OKRs and daily business: How to combine them effectively

In addition to future strategic direction and the integration of newer work models, such as hybrid work, it is important not to forget the daily running of a company. From customer service to accounting, there are plenty of daily tasks that do not have much to do with overarching strategy but are just as important for keeping the organization up and running. How should these tasks be dealt with when new frameworks, such as OKR, are integrated into everyday work? Can they still be handled reliably alongside OKRs? In this article, we will examine how OKRs and daily business relate to one another and how both can work together successfully for the company.

Contents

  1. What tasks fall under the term “operational work”?
  2. How can OKRs influence this work?
  3. OKRs and operational work: Three scenarios
  4. Implementing OKR: Yes or no?
  5. OKR and operational work: FAQ

What tasks fall under the term “operational work”?

The term “operational work” is a very general one, basically referring to all ongoing business activities that, in most cases, coincide with the respective company’s core business. In this case, operational activities differ from tactical and strategic ones.

While operational work deals with activities and thinking that distinguish day-to-day business, tactical work takes care of medium-term activities that still contribute directly to the strategic goals. They are less detailed than operational tasks and mainly relate to an entire department or group. Strategic business looks into the future, focusing on long-term goals for the entire company.

Based on this explanation, it appears that strategic goals and operational business represent different areas of a company’s day-to-day business and have little to do with one another. Indeed, it is common that operational work, depending on the department, has a “keeping the lights on” function, which orients itself on predetermined KPIs instead of having direct influence on an organization’s strategic goals.

How can OKRs influence this work?

OKRs make their home between strategic alignment and operational execution. It makes no difference if it is a specific team strategy or an overarching company strategy.

First and foremost, OKRs should be integrated into the operational process in such a way that both are reconciled with one another and neither aspect gets pushed aside. Some departments work more strategically while others more operationally. A product development team, for example, is more strategically oriented, while customer support is less concerned with the long-term direction of the company and more focused on the day-to-day concerns of customers. Ideally, in the course of OKR integration, a general guideline should be drawn up for the teams that they can follow, but which still gives them enough freedom to shape their work processes as they see fit.

OKRs and operational work: Three scenarios

Below we would like to dive into different scenarios with you that your organization may come across. They differ in their emphasis on strategic versus operational work and provide an overview of where your team currently is, whether the current alignment makes sense or if something needs to be changed.

Scenario 1: Emphasis on strategically-relevant work

In the first team scenario, the majority of work consists of strategically-relevant tasks and only a small amount of attention is given to daily operational work. In this situation, it is more appropriate to define OKRs that concentrate completely on strategic topics and can be applied to strategically-relevant work. A separate OKR does not need to be defined for each topic. It is enough to concentrate on and define three to five OKRs for a few very important topics.

Scenario 2: Equal division of daily business

In the second scenario, the distribution of strategically-relevant tasks and operational work is equal. In such a situation, teams may also want to define OKRs for their operational work. The advantage here is having a single overview for tracking strategic and operational work in one place. The disadvantage, however, is that strategic focus—which should be the biggest benefit of OKRs—can get lost when dealing with a potentially larger set of OKRs

Scenario 3: Emphasis on operational work

In the third team scenario, the focus is on operational work, making strategically-motivated OKRs less relevant at this point. However, respective teams can decide whether OKRs should be defined for their operational tasks. This can have both advantages and disadvantages, and should be decided by each team itself.

Advantages: 

Oftentimes, teams with a large amount of operational work can feel less important. Through OKRs, team members get a clear overview of their work and the impact it has on the company. This shows employees that their work is equally as important as that of strategically-focused teams and can boost motivation. By defining various Objectives and respective Key Results, they may also develop impulses to independently improve their own processes in order to achieve better results in the future.

Disadvantages: 

The big disadvantage in this scenario is that the strategic focus of OKRs and its main function as a strategy execution tool are lost.

Implementing OKR: Yes or no?

After getting an overview of your team’s actual scenario, the question that follows is: Should OKRs be introduced and, if so, how? To make this decision, each team should make a realistic assessment of its own capacity utilization and impact on the strategic company goals. In this way, it is possible to determine whether previously expended working hours have been used well and if OKRs would make sense at this point.

Making the right decision

For the evaluation, teams can ask themselves questions to facilitate the decision-making process. This would be:

  • What do we mean by operational and strategic work?
  • What is our current distribution of these two types of work?

After that, a better decision can be made in terms of which scenario is being played out, whether anything should actually change, and how OKRs could be implemented.

OKR and Performance Management

OKR and operational work: FAQ

What does OKR mean?

OKR is a holistic goal-setting method for all organizational levels of a company. It can be used to define goals for the entire organization as well as individual departments. OKRs stands for Objectives, the value proposition for customers, and Key Results, the measurement of whether the value position was achieved.

What is operational work?

Operational work refers to all ongoing business activities that, in most cases, coincide with the company’s core business. Operational activities differ from tactical and strategic activities in this respect. Tactical work focuses on medium-term goals at the department level and strategy with long-term goals for the entire organization.

How do OKRs and operational work relate?

OKRs make their home directly between strategic alignment and operational execution. It makes no difference if it is a specific team strategy or an overarching company strategy. However, OKRs are not defined for all operational topics. Instead, they are only defined for those that have an actual strategic impact, such as in product development. For daily work in areas such as customer service—in which tasks do not have an impact on the overarching strategy of the company—fewer OKRs are defined.

In addition to future strategic direction and the integration of newer work models, such as hybrid work, it is important not to forget the daily running of a company. From customer service to accounting, there are plenty of daily tasks that do not have much to do with overarching strategy but are just as important for keeping the organization up and running. How should these tasks be dealt with when new frameworks, such as OKR, are integrated into everyday work? Can they still be handled reliably alongside OKRs? In this article, we will examine how OKRs and daily business relate to one another and how both can work together successfully for the company.