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How to Modernize Operations with OKRs as a Chief Operating Officer

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10 min read
a transparent circular illustration with sliding disks representing chief operating officer okrs

Why is the chief operating officer more important than ever? In a world that consistently reminds us of its ever-shifting nature, the COO is the connector between your organization’s operations and strategy.

In today's business environment, having a COO working through various business levels to manage operations, assess internal and external environments, and create alignment between strategy and execution is crucial. And what better way to do that than with chief operating officer OKRs?

In this article, we'll discuss the use of OKRs for operations, outlining what makes them suitable for creating, managing, and executing COO's goals and objectives. But before we do so, let's take a closer look at the challenges faced by COOs, and how these call for chief operating officer OKRs.

The chief operating officer's main challenges

With a hand in each level of operations, the chief operating officer faces plenty of challenges and opportunities. One of the COO’s biggest challenges, which applies to most leaders in the c-suite, is losing sight of the strategy because they’re too hyper-focused on the execution.

As Quantive's COO Seth Elliott says, being a COO requires you to, “Optimize for the mountain, not the hill.”

Each COO’s set of challenges is contextual to the size, industry, and location of the organizations they serve. Just as there’s no one “right” way to run a business, there’s no “right” way to handle operations. This creates a dilemma for chief operating officers who need help — no blueprint means no benchmark.

Amid this uncertainty, there are five main challenges you generally face as a COO:  

  • A lack of alignment
  • Operational redundancy and inefficiencies
  • Poor engagement
  • Reactive focus on data over impact
  • Complex/outdated operating frameworks

Sure, as a COO you can painstakingly tackle each problem one by one. But you know that’s not the most practical or effective way to drive change — you need a solution that addresses and solves all your challenges.  

Learn more about the chief operating officer’s main challenges

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The benefits of OKRs for the COO

Objectives and key results (OKRs) are a goal-setting framework that enables you to focus and align the strategic vision of your organization to execute towards greater outcomes. 

Improving operations is about great impact, not greater input. With this in mind, OKRs place a primary focus on driving outcomes, countering the outdated efficiency-first mindset. Not only do OKRs support engaged teams, but they also create a trusting culture and optimize your operations for the modern business world.

The process of OKRs is:

  • Structured enough to actually improve operations 
  • Transparent enough to connect strategic vision and execution  
  • Flexible enough to support the demands of a Modern Operating Model

Learn more about writing effective OKRs

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This is why it’s important for you as a chief operating officer to improve information flow and flatten the decision-making hierarchy through transparent, accountable goal setting. When managed and implemented properly, COO OKRs can prove a clear-cut competitive advantage when modernizing operations.

Here’s how you can use chief operating officer OKRs to overcome a few of the challenges you face in your role.

How COO OKRs can improve alignment

The gap between strategy and execution is a pressing issue for modern businesses that can negatively impact organizational alignment and create a cultural disconnect. One of the main challenges for the chief operating officer is connecting high-level strategy with the day-to-day execution of their teams. 

To help bridge the strategy execution gap and drive alignment, OKRs use both qualitative and quantitative measures:

  • Qualitative objectives establish what you’re trying to achieve
  • Quantitative key results measure if and how you’re achieving the objective

Setting overarching OKRs for operations can help tie the high-level strategic vision to departmental plans of action, ensuring alignment, consistency, and guidance in execution via measurable key results. Simultaneously, OKRs help your teams understand where the organization is trying to go, which reduces uncertainty and disconnection through strategic objectives.  

OKRs also enhance alignment by flattening the decision-making hierarchy. Key results transparently connect teams to the outcomes they are expected to achieve. When teams know the desired outcomes, how those outcomes are achieved is no longer the focus of decision makers — leadership, like the COO, can focus on the results of the process and support teams in becoming independently aligned and self-managed.

 Learn more about using OKRs to align teams to your mission

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How COO OKRs can improve efficiency

While improved efficiency isn’t all you need for great operations, it’s certainly an aspiration for all chief operating officers. Creating OKRs for operations can help you dial in efficiency by making your operational strategy transparent and accessible. When teams are clear on the strategy (and the outcomes driving it), redundancies and siloed communication are reduced.

OKRs aren’t just about eliminating silos, though. As a COO, you can use OKRs to establish strategic priorities at the corporate, department, and individual levels. Key results keep teams focused on the unified, aspirational outcome, not just task lists and busy work.

By improving clarity on goals and the necessary tasks to achieve them, OKRs reduce lag in the strategy execution framework.

Finally, OKRs provide insight into company structure, including objectives, processes, and authority. This helps your company reduce the excess — decision makers, process, management — to run leaner operations and transform effectiveness into efficiency.  

How COO OKRs can boost engagement

Aligning teams with corporate strategy is only part of your process as chief operating officer — engaging teams through strategy is how you drive real impact.

High-level OKRs give teams guidance on what needs to be accomplished, and these constraints create wiggle room for the process of achieving those goals. 

When individuals feel like they have a voice in how to reach goals and create tasks, they are more likely to embrace the entire strategy and work with others to accomplish it.

But OKRs don’t grant freedom without balance — with shared autonomy, teams also have a collective responsibility for the progress and tracking of goals. The public accountability of OKRs drives further engagement, distributing the sense of ownership for achieving results. As a COO, less time spent holding teams accountable means more time spent focusing on operations.

Since OKRs can also help your business clarify specific ownership of objectives, you can shift tasks and processes into the hands of people doing the actual work. This streamlines your process as a chief operating officer.  

How COO OKRs eliminate reactive decision making

Fear is the source of reactivity in decision making, unintentionally leading to anti-risk-taking behavior. OKRs help counter fear in your organization by tackling the source of fear itself — uncertainty.

OKRs are driven by corporate vision and strategy, needing connection from you as chief operating officer to make them work. When you align what the organization is trying to achieve at a high level with the practical, day-to-day execution, you reduce strategic uncertainty for your teams.

Your ambitious objectives define where the organization wants to go, inspiring teams to think less in the context of risk and more in the context of impact. 

Combined with the compounding effects of strategic alignment, OKRs shift your organization from a culture of fear into a culture of opportunity.

Going beyond fixing the reactive mentality alone, OKRs leverage data to combat uncertainty. Key result progress is an active indicator of the health of your goals. In contrast to metrics like KPIs, OKRs show you in real time where the gaps in your execution are occurring. They allow you to pivot short-term decision making and structure long-term decision making through a proactive focus on data, not a protective lens of reactivity. 

How COO OKRs can modernize operations

In a Modern Operating Model, busy work and doing “more” isn’t how organizations get ahead of competitors. OKRs create a focus on outcomes over sheer output. With the ability to measure impact over time, you can use OKRs as the foundation to create clear definitions of success and optimize the processes driving the results.

Data is another important element of the Modern Operating Model. When connecting strategy to execution, you need a way to inform your decision-making as chief operating officer using more than instinct. By leveraging the OKR framework, you’re ideally positioned to create a data-driven strategy and optimize operations toward that strategy. Automated key results reduce the labor of manual data inputs, giving you and your team more time to focus on progress.   

OKRs also offload a large amount of decision-making COOs would be faced with in traditional models. Modern operations through OKRs democratize decision-making, ensuring each person from the entry-level to leadership uses their time most effectively. Due to the newfound autonomy teams experience, COOs can shift their focus to more effective uses of high-dollar executive time — closing the strategy execution gap. 

Learn how the Modern Operating Model impacts your strategic approach as COO

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How OKR software helps COOs excel in modernizing operations

The pursuit of implementing OKRs is challenging, time-intensive, and often confusing. The right software will bring certainty, reduce friction, and save you time as a chief operating officer looking to roll out OKRs.

Here are some benefits of using OKR software to support your implementation.

Align teams

Alignment is the bridge to solving the rest of your challenges as COO. Quantive's alignment view lets you visualize how every team and individual is contributing to one common mission — aligning and activating your strategy has never been simpler.

Whiteboards create an unconstrained safe space for ideas, so those fundamental stages of goal collaboration have a chance to flourish. Finally, with the home dashboard, you have one central place to show each contributor what they’re responsible for and what to focus on.

Improve efficiency

Efficiency starts with a strategy planning solution you can tailor to your organization. Quantive's configurable OKR methodology allows you to define OKR ownership globally or for each planning session, set key result progress caps, and shift ownership as needed.

Once your methodology is configured, approval workflows allow managerial oversight for the draft, review, and approval stages for OKR creation. Cascaded key results complete the efficiency setup, enabling a key result to contribute to the progress of another key result, or allowing multiple teams or individuals to align to a single key result.

Boost engagement

The transparency of OKRs in Quantive clarifies the direction of your teams. As COO, you can leverage this clarity in an operational capacity to foster connection, personal impact, and purpose for employees, contributing to engagement.

Shared ownership and collaborative OKR features distribute ownership to single teams and individuals or share it among multiple collaborators. With a direct connection to the end goal and a sense of ownership established, teams are naturally more engaged with driving results. 

Finally, project and task linking further team engagement by recognizing the everyday efforts of employees, as well as highlighting individual outputs and initiatives driving OKR achievement. 

Eliminate reactive decision making

Quantive prioritizes usability and accessibility to create data-driven execution. Our business observability options notify you immediately when something unexpected happens with your metrics so you can make informed decisions. 

Dynamic key results reduce manual check-in friction by automatically updating your OKRs with data from third-party apps. If you like loaded technology stacks, you’ll enjoy the 170+ pre-built and custom integrations. By linking the tools you use daily to Quantive, you can automate real-time metrics and eliminate reactive decision making.

Modernize operations

Data and process are two focal points in your mission to modernize operations. Quantive's Insightboards integrate your data sources and glean insights to get a complete picture of how OKRs, teams, individuals, and your entire organization are performing. Performance and progress reports then use that data to show a high-level overview of the ongoing progress of your organization’s OKRs, tasks, and insights.

Finally, process automation helps you optimize OKRs at scale, control the process, and ensure consistency in your operations. In Quantive, build your custom automation workflows for repetitive tasks or activate one from a ready-made selection.  

Next steps as chief operating officer

Creating chief operating officer OKRs is the missing link for COOs tasked with modernizing operations amidst an ever-changing business landscape. As the beacon for company alignment, engaging teams, and data-driven decision making, OKRs are primed to help you refocus your operating culture on outcomes.

In this article, you’ve seen how OKRs help tackle your main challenges as a COO. But even with plenty of knowledge at your disposal, creating change in your strategy execution process has never been more difficult.

So, how can you incorporate OKRs to close the gap between strategy and execution in your organization? These modern challenges require modern solutions — a strategy execution platform can be the practical next step in modernizing your operations.

Learn what a strategy execution platform can do for you as a COO

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Quantive empowers modern organizations to turn their ambitions into reality through strategic agility. It's where strategy, teams, and data come together to drive effective decision-making, streamline execution, and maximize performance.  

As your company navigates today’s competitive landscape, you need an Always-On Strategy to continuously bridge the gap between current and desired business outcomes. Quantive brings together the technology, expertise, and passion to transform your strategy from a static plan to a feedback-driven engine for growth.  

Whether you’re a visionary start-up, a mid-market business looking to conquer, or a large enterprise facing disruption, Quantive keeps you ahead — every step of the way. For more information, visit www.quantive.com

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