OKR vs. narrative - which one should come first?

We’d like to share with you updates regarding our engagement with the company we’ve been working with for over a month now. Our engagement started with interviews with the leadership teams, in which we applied and practiced the empathic listening and active listening (both of which are covered here and here). These interviews are meant to give information about the company’s current situation, their challenges, purposes, value proposition, and etc. We did 10+ interviews to cover the leadership rank.

Photo by Sora Shimazaki from Pexels

Two values we extracted from these interviews. First, they made us understand the company one level deeper. We noted how the teams interact with each other, their day-to-day tasks, how each leader leads. Second, the insights we constructed from those interviews help us create more relevant narratives for the company.

When we shared about these benefits to the leadership team, one of them asked: which should come first: the narrative or the OKR? Apparently, a one-day meeting to set the top-line OKR had been scheduled to happen in less than a week, whereas we didn’t yet have an agreed-upon narrative.

Our answer was either one could come first. The OKR may come first or the narrative. They are complementary to one another, but there is no causality between OKR and narrative.

In this particular engagement, we’re creating narratives based on the agreed-upon OKRs. The chronology was the teams came up with the OKRs, only then we built up the related narratives for them. The important note here is for each Objective, we discussed the rationales behind it. The rationale represents the reason as to why they decided to pick that Objective; what made that Objective more important than the others.

For example, one Objective (O) is related to becoming the leading payment solution in ecommerce industry in Indonesia. (For confidentiality, we use the generic term “payment solution”). The heated discussions about why they decided to become the #1 player actually revealed an understanding that in this particular sector of the ecommerce business tends to favor only one winner. It’s a winner-takes-all game. Thus, the team decided to own it as the top-line objective.

To come up with the rationale, we listed down the supporting data such as: the total addressable market, current number of transactions, relevant competitors, etc. How would that compare to the competitors? How much increase in market share should we aim in the first half of 2019? Everyone shared their opinion and discussed extensively until we were certain we arrived at the right Objectives. This was essentially a prioritization exercise: to decide which Objectives were more important and why.

Discussing the rationale behind each Objective has several benefits. First, it facilitates the discussion between participants to ensure the same understanding as to why they choose that Objective. Second, since the rationale is based on data, not mere opinion, it helps participants to look at the current situation more objectively. How did they do in the last year? Which areas to be improved? Third, a clear rationale also helps us to come up with the right Key Results faster.

Having a well-defined rationale also helps us to create a narrative because we understand why they chose that Objective. We understand the importance and significance of the Objective. In other words, knowing the rationale makes it easier to create the content for the narrative. While it’s true we need more than just the rationale to create the whole content, but the rationale helps to set the tone and direction for the narrative. In our case, even though we had conducted interviews and got useful information, the rationale informed us which information was relevant to a narrative related to specific OKR.

In conclusion, it is entirely possible to create a narrative even if the OKR comes first. The key is knowing the reason behind the OKR, or in other words, the rationale. The next article will discuss the opposite: what happens when the narrative comes first and how to create the OKR based on the narrative.


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