Defining company-wide priorities is the first step in any successful OKR practice. Learn here the importance of writing an engaging Objective, how to differentiate Key Results from a to-do list, and see examples of company-wide OKRs.

Company-wide Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) help align teams, ensuring all members are working toward the same goals. They provide clarity throughout a whole organization to reveal a company’s most important and current priorities.

That might sound like a simple task, but according to Aaron Levie, CEO and founder of the enterprise cloud company Box, “At any given time, some significant percentage of people are working on the wrong things. The challenge is knowing which ones.”

Even those at the top aren’t immune to misalignment. Only one-third of 11,000 senior executives and managers could list their company’s top three priorities, revealed a 2015 survey conducted by the MIT Sloan School of Management and the London Business School. That’s a huge problem. A company can be tugged in too many separate directions over time as departments and employees make decisions without clearly set priorities.

This is all preventable. By defining company-wide OKRs, your whole organization is collectively committing to the same Objectives. As OKRs cascade down an organization, departments, teams, and individuals become accountable for ensuring specific Key Results are completed. However, by committing to the same goals, everyone in the organization becomes responsible for supporting each other in order to accomplish them. Following the OKR process leads to increased employee engagement.

A company-wide OKR pulls everyone in the same direction, serving as your team’s North Star.

Well-crafted company-wide OKRs are simple but pack a punch

They are short and sweet but filled with meaning — like a good haiku. Again, this can be harder than it sounds. Even our What Matters team’s first attempts at drafting company-wide OKRs weren’t perfect. We had separate OKRs covering everything we needed to accomplish.

Here are some examples of our first attempts to craft Objectives:

  • O: To get into a rhythm of creating different content types suitable for each platform and audience types
  • O: Have distribution channels ready and firing
  • O: Execute media outreach plan for key audiences

What Matters’ co-founder, Ryan Panchadsaram, reminded us that OKRs don’t have to encompass everything, just the most important. He pointed out that what we were really trying to accomplish was to create engaging content that helps leaders reach their goals and to operate like a top-tier media company. Those have now become our guiding company-level Objectives.

Top-level OKRs provide a direction for the company, while empowering individual teams and employees to figure out the best way to get there.

How are they different from to-do lists?

The difference is in the Key Results — the secret sauce of the OKR system. Each Objective is completed as measured by a few KRs. Determining these KRs forces an organization to articulate what metrics it will use to measure progress on its Objectives.

In the case of What Matters, our KRs let us know whether we are truly inspiring leaders and are operating like a top-tier media company. They include benchmarks on how much content we produce in a week, the number of newsletter subscribers, and how many followers we have on social media.

Key Results are versatile and can be both quantitative and qualitative, providing precision and quality assurance. It’s vital to recognize that the metrics you use can have ripple effects. For example, in 2012, YouTube decided to switch its focus from tracking views to tracking watch time. The reason being that longer watch times were a better indicator than more views that users were happy. As they updated the website and its algorithms with this new focus on watch time, daily view numbers went up as well. Whereas, a focus on views could have likely had an opposite effect on watch time.

OKRs are also regularly updated — usually every quarter — letting employees know if and how a company’s Objectives have changed over time.

OKRs require your organization to be more mindful of how it will reach its Objectives. Ultimately, this removes any confusion surrounding priorities and what success means for your company.

Company-wide OKR examples

This first example from Zume, an automated pizza delivery food truck startup, demonstrates that OKRs can be simple and straightforward. Notice how it clearly lays out what metrics need to be met to reach the stated Objective.

Delight customers.
Net Promoter Score of 42 or better.
Order Rating of 4.6/5.0 or better.
75% of customers prefer Zume to competitor in blind taste test.

The following example comes from Coursera, an online learning platform that specializes in higher education. Their mission is to build a “world where anyone, anywhere can transform their lives by accessing the world’s best learning experience.” This OKR makes explicit that one of their priorities is to attract new students and that their enrollment and course progression should work toward that goal.

Extend Coursera’s reach to new students.
Perform A/B tests, learn, and iterate on ways to acquire new students and engage existing students.
Increase mobile monthly active users (MAU) to 150k.
Create internal tools to track key growth metrics.
Launch features to enable instructors to create more engaging videos.

This next example is from Intel’s “Operation Crush,” an internal campaign that was executed to address rising competition from Motorola in the eighties, a battle Intel won. It shows how a well-drafted OKR can provide clarity during moments of crisis.

Establish the 8086 as the highest-performance 16-bit microprocesor family.
Develop and publish five benchmarks showing superior 8086 family performance.
Repackage the entire 8086 family of products.
Get 8MHz part into production.
Sample the arithmetic coprocessor no later than June 15.

Where can I get more information?

OKRs are a powerful system that steers your whole organization in the same direction. Learn more about OKRs by reading Measure What Matters or exploring our FAQs, stories, and resources.

Or, if you are looking for an OKR coach, check this out.

If you’re interested in starting our OKRs 101 course, click here.