Delivering a great customer experience requires vision, clear goals and alignment for how to get there. Here we share tips and what we’ve learned when implementing this within larger organisations.

How to implement OKRs in larger organisations: A step-by-step guide

Delivering a great customer experience requires vision, clear goals and alignment for how to get there. Here we share tips and what we’ve learned when implementing this within larger organisations.

Alastair Bowers
Managing Partner, Co-Founder

Building a goals framework. Why bother?

So often objectives can be assumed rather than explicit. The main danger with this is how it can create misalignment of efforts towards a common goal. However, that lack of clarity can also lead to numerous other downsides such as poor decision making, low-impact outcomes and low productivity.
In larger teams and organisations, these symptoms can be even more pronounced. At Pattrn, we have extensive experience helping global clients navigate and implement these frameworks in order to more effectively align their customer experience programmes with their core business strategy.

In this article, we aim to discuss our learnings and the approach we’ve taken to implement this with the most success across complex, multinational teams.

We facilitate this exercise at the start of every programme in order to:
  • Give teams a clear and shared view of where they are heading and why.
  • Align all projects and initiatives towards a shared purpose.
  • Help teams measure their progress in order to refine or pivot with more confidence.
  • Steer the inevitable need for prioritisation (no team can do everything at once!)
  • ‘Move the needle’ rather than just hit a metric.
Overhead view, of abstract composition showing 3D spheres made up of concentric layers resembling targets.

What are OKRs & why are they useful?

OKRs are a simple and clear framework for tracking the success of a product / experience. They are made up of an ‘Objective’ and a set of measurable ‘Key Results’ as well as ‘Initiatives’ that are tasks that will help the objective be achieved.

OKRs were introduced by Andy Grove at Intel in the 80’s as a means of aligning Intel's core business strategy with the goals of teams and even individuals across the business. They have since been popularised by Google and many other firms, but we’ve often found that it can be a big shift for some organisations that are used to their legacy methods of channel specific goal setting.

We can all get so drawn in our day-to-day activities that I would question how many people really can recite the precise objectives of their organisations. We’ve found that using the OKR framework is a great way to make sure everyone is working together towards a common goal. It’s a simple but powerful tool for aligning teams and giving your work purpose.

Constructing an OKR framework

In this section we’ll unpack each of the key components to the OKR framework and a guide for each area. There are also some small Pattrn ‘hacks’ that we’ve used to make the system easier for clients to adopt. Throughout we’ll provide some examples of each element using a fictional investment platform.
A solid purple dot with next to four coloured hemispheres which appear to be growing in scale.
Part 1 – Why are we here?

Vision statement

The ‘Vision’ is a future-facing, inspiring and memorable articulation of the aspiration of the company. It should speak to the type of results or impact a company is looking to have (future) and be a point of reference for those within the organisation.
Don’t confuse a ‘vision’ with a ‘mission statement’ – the latter communicates what a company means to those outside of it and is more focussed on today rather than the future.
“Connect the world's professionals to make them more productive and successful”. Sound familiar?

“To make moving money around the world cheap, fair and simple” - Wise (formally TransferWise).

“To help the world invest in a green and socially responsible future”
Ensure that the vision statement is aspirational, memorable and can provide a compass to those inside the organisation.
A solid purple dot appearing to fall into place at the centre of four concentric rings
Part 2 – What do we need to achieve?

Organisation Targets

The organisation targets should bring to life the tangible short / medium term results that are aligned with the vision and will help measure progress towards it.
When objectives are set with the vision in mind, they help to create alignment across the organisation and ensure that everyone is working towards a common purpose.
'Achieve a 15% increase in assets under management by the close of Q4'
Make sure your teams fully understand the targets, including what they mean, why they are important, and how they apply to your day-to-day.  

If company strategy changes, ensure that any change in targets are cascaded down and subsequent goals and OKRs are adjusted accordingly.
A solid purple dot at the centre of four concentric shapes with an additional layer being added on from one side.
Part 3 – Making it relevant

Business Goals

This is an optional layer. Many organisations have multiple entities, portfolios, sub-brands or business units at this level. We introduced this as an additional layer prior to the OKRs in order to give teams a way of defining their own tailored goals that can still connect them to the overall company vision.
Business Goals should be a tangible description of the things the specific business unit / area expects to achieve in order to realise the company vision. They should be aspirational and ‘stretch’ meaning people should move people beyond the current status quo. Aligning key stakeholders on the Business Goals is critical.

We often hear people mistake ‘requirements’ for ‘goals’. The important thing about this process is that it helps people move from ‘what I think I need’ (requirements) to ‘why I need this’ (goals). It's an opportunity to engage the organisation in a strategic discussion and ask ‘why’.
'Appeal to new, younger audiences and raise awareness of sustainable investing and the long-term benefits it can bring'
Get a cross disciplinary perspective by workshopping the Business Goals with a diverse group of stakeholders. Roadshow the findings to gain consensus and ensure they will positively affect the company vision.  

Keep it aspirational. Ensure the Business Goals go beyond the day-to-day activities and provide a clear aim for everyone - save the details for the OKRs.
Abstract composition showing four 3D spheres varying from 100% to 25% completeness.
Part 4 – Giving it focus


Now let’s break down the OKRs (objectives & key results) and also the ‘Initiatives’ as an equally important aspect of the OKRs framework. At this level, different groups can (and should) have their own OKRs providing they don’t cross or conflict.
For example, a team in charge of ‘engagement’ can have one set of OKRs and a team in charge of ‘conversion’ might also have their own that all should ladder up to the aforementioned Business Goals. Even where there’s a multi-agency / consultancy environment you can also charge each with their own OKRs can in turn relate and support each other.
A diagram showing how multiple Group OKRs can come from a single set of Business Goals. There is a note to ‘Check for conflict or crossover‘ between the Group OKR’s
A diagram showing how multiple Group OKRs can come from a single set of Business Goals. There is a note to ‘Check for conflict or crossover‘ between the Group OKR’s
An abstract ball in a 3D maze

Objectives (O)

A clear and well written set of Objectives will help the teams make decisions and also inform their prioritisation process. The Objectives also provide a snapshot view stakeholders and sponsors.

Objectives must then be prioritised with a focus on no more than five (not all goals are equal). In its purest sense, you should also have one single Objective to which everything else is subservient (see more information below on ‘One metric that matters’).
'Launch a series of cross-platform interactive educational modules by the end of Q1'
Should be a short, clear and simple statement of what we are trying to achieve / accomplish.

Should aim for change instead of just maintaining the status quo.

They should be a stretch, but also should be achievable.

There should be no more than 3 to 5 objectives in focus for a given period.

Key Results (KR)

Key Results are the outcomes that show that you are progressing towards the Objective itself. They’re a clear way of tracking progress and seeing what's working and what's not. Each KR should have a target metric, a timeline, and a specific owner who is responsible for it.
'Increase the number of individual investors allocating at least 50% of their portfolio to ESG investments by 15% October'
Ensure that the Key Results allow you to make decisions.

Ask yourself “if I have this information what will it help me do?”    

Outline 2-5 KRs within each Objective.

They should be specific.

They should be time bound.

KRs should evolve as the work progresses.

Initiatives / Tasks

Part of this framework that we love is the Initiatives part. Whilst the OKR remains constant, the Initiatives give the team the flexibility, agility and autonomy to see how they best achieve the Objectives. They can define the experiments or jobs they need to do in order to make the Objective a reality.
'Design and test some low-fi concepts for educational resources and tools and evaluate to get user feedback within three months'
Initiatives should be specific and clearly defined. Don't be vague.

Assign ownership of each initiative to a person or group and set deadlines to ensure accountability.

Identify any resources required to complete each initiative - budget, people, tools etc.

Bringing it all together - an example

Example Vision
To empower the world to invest in a green and socially responsible future.
Example Organisation Target
Achieve a 15% increase in assets under management by the close of Q4.
Example Business Goal
Appeal to new, younger audiences and raise awareness of sustainable investing and its benefits.
Example OKR
Launch of series of cross-platform educational modules by the end of Q1.
Key Results:
  • Publish six high-quality pieces of content (written / video) on sustainable investing topics from March onwards.
  • Host two virtual webinars targeting the younger demographic on sustainable investing and its impact by May.
  • Increase the number of individual investors allocating at least 50% of their portfolio to ESG investments by 15% October.
  • Increase website traffic from the target demographic (age 18 - 35) by 30% by May.
  • Sign up six thought leaders / experts by February so we can start to publish valuable and insightful articles.
  • Design and test some low-fi concepts for educational resources and tools and evaluate to get user feedback within three months.
  • Launch a series of cross-platform interactive educational modules within four months.
Abstract composition showing a solid purple dot orbiting a large sphere.

The ‘one metric that matters’

The ‘one metric that matters’ concept suggests identifying and focusing on one key metric above all others, as outlined in Lean Analytics by Ben Yoskovitz.
Whilst there are many benefits to this approach, not least providing a laser focus for your team, it can also lead to overlooking other important opportunities that could positively impact a company's objectives. At the product/project level, you should absolutely keep the OKRs to a minimum, but it's important to be aware of potential wins in other areas when adopting the OMTM concept.
Two quadrants of two abstract spheres appearing to merge into one.

Business objectives vs. user needs. A juxtaposition?

This is a great question that comes up a lot in our work. Should all business objectives not be about the user / customer?
First and foremost, a business has to understand the jobs and pain points of its customers in order to create the greatest value for them so they will ultimately hire your product / service. Naturally, most OKRs will ladder up to a notion of creating more value for customers and / or avoiding churn (by ‘increasing retention’ you probably have to find a better way of serving a customer need).
Where a warranted business objective might come into play here is where the business knows that it needs to do something in order to address a strategic / operational improvement or requirement. This might be around ‘moving x% of customers from the customer service channel into our online customer portal’. This customer probably doesn’t care as their job is still ‘getting done’ in the current paradigm, but the business knows this is going to reduce overheads by 15% and it has to do that for long term security. Ultimately this still comes back to the point about prioritisation. Not all OKRs are equal and the stakeholders will have to prioritise some over others.

In conclusion

OKRs provide teams of all shapes, sizes and scales an invaluable way of aligning efforts and working towards a common and shared destination. It's worth the hard yards and debate in order to get there and avoid the risk of poor decision-making and poor results.

Here's a recap on some of our top tips:
We regularly host workshops in order to help organisations ensure they have a clear and functioning goals and OKRs framework. Get in touch below to learn more about how we can help you.
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