Dear Andy,

I’m a young entrepreneur and I want to learn how to be an effective manager and run a business with OKRs in mind. I’m currently testing OKRs at my startup, and I don’t want to do these the wrong way. I was wondering if employees should try to have all their work related to OKRs?

I was thinking there are three buckets of work for a team/contributor:

  • Chores: (1st type of work)
    Keep lights on, day-to-day, misc tasks.
  • Improvements: (2nd type of work)
    Tasks/projects/initiatives related to a team’s roadmap of what is definitely in the realm of possibility and things that need to be done.
  • Strategy: (3rd type of work) - OKRs
    Significant, concrete, action-oriented, inspirational type work. North Star of how the company can change for the better.

I was thinking that if the team struggles to complete the first two types of work, then there would be little time for OKRs. Conversely, if the first two types of work are satisfied, then the majority of work would be focused on OKRs for that quarter.

I could be way off base with my thinking here in terms of OKRs. Please let me know your thoughts.

Sincerely,
Michael

wm-dear-andy-spacer-question

Hi Michael!

Thanks for writing in. OKRs are a terrific tool for early-stage businesses, so good on you for laying foundations for success now!

You are right on track in your thinking. OKRs are for communicating high-impact, strategic priorities and not for tasks or incremental improvements. You’re right—for many teams, OKRs can feel like work on top of daily chores. This is why it’s important to establish the habit of prioritizing strategic objectives from the get go. You want this type of thinking and these practices ingrained early on, so OKRs don’t feel like “extra” work—they’re the work for growth.

To help combat the very natural urge to make OKRs look like a to-do list, consider following Allbirds’ lead. The New Zealand-based footwear company creates two separate lists: OKRs (which they call KIWIs) and their Breathe List. The latter are tasks crucial to the running of the company (e.g. paying their employees) and if they don’t do it, there’s no business. But they are not OKRs. Separating “Breathe” tasks from OKRs allows teams to make a clear distinction between “business as usual” and where the company needs to go next.

OKRs should capture your highest priority/the biggest hurdle you’re facing at the moment. For a brand new company, keeping the lights on is often priority number one, and it’s perfectly fine to have that reflected in your OKRs. However, keep OKRs pointed towards growth. Consider this example OKR from a new restaurant:

o
Run like a well-established and successful restaurant.
kr1
X in sales per month (x percentage from to-go and carry-out)
kr2
Labor kept below x weekly
kr3
100% pass on CDC safety inspections
kr4
40% return customers

I love this example because it highlights the immediate priorities of a young business without merely resorting to “business as usual.” Once your team has the basics down, it’s time to write new OKRs.

Well, Michael, I hope this has been helpful for you. Thanks for writing in, and best of luck to you on your OKR journey.

Sincerely,
Billy from the What Matters Team