Chris Lyons, CAE
Chris Lyons, CAE, is director in the enterprise optimization practice at Dynamic Integrated Services in Vienna, Virginia.
Associations moved fast to meet member needs when the pandemic struck. What if there were a way to sustain that heightened level of delivering member value, minus the crisis mode? There is. A seasoned strategic planning expert explains how.
When the pandemic forced most association conferences, tradeshows, and professional development to become virtual, and most office spaces sat empty while employees worked from home, business and member engagement was upended and revenue seemed at risk of falling off a cliff. Most associations got very focused on how to quickly create and deliver value to their members.
What if this same focus could be achieved without a global health emergency?
The objective and key results (OKR) management method can achieve organization-wide commitment, alignment of effort, and data-driven results that create outstanding outcomes from teams and faster achievement of strategic priorities.
Popularized by John Doerr’s Measure What Matters, the OKR approach moves goal setting away from measuring output of an organization’s own work and processes—and focuses on achieving outcomes that show the customer is receiving value. Since providing member value is the cornerstone of most associations, the OKR method is ideal for nonprofit management.
The OKR management method is also an ongoing discipline that relies on persistent monitoring of data to ensure results are being realized from the work that is being done—and to provide timely indicators for management attention if it is not. Measures of outcomes being realized are often readily available from technology solutions—software, service usage, or online interactions—and for this reason, OKRs are frequently used by startups who need to show rapid customer uptake.
For the same reason, OKRs are well-suited for associations. Most associations deliver training, education, or other information to members virtually, or conduct event or membership sales online and can measure member behavior through those interactions.
The method consists of an objective statement that articulates an ambitious and inspirational future state, capability, or way-things-will-be. The objective statement is qualitative, achievable with existing team skills and abilities, and reflects a strategic or other priority within the performance horizon (e.g., a quarter, a year).
For instance, an association may have a strategic priority like such as advancing its role as a preeminent source of information and knowledge in the field. The OKR method expresses this priority as an objective statement that articulates the desired outcome: “Professionals, academics, researchers, and the general public view information obtained from and vetted by our association as truthful, timely, and of high quality.”
The OKR approach moves goal setting away from measuring output of an organization’s own work and processes—and focuses on achieving outcomes that show the customer is receiving value.
The second element is the key results. When an association determines this period’s strategic priority and crafts an objective, it must ask, how will we get there? And how will we know if our objective is reached? Key results benchmark and monitor how an association or business unit gets to the objective. The OKRs are a management method, so the work or activities that occur within an organization need to be actively managed to achieve the KRs.
Strong key result statements have the following elements:
For the objective created earlier expressing the future-state perception that “information obtained from and vetted by our association as truthful, timely, and of high quality,” some key results might look like this:
Notice these KRs each express progress that can be monitored over the measurement period, meaning work can be managed to achieve them. Remember, the purpose of OKRs is to get your team focused on working toward a priority. While a team might think of many key results, ideally there are no more than three to five meaningful KRs for each objective.
Effective strategic planning cycles are growing shorter, and market forces and member attitudes won’t wait three years. What you are doing in the coming year is increasingly the only actionable strategy. Compounding this reality are planning methodologies that too often result in decisions to invest in software products, strategies to create new products, or checklists of actions without considering if they provide value to the customer and result in higher member engagement and affinity.
The OKR management method compliments shorter planning horizons, focuses effort on outcomes that matter, and can move an association measurably toward fulfilling its mission.