50 tips for outcome-driven teams

50 points around goal-setting and OKRs that you can discuss with your team.

Why be outcome-driven?

1. People want purpose, not tasks

No one gets motivated by the idea of hammering nails repetitively into a board. But people will power through if the blueprint is exciting.

2. Treat your team as the smart people they are.

If you tell your team what to do, they'll only go as far as you can see. But if you explain what you're trying to achieve, they'll be able to carry you further.

3. Remote work can't wait

Without clear goals, remote workers will waste countless hours waiting for their colleagues to wake up. Give them a clear picture of what success looks like, and they'll be able to do great things while you sleep.

4. Keep your large company small

It takes weeks for discussions to trickle down through the layers of an organization. Give teams outcomes rather than ideas, and let them run autonomously. They might not do things your way, but they'll get to the same results faster.

5. Compound impact

Getting everyone's best effort won't mean much if they're running in different directions. Focus your company's attention on 2-3 topics to be able to swing much harder.

6. Be deterministic about the future

Stop hoping for good things to happen. Be clear about where you want to be and plan for it. You can't know if you're doing great if you have no idea of what good is supposed to look like.

7. Micromanagement doesn't scale

It might be necessary to have frequent check-ins when your team is new. But as your organization grows, this becomes a tax on productivity. The value of managers should be measured by how well their team can run without their input.

8. Get rid of gut-feel

"Gut-feel" is a word often used to assert authority under the pretense of intuition. Make it go away, and replace it with clear expectations.

9. Be customer-driven

Having a big signups target doesn't make you a user-focused company. Caring about specific aspects of the user experience - happiness, retention, satisfaction, onboarding... - and being intentional about improving things is what makes you customer-driven.

10. Keep your employees

It's much easier to retain people when the future is exciting. If there's nothing to look for, you'll lose your team to the first competitor that has a compelling story.

What does an outcome-driven team look like?

11. Leadership inspires

Rather than controlling what everyone is doing, the leadership team makes sure that people understand why they're doing it. They learn how to be great storytellers.

12. There's a shared North Star

There's a public document outlining the purpose of the organization, what the top priorities are, and how success will be measured. Everyone has seen that document and understands what the North Star is.

13. Outcomes decide activities, not the opposite

Output-focused companies do a bunch of work, and then hope for good results. Outcome-driven companies work the other way around. They pick projects based on the impact they will have on the business.

14. Bottom-up ownership

Leadership sets the general direction, but teams contribute to the details of the plan. People are engaged and accountable - they work to create a future they envisioned themselves.

15. Empowered teams

The entire leadership team can be sick, and things would still be running smoothly. Squads have a clear understanding of their companies priorities, and they can start projects or drop new ones to get better outcomes.

16. Collaboration rather than competition

Rather than obsessing on individual performance, people can rally around higher goals. Outcomes are shared, and groups work together to achieve great results.

17. Delivering value, not producing deliverables

It doesn't matter how many Jira tickets you closed, how many calls you made, or how many blog posts you wrote if it doesn't result in happier customers. The organization values impact over throughput.

18. Open and transparent

From top to bottom, you can see what everyone is working on, and how much progress they've done. Things are public by default, and restrictions are the exceptions.

19. Quarterly milestones, instead of yearly targets

Big yearly plans are broken down into smaller, achievable milestones. You know how to use metrics to drive improvement on specific parts of the user flow.

20. Data-informed

Getting qualitative and quantitative data is part of the routine. Defining success metrics and estimating impact are part of writing the pitch for every project.

How do you become outcome-driven?

21. Start with a vision

You can't have goals without a clear purpose. Resist the temptation of throwing numbers in a spreadsheet. Start by writing down what you want to be, and then make a plan for how to get there.

22. Repeat the priorities as often as you can

Once you have that vision written down, repeat it as much as needed. Make it the first slide of the monthly review. Your team is busy getting things done and putting fires out, so it's only normal that they forget. Help them remember what matters the most.

23. Keep things top-down at the beginning

Don't kickstart goal-setting with your entire company. The leadership team needs to be comfortable with it before expanding the practice. Get a feel for the best way to track goals inside your organization with a dozen of people before asking hundreds to follow.

24. Alignment before metrics

A common mistake is to think goal setting is about numbers. But goal setting is first and foremost about making sure everyone is looking in the same direction. Knowing how far you've come is secondary to that.

25. Describe focus areas (or objectives for OKRs) without metrics

Explain the expected impact in simple words without using numbers. Your team will have an easier time deciding what metrics to focus on to measure success. And they'll still be able to focus on the right priorities even if your analytics system goes down.

26. Draw lines in the sand

Use the SMART model to write your goals and don't be afraid of setting clear targets. You'll get it wrong at first, but you'll get better at prediction faster. Don't overcomplicate things with sophisticated formulas. The more parameters you have, the more noise you're introducing.

27. Team-based rather than people-based

Don't organize your goals and OKRs around people (CEO > GM > Director > Team Lead > Contributor). Organize them around teams (Company > Division > Function). The former has people pleasing their bosses, the latter drives people to do what's good for the business.

28. It's OK to be KO

People should not be afraid of reporting bad news. Tracking goals only works if your team can share their concern early. Hearing about difficulties is an opportunity to fix things. That's how you make your business more agile.

29. Check progress regularly

Distractions will start to come in right after goals are defined. They're the meetings, emails, tasks, calls, bugs that your team has to deal with to achieve these exact goals. Checking progress every week will help everyone keep in mind the top priorities for the quarter.

30. Commit to your teams

Being outcome-driven requires structure, and progress is never linear. Don't drop the ball as soon as something goes off-track. Give time for your team to commit to projects, and observe things for a couple of weeks before changing your plans.

31. Be transparent and honest

All the business' goals and OKRs should be accessible to everyone. Avoid secret plans, and don't mask difficulties. An open company makes it easier for people to help each other. An honest leadership team that admits being off-track sets the tone and creates the trust required to get great feedback in return.

32. Keep most goals attainable

Nothing can sap morale faster than not meeting any of your targets. It helps to have some ambitious goals but keep things within reach. That's especially true at the beginning when people will wonder if bad outcomes will be used against them.

33. Keep it simple

Avoid complex linkages of goals, objectives and key results. It will look great the first day of the quarter, but you're in agile markets and priorities will change. You'll die by a thousand clicks when you have to update your plan mid-quarter.

34. 5 goals/person/week max

Reduce the number of competing priorities so that your team can maximize impact. The more goals people have, the less impact they can have. If people spend hours each week updating progress, it will leave them little room to move the needle.

35. Share top-level progress with the entire team

Broadcast progress on the top company goals. Don't expect your team to pull that information - they're busy. Just push it to them via email, chat, or during monthly updates. Not everyone will be able to help, but everyone will care.

36. For OKRs, share the Os, differ on the KRs

A simple way to ensure alignments across an organization is to make sure you all have the same objectives. "Delighting customers" can be a common focus for engineering, sales, and support. Then their KRs can differ (performance, pricing, time to respond).

37. Keep a set of core KPIs

Quarterly OKRs are great, but you will need a set of core metrics to monitor the health of your business at all times. Pick 5 KPIs that cover the vitals of your company and keep track of them. Quarterly goals will help you improve specific parts of your organization, KPIs will help you make sure that there are no emergencies.

38. Have retrospectives

Don't jump straight into planning the next quarter. Sit down with your team to talk about what worked and what went wrong. Learn from your past experience to create a better plan.

39. Drop the things that don't work (Marie Kondo your goals)

If a goal or OKR doesn't bring joy to the business, thank it and let it go. Markets are continually changing, and what looked right a month ago might not be the best thing to do anymore. Be ok with that.

40. Respect your team culture

There are many goal-setting frameworks to pick out there, and OKRs is one of the best options. But make sure you take into account your team's DNA when implementing it. Don't push too hard for practices that aren't a good fit.

The things you should not do

41. Don't start with OKRs

Don't jump straight into OKRs if you're getting starting with goal-setting. Start small with simple KPIs, and focus on the cultural changes that need to happen.

42. Don't throw away history

Don't just replace values in a spreadsheet. Make sure you keep historical data. Seeing the trends in your journey is as important as knowing where you are today.

43. Don't outsource the vision

Sure, you can get help to clarify your thoughts, but you can't ask consultants to write down your purpose. It's better to start with a basic statement and iterate by getting feedback. The best way to get your pitch is to let customers describe their problem.

44. Don't tie bottom up goals to bonuses

It might feel like an excellent way to motivate people, but tying OKRs to bonuses will stifle innovation. People will be afraid to take risks and will go for conservative targets. Keep things separated if you want your team to do big things.

45. Don't waste time debating small variations

Analytic tools can come with a lot of noise. Make sure that the debate is centered on the outcomes rather than slight differences in scoring. Metrics don't tell the whole story, some improvements won't be captured by data.

46. Don't blame the owner

If a goal or OKR is off-track, seek first to understand what happened. Here's a preferred order for questions: 1. Was it the right metric to track? 2. Was the target too ambitious? 3. Did we do the right job?

Never start a discussion by blaming the owner of a goal.

47. Don't use goals as a todo list

A goal that lasts one week should be considered a task. Being outcome-driven is about having a handful of goals that drive your focus for the next 2-3 months. Keep your tasks (the how) in a different place than your objectives (the what).

48. Don't have inconsistent scoring

At Google 70% (or 0.7) is considered great, and scoring 100% should be a rare achievement. That's confusing for most teams. Keep scoring simple and consistent across your organization. Rely on actual data as much as you can, and make sure that people share the same definition of completion.

49. Don't abandon efforts when changing priorities

If "Delighting customers" was a top priority, it should mean that you put extra efforts in improving the user experience. Don't let things get worse as soon as you switch focus to a different area. Goal setting helps you work on specific muscles, but the whole body needs to stay in shape.

50. Don't take this list for gospel

Advice is always contextual, and this list is mostly here to give you some things to think about. Talk to your team, and see what points you agree and disagree with. Make your own recipe for success, and iterate.

Send us your questions and feedback via Twitter at @tabilityio