Dear Andy,

I run a small performing arts space where I’m considering adopting OKRs. We all come from an arts background, and I have concerns about introducing them to my team, as we are allergic to business jargon. Many of my team worry that we’re “selling out” when finances come up. Most of our goal-setting conversations revolve around big picture ideas, like societal impact rather than things like profit margins, etc. I know OKRs are all about definitive measurements — can they be applied to something subjective like the arts?


We're sharing reader questions, answered by the team. Named in the honor of Andy Grove, the creator of OKRs.

Hi Juan!

Thanks for writing in and for your terrific question.

It’s a common misconception that OKRs can only be applied to tech or business. We often compare writing a meaningful Objective to writing a good haiku: short, sweet, and “packs a punch.” So your team of artists may be better suited to OKRs than they think!

The best Objectives focus on ambitious and, ideally, groundbreaking ideas; and aligning with societal impact is part of the OKR philosophy, whether your goals are commercially driven or not. The thing is, every lofty goal advances in phases. OKRs can help your artistically minded team translate each phase into action. To “change the world” — where do you start? How would you know you’d made an impact? Does your team all agree on how to do it? OKRs can help teams of all kinds turn purpose into reality — goal by goal.

You say your team is allergic to “business speak,” so let’s separate the business from the jargon. Business first. Every organization needs a way to sustain itself financially. Instead of looking at the business side of things as “selling out,” why not embrace it as a key component of your larger ambitions? To impact society, you need the financial means to do it. And that will cause the team to examine tough choices. Is it a better strategy this year to cultivate more season ticket holders or to attract a brand new audience for the first time? Say you want to feature new programming — is that easier if more of your funding comes from donations? Or are grants a better way to expand? Think of OKRs as a way to bridge profit and purpose — the next goal that gets you closer to your larger mission.

As for the jargon, we don’t like it either! The best OKRs use everyday language, and companies like Snapchat, Netflix and even Bono’s ONE Foundation all know this. So take that business jargon your team feels uncomfortable with and try to say it more succinctly and more simply. Wasn’t it Shakespeare who said, “Brevity is the soul of wit?”

For example, to grow as an organization, say you decide you need to generate 50k new subscribers, reach $1M in donations, and renew 20% of relapsed season ticket holders. Sure those are all “business-ey” terms, but what do they add up to? What will those numbers help you accomplish? How about “Gain financial independence within 5 years” and “Grow from a neighborhood organization to a regional one.” There you go! Purpose driven Objectives that even the most anti-jargon team members can get behind.

Spelled out as an OKR, it could look something like:

Gain financial independence
50k new subscribers below age 60
$1M from recently lapsed donors coming back
80% of ticket sales are full price (vs. discounted)
Grow from a neighborhood organization to a regional one
Receive the highest number of nominations for regional awards
Increase out of town ticket sales by 50%
Positive reviews of our work published in ten high-value publications
Sell out 30% of our shows within two days

Thanks for writing in, Juan, and best of luck to you on your OKR journey.


Billy from the What Matters Team

P.S. We’ve had some previous Dear Andys talking to theater producers, writers, and storytellers, I think you’ll find them helpful :)