The Focal Point Blog // Business Strategy // Dave Annis // September 20, 2020

The Power of OKRs for Digital Services Companies

Objectives and Key Results, what most people call “OKRs,” is more than a buzzy acronym used across the tech community.

OKRs are a framework that helps companies set ambitious goals (objectives) and track how they’re performing against them (key results). Former Intel CEO, Andy Grove, created the idea for OKRs by bringing it to Intel. In his book, High Output Management, Grove wrote that there are two essential questions companies need to answer to use a framework like OKRs:

  • Where do I want to go? — This gives you the objective.
  • How will I pace myself to see if I am getting there? — This gives you the key results.

Even though OKRs originated at Intel, they didn’t become popular in the tech community until people learned that Google used the framework  to scale to the industry giant it is today. OKRs are now regarded as one of the best goal-setting frameworks, alongside other popular systems, like 4 Disciplines of Execution® , the Entrepreneurial Operating System® (EOS), and SMART Goals .

Typically, companies set OKRs using a similar structure to the org chart. There’s a high-level company OKR, supported by department OKRs, and individual employee OKRs. Here’s an example of a company-level OKR (see digital agency OKR examples further down in the article!):

  • Objective: Be regarded as the industry leader in our market
  • Key result #1: Be sought out for speaking or writing in 3 industry events or publications
  • Key result #2: Secure the industry-leader spot on the G2 grid in our category
  • Key result #3: Exceed Net Promoter Score® of 80

OKRs for digital services companies

OKRs have also gained popularity at digital agencies. The framework encourages leadership teams to write down and formalize what they’re trying to achieve and make it visible across the organization. This exercise aligns employees on what the company is working toward, makes it easier for digital agencies to only say yes to the type of work that jives with where they’re trying to go, and improves communication through clarity and transparency. OKRs give structure to ambitious growth goals, giving digital agencies a path forward to achieve those goals.

Matthew Zehner , Founder & CEO of Zehner, a full-service digital agency specializing in eCommerce (and a Parallax customer), recently implemented OKRs. An unexpected benefit for his agency was that “the process of brainstorming OKRs across teams got employees out of their day-to-day work and thinking about where Zehner wants to go and how they fit into that. It inspired creative thinking and got people excited about the future.” – Matthew Zehner, Founder & CEO of Zehner

We’re a little biased since we use OKRs ourselves, but, like Matthew, we think it’s a pretty cool framework. Here’s what we like best about OKRs for digital agencies:

  • It allows agencies to focus on Objectives that can be more qualitative in nature (e.g., “Win more work with the type of clients we like best.”), while still being quantitative and measurable with the supporting Key Results (e.g., “Win 3 new deals with companies disrupting the healthcare industry.”)
  • Having different OKRs at each level of the company (high-level company objective, department objective, and individual employee objectives) helps employees see how they contribute to the agency’s success, increasing motivation and engagement.
  • It makes the company’s direction and expectations of its employees crystal-clear, which agencies often struggle with no matter how much they communicate.

OKRs, supported by the right tools to accurately measure how you’re performing (hint, hint 😉), can fuel growth for digital services companies.

OKR examples for digital services companies

While the OKR framework is simple, actually implementing and writing your objectives and key results can be tricky. You can find tons of advice about how to implement OKRs (including from Google, Hacker Noon, and Sachin Rekhi). When it comes to writing yours, don’t reinvent the wheel and waste your strategic energy. A lot of people (including us!) have already put in the work to craft OKR examples based on industry standards and best practices for what to measure.

To make this process simpler for you, we wrote OKR examples for all levels of a digital agency. These OKRs will help you align your company to its goals, create a workplace that wins the best clients, and attract and retain the best employees.

See a few of the OKR examples below or download our editable template for the complete list.

Company-level OKR

OKR Example #1: Organization ABC

Objective:      Significantly increase the enterprise value of the business                
Key Result:   Increase annual revenue by 40%                      
Key Result:    Maintain at least 80% repeat purchase rate               
Key Result:    Maintain a net positive employee growth & self actualization rate

Department-Level OKR

OKR Example #2: Marketing

Objective: Build a brand that’s recognized as an industry leader in the craft
Key Result:    Secure 5 earned media placements per quarter                     
Key Result:    Publish or launch at least 5 forms of new content per month (e.g., thought leadership blog posts, white papers, events, or downloadable assets)           
Key Result:    Increase the number of marketing qualified leads 15% month-over-month  
Key Result:    Grow LinkedIn engagement by 200%

OKR Example #3: Sales

Objective: Consistently bring in new opportunities that enable us to innovate our craft and do our best work
Key Result: Maintain a pipeline value that is at least 250% of quarterly bookings target
Key Result: Hit 100% of each quarter’s bookings goals for new logos
Key Result: Achieve at least 100% average on-target earnings (OTE) across the sales team
Key Result: At least 50% of all new sales reps meet or exceed first-year on-target earnings (OTE)

OKR Example #4: Project Delivery

Objective:      Deliver measurable and meaningful impact in all of our work
Key Result:    Lead customer in defining measurable success factors for each active project 
Key Result:    Deliver at least 80% of all customer-defined success factors for projects completed
Key Result:    Actively update 100% of all resource plans on a weekly basis
Key Result:    Complete 100% of timesheets by the weekly due date

OKR Example #5: Human Resources

Objective:      Support an environment where every employee has a chance to realize their potential
Key Result:    Set objectives and key results that track to department goals for 100% active employees
Key Result:    Check in with 100% of active employees each month on their performance to OKR goals
Key Result:    Document career goals and development plan for 100% of active employees, including prioritized list of skills, capabilities, and experiences the employee aspires to develop
Key Result:    Develop recruiting pipeline for top five in-demand roles

OKR Example #6: Finance

Objective:     Profitably enable growth in revenue and continuous improvement in all aspects of the business
Key Result:   100% of active projects in backlog mapped to revenue forecast and measured to benchmark
Key Result:   100% of qualified deals in CRM mapped to revenue forecast and measured to benchmark
Key Result:   Maintain revenue, costs, and cash flow forecast with 100% coverage of pipeline and backlog
Key Result:    Maintain governance and data reporting for 100% of pipeline, backlog, and planned expenses

OKRs + Parallax = a winning combination

Goal-setting frameworks, including OKRs, are only as good as how well you can measure against them. If you don’t know what to measure — or how — the framework is useless. Once you know what to measure, your metrics are only useful if they’re based on accurate data. This is the downfall of most digital agencies that try to implement OKRs. They think the framework sounds good in theory, but when it comes down to actually tracking the data needed to evaluate whether they’ve met their key results, they don’t know where to start.

It’s easy to see why this happens. Before Parallax, the tools that agencies had available to them to measure and get visibility into data across the entire business (from the sales pipeline through project delivery) were old school and clunky. They didn’t work how digital agencies needed them to.

Parallax was built to enable visibility, alignment, and accountability across digital agencies. It supports the adoption of agency best practices and allows teams to track against agency benchmarks for metrics like utilization, project margin, and revenue. Like OKRs, Parallax fosters better and clearer communication between leadership and teams because it offers a level of transparency that’s otherwise difficult to achieve. Parallax is the measurement tool that can sit on top of OKRs — helping everyone make smarter decisions that help the company grow.