An OKR based on a narrative

In the previous article, we talked about the relationship between OKR and narrative: they are complementary to one another and there is no causality between them. Either one could come first.

We also explained how to create a narrative based on an OKR. The key is knowing the reason or rationale behind the OKR. In this edition, let’s explore how to do the opposite: creating an OKR based on a narrative.

How a narrative helps an organization to choose the right Objective

A narrative explains why a company is doing what it’s doing. It is intended to communicate the company purpose. An effective narrative provides clarity, especially in terms of direction and identity.

Knowing and understanding your company purpose is the first step to create a narrative. Understanding your vision and mission, core strength and capabilities, and value proposition among other things are also crucial. In addition, having the necessary data would help ensure the narrative is solid and grounded on facts; data or guides about your target addressable market, where you are in terms of market share, your competition landscape, etc.

It can be an exhausting process, which requires lots of preparation and research, to come up with a well-defined narrative. This will be a worthwhile exercise because a well-defined narrative can be a guide to choose the right Objective.

An Objective (in OKR) is what your company wants to achieve. It should be significant and meaningful to your company. Therefore, it is important that it is grounded on data and reinforcing the fundamentals of your business.

Choosing the right Objective also requires a lot of work. Although this is not always the case, but the larger your company is, the more challenging it is to create the top-line / company Objective. The challenges usually lie on the fact you have more things to choose from (a large company usually has multiple business units that have different goals or focus) — you need more effort to say no to a lot of things and yes to only a few. It’s a ruthless prioritization exercise. This is the area in which narrative can help.

A well-defined narrative guides your company to focus on what really matters. Thus, you’d potentially end up with an Objective that is aligned with your identity (purpose, vision and mission, value proposition, etc), while at the same time reinforcing the fundamentals of your business. This pushes your team to make an intentional choice when running the business.

The key here is understanding the purpose of the company (the narrative) and then being intentional about pursuing opportunities that align with that purpose (the Objective).

An Objective based on a narrative

Once you and your team know which Objective to pursue, you’ll need to write it down. The Objective, along with the Key Results, should be written down so anyone in your company can see it. It’s part of transparency in doing OKR. Note that writing a proper Objective is often challenging.

Imagine this: you know what Objective to aim for. Now, you need to convince others to help you achieve the Objective. As we all know, most people don’t like to be told what to do; persuasion and inspiration always work better. This is the reason why an Objective is encouraged to be inspiring. The goal is for the Objective to provide that extra push when people are trying hard daily to reach the goal.

Encapsulating the inspiring elements in words requires a lot of effort and practice.

The good news is if you already have your narrative, you can transform it into an Objective. A narrative is usually written in the form of a story, which surely has more than one or two sentences.

The key here is to figure out the keywords that made up your narrative. What is the essence of your narrative? Like a story, a narrative consists of a main idea and the supporting details. Let’s filter the main idea (= keywords) in your narrative, then use them to form your Objective.

For example: in the 1950s, Sony created this narrative:

“We will create products that become pervasive around the world. We will be the first Japanese company to go into the U.S. market and distribute directly. We will succeed with innovations that U.S . companies have failed at — such as the transistor radio. Fifty years from now, our brand name will be as well known as any in the world and will signify innovation and quality that rival the most innovative companies anywhere. “Made in Japan” will mean something fine, not something shoddy.”

The main idea in that narrative is in the last part. Sony wanted to change the perception of the term “Made in Japan”. Knowing the main idea helped Sony translate the narrative above into an inspiring, one-sentence Objective:

“Become the company most-known for changing the worldwide poor-quality image of Japanese products.”


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