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OKRs & Sustainability

OKRs as a goal setting framework have historically been applied most rigorously to corporate strategy, and it is down to the global success of businesses such as Intel, Google, Netflix and Amazon that they have become popularised over the last few years in particular. The 'superpowers' that OKRs are renowned for - alignment, focus, transparency, engagement and stretch - underpin the delivery of these corporate goals and relieve a significant amount of the pain traditionally felt during strategy implementation. It would be a brave cynic indeed to challenge the evidence that OKRs are a powerful force for organisational change and the pursuit of corporate level strategic priorities when implemented correctly.

But as we see an accelerating shift in global corporate priorities from those focused solely on shareholder monetary value to more holistic goals such as sustainability and equality, can OKRs continue to deliver? Are they still relevant?


As highlighted previously one of the greatest benefits of OKRs is that they create focus, regardless of the objectives under consideration. Whether we are talking about an entire corporate strategy, or an individual's specific role in a team contributing to that strategy, the principles are still the same, as are the wider benefits conveyed by the framework. And this also holds true for what we refer to as 'themes' - those aspects of an organisation's activity that should be stitched into the DNA of all departments, teams and activity streams, overlaid horizontally across the traditional vertical cascade of strategy. These tend to require a different lens to be applied, with a different focus.

One such theme gaining huge amounts of traction is ESG, an organisation's Environmental, Social and Governance considerations. But implementing ESG comes with huge challenges for organisations that traditionally have been focused on, and are designed for, the pursuit of one single objective - making more money. In a typical corporate environment and structure such considerations can easily be lost in the noise of "business as usual", with different teams running at different speeds and engagement highly dependent upon the personal interest of key individuals. Overlaying ESG activity horizontally across the entire organisation can however help to ensure that its application is explicit, and consistent. Taking it one step further, utilising OKRs to deliver the ESG framework ensures that all of those superpowers - alignment, focus, transparency, engagement and stretch - are all brought to bear in a concerted effort.

So how does this work in practice?

Let's take as an example the work that EFQM, the European Foundation for Quality Management, has undertaken in the ESG arena using as their start point the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs), a blueprint for achieving a better and more sustainable future for all.

The SDGs consist of 17 specific goals, sometimes referred to as 'Global Goals', covering ideals such as gender equality, health and well-being for all, clean energy and climate action, under which lie 169 associated targets. EFQM have taken these SDGs and applied them to a corporate environment - be that an SME or a global blue chip - recognising and highlighting the role that organisations can play in supporting these high level goals and their associated targets. Using their SDG Lens diagnostics tool organisations are able to identify their current ESG related strengths and opportunities for improvement. And this is where OKRs have a significant part to play - by translating any improvement opportunities into distinct objectives and associated key results organisations can ensure that their ESG themed activity remains focused, aligned and transparent across the entire organisation.

But don't just take our word for it that OKRs can be a force for change alongside more traditional corporate objectives... Jon Doerr, the man widely regarded as having popularised OKRs when he introduced the framework to Google and who, as the current Chairman of Kleiner Perkins, counts household brands such as Amazon, Slack and Spotify amongst his successes, has recently published a book entitled Speed & Scale that lays out a plan for solving the climate emergency based entirely on the OKRs framework. If it's the perfect framework for something as complex and disparate as that, surely achieving more sustainable organisations should now be well within our grasp...


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