How to Set Growth Objectives and Key Results as a Startup

A business without growth isn’t much of a business at all, and startups need systems to help set growth goals and work towards them. Labs mentor Matt Swulinksi, growth hacker and director of marketing and client services at Klyxx Creative, hosted a Labs session all about growth strategies and experimentation, including process for setting objectives and key results. “This approach for both setting goals and OKRs, which Google follows, is a good way to essentially set expectations for the whole team no matter what role they fulfill,” Swulinski says. Here are the steps to follow.

Start by understanding why setting objectives and key results matters

“What a startup does is kind of an equation of, there’s a gap in the market and we’re trying to solve it, but the way that you get to the end product is completely open-ended,” Swulinski says. “And that, in my mind, very often falls under a big pain point of, what really are our goals? What really are our expectations for a quarter, for a year, and how do we get the whole team motivated to hit those big picture goals?” That’s exactly what this process solves for—defining success, tracking progress, and getting everyone in the company on board with mission-critical goals.

"It also helps you focus your resources on things that are actually priorities. Setting objectives and sticking to them doesn’t just help us understand where to focus, but also where not to,” Swulinski says.

“So say I had this awesome idea. Does it fall under an objective that we’ve already set? If not, then we’ll focus on it at a later date. It’s going to get pinned to when it’s important. There’s always that one person who’s the jack of all ideas who wants to do everything and brings in chaos to the company because no one knows what they’re focusing on, so that’s also super important. Iterative innovations should be used to drive success towards goals we've already locked in to, not every goal we can dream of.”

Step 1. Think big

Gather your company’s leadership and begin with your big-picture objectives, “which are meant to be kind of abstract,” Swulinski says. “These are the goals that everyone, no matter who they are, be they an intern or a founder, is doing everything they can to reach and this builds the whole trajectory for a company.” You need to document them, along with the key results you create within each goal. “That’s just as important as the mission and the vision statement for your company,” Swulinski says.

That goal isn’t to set objectives that you’ll reach 100 percent success on across the board. “They’re supposed to be ambitious and they’re meant to be uncomfortable, and if all your goals are reached at the end of the year, they weren’t set ambitiously enough. That’s the whole premise of growth. ” Swulinski says. “The sweet spot for these kind of objectives is getting 60 to 70 percent of the way there.”

Step 2. Find the line between ambitious and unrealistic by involving the stakeholders

You want to think big with your objectives and key results but not so big that your goals cross into unobtainable territory. You do this by involving a variety of departments and seniority levels in the process. “These OKRs are set at discussion with the key decision-makers at the company. So having various people in that room, be it business side, tech side, product side, sales side, helps keep those objectives at bay,” Swulinski says. “Let’s say the CEO wants these crazy acquisition numbers and the people from product say, well to do that we would need to build a V3 in the next six months and that’s not going to happen. Then those objectives get dialed down into something that’s ambitious for the team that’s actually enabling them but also lifted up a little bit by the people who want to see immense success.”

Setting ambitious objectives and having a process for reaching them is also a feather in your cap when you’re looking for funding. “If investors see that you’re setting your objectives and key results and you’re reaching 60 to 70 percent on some and some maybe 80 to 90 on others, it shows that you’re trying to push for success and are meeting it within an educated bound,” Swulinski says. “It also shows that you plan ahead of just the next month,” and let’s investors see “what KPIs are you matching to where our money is going to actually viably impact your business.”

Step 3. Get specific with your key results

You have your big-picture, somewhat abstract objectives. Now you need to decide two things: first, the key results that fall under each objective, and second, which team and individual members are responsible for them.

“Let’s say you’re a competitor to Salesforce and an objective for 2018 is to become the number three CRM in the market,” Swulinski says. “It’s not really clear what that means but that's the objective and under that fall key results where, for example, you want to have 5,000 daily active users.”

“The objective is the business goal; the large idea that you need to find definite metrics to achieve,” Swulinski says. “That might be 5,000 daily active users. That sub-result of the bigger objective makes the goal far more tangible. You can almost feel that number and understand how day-in and day-out work can help achieve it. This makes alignment easy across not only a company, department, or team but also on a per person basis.”

Step 4. Adjust based on where you succeed and where you fall short

The OKRs “won’t be 100 percent perfect the first time you set these objectives,” Swulinski says. “You’ll see what grades you reached with them and then on the next round you’ll be able to say, alright we underperformed on this one, we overperformed on this one. Let’s adjust those in a specific way so the next objectives will be more accurate.”

By following these four steps, you’ll creating ambitious goals, sett up the sub goals that’ll help you reach the big ones, and constantly iterate based on your results so that over time, you'll achieve the growth you’re looking for.

This post is based on content from a WeWork Labs programming session.

Interested in connecting directly with this mentor? Ask your Labs Manager for help.

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