May 14, 2020

How to use OKRs to build alignment and gain a competitive advantage

Marilyn Napier
Marilyn Napier
Content Marketing Manager at

Every industry is facing disruption from a multitude of sources–from economic dynamics to consumer behaviors and competitive forces. These disruptions have a profound impact on all areas of your business, including marketing, sales, and product development. And the reality is that these disruptions can emerge at a lightning-fast pace, and often, teams aren’t equipped to respond effectively and efficiently.

To better tackle disruption, business leaders are focusing on improving business alignment and transparency. According to research from Deloitte, 65% of organizations have implemented some form of cross-functional, team-based work. Breaking down these functional silos enables employees to understand better the role and impact of their colleagues, the projects being done in other areas of the business, and how they ladder up to broader organizational goals and initiatives.

Creating an environment that supports this alignment and transparency empowers teams to better respond to new business trends and realities, ultimately impacting the overall health of the business. The Deloitte survey indicated that 53% of the organizations that have shifted to a team or network-based organization had seen a significant improvement in performance.

When businesses are aligned and transparent, they have the fuel to implement more agile processes. So rather than being weeks or months behind a competitor, they can quickly gather their team and put together an action plan. And the benefits of improving business agility are vast, as noted by CA Technologies research, including:

• Faster time to act on new opportunities (84%)
• Better competitive advantage (54 percent of respondents)
• Increased employee productivity and retention (58 percent of respondents)

With only 10% of executives noting that they’re leveraging the benefits of agile across their organization, widespread adoption remains a challenge. However, OKRs can enable businesses to make agility, transparency, and alignment a reality so they can gain and keep a competitive advantage.

Defined as “Objectives and Key Results,” the OKR was developed by Andrew Grover, former president at Intel, to help him answer two key questions: Where do I want to go, and how will I know I’m getting there?

Intel is an excellent example of a company that used OKRs to successfully pivot direction in light of competitive disruption. In 1979, the company set on a mission to improve its position as a leader in the microprocessor market against Motorola, which was making a big sales splash with its 68000 16-bit microprocessor.

The Intel team went to work on “Operation Crush,” which was the name of their secret business mission. Using OKRs, the broader Intel organization developed a unified, goal-driven approach that included revamping its marketing, altering their terms of engagement, and refining sales messaging to focus on long-term systems and services. Within four weeks, Intel’s CEO (and the founder of the OKR) Andy Grove collaborated with upper management to overhaul company priorities and implement them from the top-down. OKRs helped everyone stay aligned on business and individual goals so they could act with speed and precision.

A variety of other innovative brands, including Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, have used OKRs to improve team collaboration, cross-functional transparency, and establish a series of unified business goals. OKRs replace annual planning meetings with ongoing check-ins and realistic assessments, so goals can be refined and added as business needs change–and new disruptions emerge.

Because OKRs have such a standardized and flexible structure, many different teams and business functions can benefit from them. For instance, marketing can create an OKR focused on influencing $250,000 in revenue. Or, the product development team can create an OKR focused on bringing two new products to the market. The best way for your business to capitalize on the value of OKRs is to refer to them to gauge progress. They serve as a robust framework that allows you to respond and react in a way that keeps your company on the fighting edge and always prepared to ward off competitors.

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