Antipattern: Umbrella Objectives/Thematic Objectives
The problem: bucketing independent objectives together
Some teams have a tendency to bucket several independent objectives into one thematic/umbrella objective. For example:
- Objective: Improve People Management Processes
- Key Results:
- Improve Hiring Processes
- Improve Retention Processes
- Improve Accountability
The diagnosis: spreading attention thin, less likely to succeed
Franklin Covey famously wrote that people with 1 objective have almost 100% chance of succeeding with excellence. People with 3 objectives have less than 25% chance of succeeding on even one of them with excellence. And people with over 5 objectives have less than 10% chance of succeeding on any of them with excellence. In other words: for each new objective we add, we reduce our chances of succeeding with excellence exponentially.
Why and where do Umbrella Objectives occur
- Often in the last objective on a constrained list (eg when a company sets maximum 5 OKRs)
- Often in staff functions such as Finance, IT, or People
- Often when there is an unmet need in the steady KPIs that that function produces
- e.g. in Finance: reporting high profitability every week but suppliers are complaining about unpaid bills. This can lead to the management team adding an “solve accounts payable” OKR, whereas “days accounts payable” should really just be a KPI.
How to deal with Umbrella objectives
If you are feeling under pressure from peers (or from yourself) to propose an umbrella objective:
- Ask your peers if they’d rather see little progress on several things than major progress on one thing.
- Try to identify OKR demands that are really unmet needs for a different KPI.
- e.g. “If I asked JiHyun to track and report median time per hire, and identify the bottlenecks, would that help move us forward enough without needing a full OKR this quarter?”
- Try to pre-plan/stagger OKRs. Eg “we can make major progress on OKR-A in Q1, prepare for a major launch for OKR-B in Q2 and that will leave us with enough time to consolidate improvements with OKR-C in Q3”
- If projects are happening anyway, try to position the majority of them as lower-level OKRs, and suggest only the one that makes the biggest difference should be tracked as a higher-level (or company) OKR