, 5-6 sentences – if a word is not needed, remove it

  • Clear, Positive and Personal

  • Well practised - write it out a few times until you would rate it 8/9 out of 10

Check out our blog offering 8 steps to cascade your company vision effectively. Once you clarify your vision, it’s time to start thinking about your objectives. These are the main objectives that you must execute during the 12 month period (objectives and vision deadlines are always the same). To keep that tight focus, as mentioned earlier, and ensure they are memorable, we suggest having just 3 objectives, which is the 3 in a 1-3-5®. It’s better to have 3 highly focused objectives that you can fully execute, than 5 that are hanging. Remember:

In order to achieve more, you need to focus on less.

One of the main reasons people struggle to execute effectively is that they try to do too much and completely overwhelm their teams. They keep reinventing more and more objectives and their teams can’t keep up with what is absolutely mission-critical.

These objectives should be:

Core: You need to fully assess what is absolutely core/mission-critical to achieve your previously laid out business vision. If it’s not considered core or mission-critical, and it’s not moving you forward towards that vision, you should ask yourself 2 key questions:

​ 1) Should this be done?

​ 2) Should this be done by me?

We find a direct comparison between the execution cadence of a CEO and the amount of time they spend focusing on what is absolutely core to the business.

Inspiring and Engaging: Objectives should be motivating and specific enough to be correctly understood. As mentioned before, ‘vague goals produce vague results.’ For example, you don’t just want a ‘high-performance team,’ you want a ‘high-performance team that achieves remarkable results required to constantly raise the business profile within the industry.’ The objective should focus on the desired outcome to be delivered, for example instead of simply delivering the strategy, it’s better to specifically include what the strategic outcome is in terms of benefits to the business.

Written like they have been achieved: Similar to the idea of positive affirmations, writing objectives as if they have already been achieved can be very powerful and effective for the subconscious mind. As you regularly read through your objectives, they become affirmations, and your mind starts to believe they’ve been done. We feel there’s real power in this. For example, write your objective as follows: ‘I am leading an elite senior team of 5 highly competent team members that deliver our projected growth of 20% per year.’

Once you have created your clear, succinct vision that represents your burning desire, and you’ve decided on your 3 main objectives that are core, inspiring and engaging, and written the correct way, then you can move on to creating your goals.

Your goals are the Key Results in OKRs, by which you can measure how effective you are and how close you are to achieving your objectives and ultimately, your vision. To avoid overwhelm and maintain that tight focus, we recommend having no more than 5 goals (key results) per objective. These are the 5 in a 1-3-5®. This is exactly why many CEO’s and high growth businesses love our 1-3-5® OKR system.

These goals should be:

Stepping Stones: This is an effective way to consider the key tasks required to achieve each of your objectives. Establishing 5 measurable actions that need to be achieved provides the necessary stepping stones required to achieve each of the objectives. They help you focus on what you should be doing to move your dials and helps break things down to avoid overwhelm.

Action Orientated: These goals require action, ideas are great, but action is everything! We have to connect all this thinking and planning with personal action. This is where many CEOs and their teams struggle.

Outcome Focused: Each goal should be specific, measurable and time-bound, leading to a pre-defined outcome. Goals will clarify exactly what outcome is required and provide a clear way to assess if it’s been achieved or not.

If you struggle to set your goals effectively, check out our blog offering 10 goal setting tips including Warren Buffett’s key to success!

To sum up

There is a lot here to consider when creating your business-level OKRs. Using the 1-3-5® methodology really helps maintain structure around what’s important, as these key messages are cascaded throughout your organisation. As the CEO, once you cement your 1-3-5®, you can then begin the process with your senior leadership team and your management team. We offer 8 free 1-3-5® OKR Templates you can download instantly to help you get started.

Just imagine what your business execution will be like when your whole team is highly focused and working effectively towards your OKRs! You’ll be completely in sync and operating at peak performance towards achieving your business vision…. That’s where the magic happens!

Posted by Pete Wilkinson

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