Aligning organizational goals with the Alignment Canvas

One of the claimed benefits of objectives and key results is that it helps to align teams and organizations, isn’t it? But OKRs are a lightweight tool and there is nothing in there to enforce this. So, how do we use OKRs to ensure everybody gets on the same page then? By making explicit what you want to achieve and how this contributes to the bigger picture, the OKR Alignment Canvas helps you with this.

Before you continue, if you don’t know what OKRs are, please stop here and read this page first: Successful Goal Setting using the OKR Method. If you do know, cool! Go ahead and read on.

The canvas

Prior to diving into all the elements of the canvas, it’s probably a good idea for you to download the alignment canvas and open it. It can be found here.

OKR Alignment Canvas

The purpose of this canvas is twofold. First, it will help you define objectives and key results for a specific period. By following all the steps, you will shape, align and solidify your goals. Next, a completed canvas serves as a document to show and discuss goals and expectations. A completed canvas is a tool to check if everyone is moving in the same direction and reveal when they are not. The canvas can be used by both individuals as well as teams in organizations of varying size.

One step at a time

The canvas consists of eight steps. It is important to go over all steps sequentially. Make sure you fully complete a step before you move on to the next one. After finishing each step, go over the already finished steps and check if the completed steps together still form a coherent set.

A completed canvas serves as a discussion fostering document. Make sure you distribute it among as many colleagues as possible. Especially to those co-workers who you think you need or need you. These are the people you should be discussing your canvas with, and relate it to theirs.

The steps

Okay, are you ready? Great! Start by making sure the reader of your canvas will know who to talk to for all kinds of feedback. Let’s write your name at the top of the canvas in the designated field. If you are the chosen one to represent a group or team at your organization, make sure you put the name of the group here.

Now that you are at the top of the canvas anyway, note that there are some more fields that want to be filled in:

  • Period
    The period for which the canvas is filled in. What is the time frame in which you plan to work on the objectives you define in this canvas?
  • Date
    You guessed it: the date you finished this version of the canvas.
  • Iteration
    The iteration number of the canvas. Since one of the goals of the canvas is to foster discussion, it is to be expected that more versions of the canvas are needed.

Brace yourself, because some heavy lifting is coming up. Let’s head over to the steps, starting with number 1.

1. Vision

What do you envision for the subject your filling this canvas in for? If it is for a team or department, what is the long-term objective? What would be needed to render the group obsolete? When is their work done? Describe the dot on the horizon the group is working towards.

If you are filling in the canvas for yourself, describe what you would like to achieve in your current role. When do you feel your job is done and you are ready to move on?

2. Tactics

Are you confident about your vision? Sweet! Next up are the tactics. You might wonder if this is the right moment to get your feet back into the mud. And you are right, it is not. But, you probably already have some ideas in mind about what you want to work on in the coming period anyway. Let’s get those out of your system and onto paper. It will free your mind to move back up the abstraction ladder later. Plus, it will help you get clear what it is you actually want to do.

So, write them down: what actions do you want to take in this period? What are you going to do? What projects are you planning to start? Sum them all up.

3. Objectives

At this point you know what you eventually want to achieve and what you are planning to do, do your magic and convert these insights into objectives. Take a close look at your vision and tactics and translate these in a set of inspiring and ambitious objectives (you know, preferably 3, no more than 5!).

4. Contribution

Before you start making your objectives measurable by defining key results, see how your current set of objectives contribute to the greater good. We want to align with everyone around us. This is the moment to start thinking about how we do this.

Ask not what your co-workers can do for you, ask what you can do for your co-workers.

Look around you, what other groups or individuals are working in the organization that your objectives support? Are you contributing to the goals of the organization directly? Or are there some intermediate objectives that you are actively contributing to? Per supported group or individual, write down who they are and how you support them with your objectives.

If you have a hard time coming up with defining how your objectives are contributing there can be two causes. Either you are the end-boss in your organization and you are defining the one set of OKRs to rule them all. Or you just realized your objectives are not in line with what the people around you are aiming for. If the latter is the case: go back to previous steps and revisit those.

5. Partners

So, we know how you are going to help make the bigger picture happen. But who do you need to make your smaller picture happen? Do the same as in the previous step, just the other way around. List everyone and all groups that you expect to support you.

What groups or individuals in the organization do you think should support you in pursuing your objectives? Per supported group or individual, write down who they are and how they help you reach your goals?

6. Success Metrics

We’re getting close to finishing your OKRs, but we’re not there yet. Before we can define key results, we need to determine what you can measure to actually track progress. What do you need to gauge to determine if you are getting closer to your goal?

Make sure metrics are truly measurable. Don’t pick metrics that rely on gut feeling or that cannot be realistically measured. Stay away from defining results just yet, stick to the metrics. Try to come up with as many metrics as possible. The metrics defined in this step will help you create key results next.

7. Key Results

Let’s start thinking about what success will look like. For each objective, define a couple (preferably 3 to 5) of tangible results that make the results of the objective concrete. Use the metrics you defined in the previous step.

8. Health Metrics

Last, but not least, given everything you want to do and achieve, what is at stake when you are going to pursue your objectives? Objectives and key results are supposed to be challenging. This often means some pressure needs to be applied here and there to achieve them. Where are you going to apply pressure and what are the risks? Sum them up here.

Now what?

Awesome! You made it until here, great job! Grab a beer and relax, because you are done…

…not.

At this point it is your duty to see if what you came up with makes sense. Check if you are heading in the same direction as your teammates are. This is the time to print the canvas out, paint it on the back of your truck and publish it on Reddit. Make sure it’s out there and seen by your colleagues. Discuss it with as many co-workers as possible, especially those that play a role in your goals. Use the feedback received to revise your canvas and create a new iteration. Again, discus it and continue these steps until your plans are clear and aligned.

Good luck!

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