/dev/journal: It’s that time of year again where everybody is focused on planning, goal-setting, and gearing up to execute on the strategy we’ve been working on. This can be high-level organisational goals, team-goals, or even your own, personal goals (New Year’s Resolutions, anyone?).

The management-tool du jour for this appears to be Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), often supported by Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). The current flavour of OKRs mostly grew out of their use at Google, and you can read more about their specific approach here. (For contrast, and for historical perspective, it might also be worth mentioning the pre-cursor to OKRs, “Management By Objectives” (MBOs), as introduced by Peter Drucker in 1954.)

Whatever framework you pick for expressing your goals, it’s always worth spending some time making sure you’re measuring what matters.

Measure What Matters

It’s tempting (seductive, even) to express aims and goals in terms of what’s measurable, and the easier it is to measure something, the more likely it is that it will somehow become a goal. But just because something is measurable, or being measured, that doesn’t necessary mean it matters.

One of the most common mistakes I’ve seen when it comes to OKRs and KPIs is an over-reliance of measuring output rather than outcomes. Outputs are usually easier to measure, but outcomes usually make for more meaningful goals.

For example: It’s easy (-ish) to measure the output of this post. I can count impressions (via analytics), or engagement (via reactions on Twitter or LinkedIn). But a more interesting outcome-based metric would be to mine that engagement-data for sentiment and to try to understand how many people are considering changing their goal-setting or measurements-framework after reading it.

Outcomes over Outputs

If you’re in an OKRs + KPIs framework, one way to approach this is to try to make your OKRs be outcome focused, supported by output focused KPIs.

Continuing our example from above: I might create a KPI for myself to get a certain number of impressions on this post. That’s a very fine-grained measurement, so if I’m setting longer-term goals, I might create additional KPIs for publishing a certain number of posts this year, and/or getting a certain number of impressions in total.

I can then dashboard my key performance indicators to keep track of how I’m performing against those goals on a daily/weekly/monthly basis.

But that’s just tracking output. I should then create an OKR expressed in terms of the outcome I’m aiming for. Perhaps I might review engagement metrics, follow up with specific members of my audience to understand how their approaches are changing in part due to my output (“qualitative” feedback), or maybe do a survey to measure how many people say they’ve changed their approach based on something I’ve written (“quantitative” feedback).

This is much harder to measure, and takes more effort, so I’ll certainly not be doing it on a daily basis, but I might consider doing something every quarter to keep tabs on it. And maybe start identifying trends between my KPIs and my OKRs so that my dashboard (KPIs) can alert me early if it seems likely that I’ll need to put more effort into meeting my long-term goals (OKRs).

Reframing Displaced Objectives

Once you’ve figured out how to measure what matters, and turned your focus from output to outcomes, the final piece of goal-setting is reframing your outcomes in a way that gives you agency over the outcome. This means expressing the goal in terms of measurements you have (at least some) control over.

The best example I’ve seen of this is an aspiring author-friend who originally had a goal of “PUBLISH A BOOK”. This is a displaced objective: the decision to publish a manuscript lies with the publisher (and/or agent), not with the aspiring author.

Reframing this objective to “RECEIVE 100 REJECTION-LETTERS” puts control back in our aspiring authors’ hands. In order to receive 100 rejection-letters, they’ll need to send out (at least) 100 proposals, chase them up for responses, interact with agents and publishers, etc. All of which is likely to contribute to progress as an author - increased name-awareness, feedback and proposed edits, and increased familiarity with the publishing process in general.

Other Examples

Over to you - do you have examples of output-based goals or objectives that would benefit from being re-expressed as outcome-based ones? Or displaced objectives that could be re-framed to increase agency?

I’d love it if you’d tweet at me!