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Managing OKRs in a crisis

It feels odd to write about business and strategy when COVID-19 is directly impacting so many lives. But it's also important to prepare and adjust for what's coming next. The world economy hit the breaks overnight, and while some countries are starting to re-open, things are not going back to where they were.

Here are 3 simple questions to help you adjust your OKRs during a crisis.

Question 1: Do you have a BHAG to anchor your focus?

BHAG stands for Big Hairy Audacious Goal, and it's a long term outcome (10 years) that will help you keep a stable line of sight, even during a crisis. Think of it as your mission statement, but measurable.

Atlassian founders Mike and Scott set the goal of having 50,000 customers back in 2004, only 2 years after launching. They hit that milestone 11 years later in 2015, and I can tell you from first-hand experience that the company had to weather many storms through that journey. But that goal never changed and gave everyone an anchor point to look at.

A crisis might make your quarterly plans obsolete, but your 10 years vision should still be solid. It will feel great to have a stable and durable North Star in times of uncertainty.

Question 2: What happened to your market?

COVID-19 threw everything upside-down. Some companies like Zoom have moved into accelerated growth and others have seen their opportunities disappear overnight. It's crucial to understand what the new landscape is for you before setting new goals.

Are you still at the same Product Lifecycle stage?

I like to combine the Product Lifecycle framework and the AARRR funnel when thinking about strategies. If you were in a Growth stage and moved to a Declining phase, then it might make sense to prioritize retention and profit. If you're one of the lucky companies that have seen their opportunity validated (remote work, async collab...), then growth and referrals might be on the menu instead.

I don't have a direct answer for you. But I can say with confidence that you need to take an honest look at the new economy. Then get your team on the same page as to what that means for your business.

Question 3: What outcomes do we want?

Now you're ready to start drafting a new plan for the months coming ahead. Start from the top, and write your goals from your customer perspective. What does good look like in 3 months?

The rest of the OKRs process won't change much:

  • Keep your objectives centered on business outcomes.
  • List Key Results that will help you measure progress every week.
  • Be careful not to list projects as Key Results.

The rhythm of updates is critical. When the future is hard to predict, it's best to improve your reaction time. Meeting with your team once a month is not going to be enough to keep track of things — especially when you're remote.

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