Cutting the bloat of business operations and going lean is the secret to outstanding business performance for many organizations. By doubling down on waste reduction efforts, iterative improvement, value-added activities, streamlined workflows, individual empowerment, and a collaborative culture, you can drive growth and results using a fraction of your resources.
However, implementing a lean growth strategy requires more than a mindset shift — your business needs to get its frameworks, tools, and capabilities in order. This is where objectives and key results (OKRs) come in.
In this article, we discuss the core pillars of a lean, high-performing organization and how OKRs can help you establish, nurture, and sustain these. But before we do so, let’s briefly define OKRs.
What are OKRs?
OKRs are a goal-setting framework that allow you to set ambitious, measurable, and collaborative goals at every level of the organization. These goals are comprised of two elements: Objectives and key results.
Objectives are concise, qualitative statements of what you’re trying to achieve within a given timeframe. They should be inspiring, motivating, and aligned with overarching organizational goals.
Key results are specific, quantifiable metrics that track progress toward these objectives. Typically, 3-5 key results support each objective as a yardstick for measuring achievement.
Get an in-depth understanding of how OKRs work
How OKRs and lean growth work together
But what makes OKRs and lean growth such a great pairing?
A lean growth strategy requires experimentation, continuous improvement, and efficiency to stop doing unimpactful work to maximize value in line with market developments and expectations. OKRs naturally support this growth strategy through their clear, trackable, and aspirational objectives that encourage lateral thinking and drive focus toward high-impact areas. As a byproduct of the intense focus driven by OKRs comes waste reduction and effective pivoting in response to business and market changes. This, in turn, nurtures a path of continuous optimization and growth, allowing you to find the perfect recipe for pursuing excellence while using your resources effectively.
Core pillars needed for lean growth and how OKRs support these
To help you understand the symbiotic relationship between OKRs and lean growth, let’s take a closer look at the core pillars of lean growth and how OKRs support these, including:
- Continuous improvement
- Empowerment and accountability
- Standardized approaches to working
- Delivering value efficiently
- Strong culture and vision
When pursuing a lean growth strategy, you must be agile and efficient. This involves trial and error, constant improvements, and staying on top of market changes. Without these, you risk lagging behind the competition — which is likely without a structured improvement process.
OKRs support continuous improvement by facilitating flexible, tangible, and feedback-driven goals for creativity and high-impact performance. They do so via OKR check-ins and retrospectives. These are held to assess progress, reflect on what went well, and discuss improvements for the next OKR cycle or period, helping teams fine-tune their strategies and identify areas for improvement. As a result, OKRs continue to drive increasingly impactful results the more accustomed you are with the methodology.
In fact, 17% of leaders with more than three years of OKR experience evaluate themselves as excellent in their ability to be agile and adapt. Even after just one year of using OKRs, there is a 12% overall increase in leaders who rate themselves as ‘above average’ in their ability to be agile, with those rating themselves as ‘excellent’ doubling.
When you’re focused on what truly matters at all times, you naturally reduce waste and become adaptable. This, in turn, creates a domino effect of continuous optimization, allowing you to find the perfect recipe for excellence using the most effective use of your resources.
“Improvement usually means doing something that we have never done before.”
— Shigeo Shingo
Empowerment and accountability
A successful lean growth strategy empowers employees to say no to doing the wrong work and ensures they take ownership for their results. Without these elements, your business strategy may fall flat, with no accountability taken for lean growth initiatives.
Yet, maintaining motivation and accountability across the board can be challenging — particularly when dealing with multiple priorities, communication gaps, and ineffective measurement methods.
OKRs provide a transparent and timely way to measure progress, granting individuals a clear sense of purpose and the autonomy to manage their specific OKRs. Each OKR has its dedicated owner and contributors, motivating employees to track their objectives and ensure they’re progressing as expected. Additionally, the transparency in OKRs reinforces individual ownership and accountability, as everyone can access OKR progress across the organization. This encourages a culture of empowerment and responsibility that perfectly aligns with your lean growth goals.
Standardized approaches to working
Standardized procedures are a must for lean growth. They reduce variability and ensure a steady and sustainable pace of progress, turning lean growth initiatives from occasional occurrences to daily business operations. However, implementing standard procedures can be challenging if your company culture resists change.
The OKR framework can create and strengthen your standardized approaches to working in three ways:
- Overcoming resistance to change: OKRs promote collaboration and address cross-functional concerns, making people feel heard, understood, and respected. This, in turn, fosters collective buy-in.
- Embedding goals into daily operations: OKRs establish a consistent rhythm of updates, feedback, and performance measurements using check-ins and retrospectives, keeping primary objectives relevant and at the forefront of organizational efforts.
- Integrating other procedures: OKRs are flexible and adaptable, making them valuable in supporting and complementing standardized methodologies like agile and KPIs.
By leveraging OKRs, you can systemize processes and methodologies to facilitate long-term lean growth using the right tools and frameworks.
Delivering value efficiently
A fundamental aspect of lean growth is value creation — making the most of your resources in alignment with top-priority goals. Yet, doing this is often easier said than done. Striking the right balance between process optimizations, goal attainment, and waste reduction can feel like a tightrope, with looming uncertainty at every step.
OKRs allow you to navigate this balancing act while keeping your resources in check. They encourage employees, teams, and departments to set and refine goals that mirror organizational priorities, bringing a sense of direction and focus to areas that drive impact. In doing so, your organization can ensure that everyone’s actions align with overarching objectives, with no scattered efforts or misdirected resources creating waste.
"There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all."
— Peter Drucker
Strong culture and vision
Creating a robust organizational culture and a clear vision is crucial in uniting everyone behind your lean growth strategy. This shared sense of purpose and direction ensures employees work together to achieve primary business goals.
Unfortunately, establishing this unity can be challenging, as differing perspectives, a lack of cohesion, and ever-evolving market conditions can lead to a lack of a unified front.
The OKR methodology provides a structured, cascading approach to establishing a shared foundation. Company-level OKRs can be set and trickled down through the organization, where the departmental, team, and individual OKRs align with top priorities. As a result, everyone’s efforts tie into the larger mission and vision of the organization.
Findings from the 2023 Global State of OKRs Report found that this approach is common among organizations that use OKRs:
- 65% align OKRs with lines of business or division-level objectives
- 59% set OKRs at the company-wide level
- 53% assign OKRs at the functional team level
In this way, OKRs serve as a conduit for maintaining and reinforcing a robust organizational culture and vision, ensuring that everyone focuses on valuable activities.
In a nutshell
A thriving, high-performing lean strategy goes beyond reducing excess and optimizing resources — it’s about achieving superior results efficiently. The OKR framework can be your ally in achieving this, carefully curating and aligning your operations with your strategy.
OKRs bring a systematic goal-setting to your business, empowering you to establish actionable, ambitious, and adaptable objectives. This framework seamlessly supports continuous improvement, the standardization of work processes, value-centric activities, accountability, and a robust organizational culture. Essentially, they can become your go-to solution for attaining exceptional results while maximizing resource utilization, driving excellence in both efficiency and outcomes.
Quantive is your bridge between strategy and execution. Founded on the objectives and key results (OKR) methodology, our Strategy Execution Platform is where businesses plan successful strategy, focus and align teams to it, and stay on the leading edge of progress.
As your company looks to achieve the best possible results, you need a modern approach to run your business and change your business. The Modern Operating Model brings strategy, teams, and data together to help make decisions faster, optimize operations, and drive better business outcomes.
Whether you’re a large enterprise facing competitive disruption or a small business leading the innovative charge, Quantive helps get you where you want to go.
Ready to achieve the best possible? Start using Quantive for free.