Tips for Writing Objectives like a Pro

In a series of interviews with Ulysses Diaz – the Director of Program management in Reflex Media – we discussed company changes required for the successful rollout of OKRs and the exact process that an organization should follow to write good Objectives. 

Part 1 – Rollout of OKRs

Part 2 – Writing company goals with OKRs

In this our third and final segment of the interview, we talk about the real life examples of Company Objectives that worked well for the organization. 

Every company is unique but we hope that these examples give you ideas and inspiration for your own organization.

Examples of Company level Objectives

Ulysses Diaz:

Every quarter that we write Objectives, we get better at them. So because of that, I wanted to share the most recent ones because I find them more mature than our early stage ones. 

You will see that in the high-level Objectives, I am pushing towards specificity, so that when the teams look at the Objectives, they know exactly where it’s coming from and why it matters.

Because of that, my Objectives at the drafting stage are getting longer – there are some key things in there that cannot be omitted. This context needs to be seen to invigorate, motivate and drive the teams in the right direction.

3 High-level Objectives Examples from Reflex Media

Ulysses Diaz:

  1. Implement processes, and complete hiring to strengthen marketing abilities, improving overall quality and empowering cross-departmental collaboration.
  1. Finalize WYP foundations and kick off brand acceleration through improvements to our digital marketing funnels, WP re-platforming, conversion flow optimizations, and continued brand development.
  1. Increase engagement on coredating brands through implementation of blue sky features, improvements in site speed responsiveness, and continued scaling of split testing / member cohort strategies.

Obviously, these are run-on sentences that could probably be shortened but it’s as concise as I could get them to be in order to include all of the necessary information.

This was something I wanted to discuss with you as well. Is it okay to keep the Objectives this long?

How to Phrase Objectives

Anastasiia Kuchynska: 

Phrasing of the Objectives has 2 stages and the exact wording would be different depending on whether it’s stage 1 – drafting –  or stage 2 – execution. 

When you are drafting OKRs, the teams need as much input as you can share with them. You can even go as far as add a lengthy comment to an Objective to explain it further. At this stage, the background information and context are very important. 

What we have found over time is that, when you are drafting high level Objectives, it’s better to phrase them in a form of questions, and not as ready-made statements. 

Leaders usually have an outcome in mind – something they want to achieve, and then to provide additional information, they are throwing in numbers, insights, observations, and they ask questions. For example, how do we change our conversion numbers? What do we need to change in order to impact XYZ? 

You phrase it in a form of questions so that people naturally engage in a problem-solving exercise. Questions (especially very specific ones) inspire more creativity. So don’t worry about Company Objectives getting longer. When you are drafting, they are supposed to get long. 

When you start the quarter, these overarching Company level Objectives can be shortened because by that time everyone knows what they are about. The point of using a shorter version is for people to remember it. Clearly, it’s very hard to remember something like: 


But you can label it in a way you can refer to it faster. And this labeling can be as funny as “Get users dancing on clouds to our tune” but internally the understanding of the reference needs to be already there. 

Ulysses Diaz:

We also do the questions part! I take those questions to the strike team discussions that we have prior to the actual planning sessions (more on strike teams in part 2 of this interview – How to write company goals with OKRs)

So if I know that we want to acquire more new members and we are pushing on acquisition, I will go in and ask exactly what you said – how can we increase our conversion rate? Where are the gaps in our existing processes? What are the areas that we need to tighten up? 

After the teams give me their answers, I take those points and bring them to the planning session – refine them and try to compartmentalize all of the different responses as big projects or programmes. And then, I narrow it all down and try to make sure everyone agrees on the general directions. 

This is where we get the initial wording of the Company level Objectives. I take the answers from the teams and craft them into a readable format to serve as Objectives. 

Anastasiia Kuchynska: 

Looking at the examples of the Objectives that you shared, I can see that they all come from trying things in the past and learning what works and what doesn’t. So your point about getting better at writing Objectives each quarter really stands out in the wording. 

So when you have an overarching Objective like this:

Increase engagement on coredating brands through implementation of blue sky features, improvements in site speed responsiveness, and continued scaling of split testing / member cohort strategies –

What would the teams’ OKRs or contributions look like? 

Teams’ Contribution to the Company Objective

OKR alignment best practices Company and Team

Ulysses Diaz:

The part about the blue sky features came from the 2 blue sky planning sessions from the main coredating brands. We went into the sessions and identified the problems, identified the current state of the brand, and got into the blue sky thinking: if we were to start from ground zero and launch something completely new, what would that look like? 

We went in, innovated, and came out of it with a bunch of solutions for the problems. Some of it was about member education throughout the site, and then there were more innovative features like using the concept of stories and activity feeds and real-time interaction. 

That is all blue sky features – innovative features. So naturally the ownership of this would lie with the Product team, UX team, Development team, and that part in the Objective that says “implementation of blue sky features” is going to be their entire quarter.   

The next part of that big Objective is “improvement in site speed responsiveness”, and it will be driven by Product, IT, Digital Marketing, and Development. We looked at some areas where we have opportunities to increase engagement, and the slowness of the site came up in certain areas. It was a fast decision for us because if the site is slow at crucial points of a user journey, and people have to click reload, they are going to leave. 

This part ecompasses the technical fixes that we are going to make – so it’s about optimization. 

“Continued scaling of split testing member/cohort strategies” is for and from Marketing, Product, Data, and Digital Marketing. And when I say Marketing that also includes the Creative team creating assets for them. 

This continued scaling and split testing involves A LOT. Part of that is instrumenting the front end and making sure that we have all of the instrumentation necessary to collect the data that we want. Once we have all that instrumentation done, which is something that we’ve been working on for 9 months now (collecting it, visualizing it, etc.), we can continue scaling the split testing. 

Once we have all that instrumentation in place, then we will run the split testing on modals, web-push notifications and so on, and we will relate that to existing email programs and then we can see how different testing scenarios play out. 

This is where the cohorts come into play as well. For example, if you joined and you are within day 0 and day 7, these are the existing email programs that we already hit you with. So what are the gaps within this email program that we can fill with a web-push? Or, if there are no gaps, how can we supplement some of the emails that you’re receiving with a web-push so that you never have to leave the site? 

So as we start diving into that more, we start developing the individual strategies for cohorts. We have a cohort of “day 0 to day 7”, “day 7 to day 14”, “day 14 to day 28”, “day 28 to day 32” and then it just keeps on going to 180 days. Basically, we are developing different strategies within those points in the user life cycle so that we can maximize the journey at those points as the users go through them. 

In developing that, in going through the scaling of the testing, we are going to start moving towards our vision – to have a very specific set of portfolios and programs for each cohort. So we would know, for example, that from day 0 to day 7, we will have these emails, these pop-ups, and we need to make sure that our users message at least 7 people within these 5 days because that means that they are more likely to stay, and so on. 

So this is how that big Objective really breaks down into several team’s OKRs. 

Anastasiia Kuchynska: 

Does it mean that every single team in your company has some relation to this big Objective? 

Ulysses Diaz:

No, there are teams that have nothing to do with it directly and they are working on other things. Finance, for example, and in general Operations which is Admin, Finance, HR – they are not touching that Objective. 

We have a different Company Objective to reinforce our company values as a part of our vision through events, meetings, and contests, and that is where a lot of the Operations and Admin work manifests itself. 

Our Finance is focused on payment reconciliation which is a corporate priority for the company but it is not nested at a corporate level because it’s just one team owning it. This Objective is extremely important and it needs to happen but it doesn’t tie into the innovative stuff that we are doing. 

Anastasiia Kuchynska: 

Thank you for sharing the examples. It’s a great illustration of the fact that good Objectives come from extensive discussions and digging deep into the problems that the company needs to solve. 

Let’s discuss your weekly process a little bit. What happens next after the OKRs are finalized? How do the teams track their progress over time?

Execution and Tracking OKRs

Ulysses Diaz:

I gave teams creative control on how they were going to run their weekly process. There are teams that talk about OKRs literally every week, and there are teams that do it every 2 weeks. What I do typically is I check in at the end of each month, and then we go through their OKRs together. 

I think that there is huge value in these ongoing discussions. The OKR process cannot only exist during planning. It’s something that has to be talked about every week or even every single day. It shouldn’t be done in a way that is forced – the OKRs need to be a part of the culture. Otherwise, they are not going to work. 

The OKRs have to come up just as much as the holidays, team outings, or things like that. It has to be something that is ingrained in everyone’s mind. So that when you look at your to-do list, every item there is in alignment with Team OKRs and corporate priorities. If your plans aren’t aligned, then your to-do list is probably a wrong one. 

Everybody needs to know that this is how the company is organized so that there is a buy-in across the board. And it’s very-very important that you are not getting a completely separate list of initiatives from your manager. We’ve made it very clear in the company that if that happens, then we need to talk, and we need to figure out what this other list is made of and if those items maybe need to be reflected in the OKRs. If not, then we probably shouldn’t be doing them.

It goes back to trust because the team has to trust that the initiatives they have in front of them are the right initiatives and that there is no breakdown between their manager – what their manager is asking them to do – and the executive branch. Teams need to trust that when we are planning at the high level we are doing a good job. 

And even with that in mind, we had from 6 to 9 months of managers coming up with initiatives that added to the existing OKR workload, and I had to interfere. My solution to that was getting more aggressive and intentional with the executive team and making sure that I am taking them through conversations about the future and what’s to come just as much as we’re doing it with the teams.  

The success of this comes back to the OKR champion.

If you’d like to learn more insights from the OKR journey discussed in this interview, please check the Part 1 and Part 2 of this interview. 

Part 1 – How OKRs Make a Company Stronger

Part 2 – How to write company goals with OKRs

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