OKRs for Startups

A 4 stage guide to adopt the Objective and Key Results framework in your organization.

Using SMART goals to drive outcomes

How to write effective goals to drive your business

In the previous article we saw a simple way to share a vision. A key part of that plan was to have a set of metrics that would help us measure progress and focus on specific themes.

In this post we'll go a bit further and see a simple technique to write effective goals.

Audience

stage 1 1

You're halfway through stage 2 of goal setting:

  • You have yearly goals that drive your efforts.
  • Priorities and goals are still defined by leadership.

Requirements

✔ A shared doc or wiki
✔ A Tability account and workspace
✔ A vision document and a Tability page for your company goals

What we'll do

To complete the transition to stage 2 you'll need to

  • Learn about the SMART goal model
  • Set quarterly goals

Step 1. What is a SMART goal?

Poorly written goals can be extremely harmful. They can push a team to waste efforts on the wrong problem, misjudge the value of a project, or even drive your revenues down. And the worst is that it's incredibly easy to write statement that look like an objective, but are missing a critical piece to be complete.

"Make our customers happy"

Of course, we all want to have fanatic customers. But how are you going to measure it? How will your team know that they're doing a good job?

"Sell 100 licenses"

The more you sell, the better. But selling 100 licenses in 1 month has a different impact than selling 100 licenses in a year.

The SMART acronym was introduced for the first time in 1981 by George T. Doran as a simple way to write effective objectives. The definition has evolved since but it's a great tool that will help you in your goal-setting journey. SMART stands for:

  • Specific: Be clear about the objective and scope.
  • Measurable: Make sure you will be able to gauge success. Avoid subjective terms (beautiful, bold, great...).
  • Attainable: Set targets that are within reach. It's okay to stretch things a bit, but don't aks the impossible.
  • Relevant: Align your objectives with the desired outcomes. Make sure they fit the current focus.
  • Time-bound: Set deadlines. The more time you take to deliver something, the less it becomes valuable.

See examples of good goals and bad goals for each criteria.

I encourage you to read the post linked above to get more in depth on that topic. In the following section we'll see how we can write SMART goals for the quarter, by making sure we include all key aspects.

Step 2. Add a new page to track your quarterly goals

If you followed the previous tutorial you should have a page in Tability to track your yearly company goals.

foundations page

Using that as a starting point we will derive some SMART goals for the Product team. Looking at the plan, there are 3 goals that seems relevant for that group:

  • Get 50 of the top 100 businesses in the Asia-Pacific market (we can work on having a better retention).
  • Launch a marketplace with 20 partners (this is a new product to develop).
  • Our NPS score is above 30 (Net Promoter Score is directly tied to the quality of the development)

Let's start by creating a new page in Tability under the yearly plan. Here, I highly suggest picking a weekly frequency of updates. We're going to track things that are lasting 3 months at most, so if we can't rely on a single update per month to stay focused and agile.

smart create page

Next, you can create a section for each of the top-level goals taken from the company plan. There are many ways you can structure your page but this is a simple way to align the yearly plan with your quarterly initiatives.

smart sections

Step 3. Create SMART goals for each of the top-level outcome

We need a set of goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound.

  • The time-bound element is already solved since we have Q3 as the timeline.
  • The sections, copied from the top-level goals of the yearly plan will ensure that our goals stay relevant.
  • We can keep things attainable by anchoring our starting point. "Going from X to Y".
  • We set measurable goals by avoiding binary metrics (done/not done).
  • We stay specific with clear and concise phrases that do not contain subjective elements.

To maximize focus we'll limit the number of goals for the Product team. The more you have, the more you'll be pulling people in different directions. Here's the proposed set of goals for the quarter.

Get 50 of the top 100 businesses in the Asia-Pacific market
    > Increase activation rate from 5% to 15%
    > Increase retention from 18% to 24%

Launch a marketplace with 20 partners
    > Get feedback from 4 vendors on the alpha version

Our NPS is above 30
    > Increase NPS from from -5 to 5

You can now add the goals to the Product team page in Tability. You can use the advanced form to set the initial value for each of the goal.

smart advanced

After updating the initial value you should be able to check the projection on the progress chart in the right panel.

smart goal created

Once all the goals are added, the page should look like the following.

smart page completed

Your Tability workspace should now have a structure where you have a top-level page for your yearly plan, and a sub-page for the Q3 goals of the Product team. You can follow that structure to create other sub-pages for your other teams and repeat that process each quarter.

smart structure

Step 4. Share progress

Each week Tability will send reminders to goal owners and prompt them to share progress.

It's important to make goal owners comfortable with reporting bad news. The purpose of having a tight feedback loop is to increase transparency and make your business more agile.

smart update

If people are too afraid to ask for help you'll end up learning about issues when it's too late to correct the course.

Make sure that everyone can have easy access to the pages so they can keep track of things. As updates on outcomes get shared, it will become easier and easier for teams to adjust their work and backlog in light of how the success metrics are doing.


Send us your questions and feedback via Twitter at @tabilityio