COOs, Orange Juice, and OKRs: Getting the Most Squeeze from Your Operations
Homemade orange juice is delicious, but it’s a time and labor-intensive process.
Most Chief Operating Officers have nothing to do with the operations of the orange juice making business. But if you’re a Chief Operating Officer, we think your operation philosophy is (probably) outdated.
The COO‘s responsibility is in the name — often, the true thinker among all the company’s thinkers. The COO brings the company’s and CEO’s vision to life through operations.
You might be thinking, “tell me something I don’t know.”
We believe that COOs are missing out on a more effective way to manage operations. In this lens, being a COO does align with the orange juice making business.
Efficiency, labor, methodology, and technology all play a huge role in creating the freshest glass of OJ or running a Fortune 500 company.
If we had to guess (and you’re reading this), you’re probably somewhere in the middle. Why aren’t COOs aren’t getting the most juice out of their squeeze?
Apples to Oranges
COOs must strike a unique balance to run solid operations. Of course, there’s the actual approach used to operate and align workers in the trenches. But COOs must also compliment the CEO and other C-suite leaders. How do COOs strike the right balance?
This question parallels, “How do I get the most juice from my orange?”
Juicing an orange and managing operations have a few similarities.
1. There are plenty of ways to do both
2. There are better ways to do both
Sure, you could simply grab the orange, jab a hole in it, and squeeze it as hard as possible. While we don’t believe that COOs run-and-gun operations like this orange juice approach, COOs might be undermining their operations without realizing it.
From a strategic and structural standpoint, the COO varies widely in “how” their position operates from company to company. While the methods of COO‘s may differ, “what” COOs and any professionals seek to accomplish is united:
Get shit done well. Or, effectively and efficiently make the orange juice.
To get shit done well, COO‘s need a method to their madness, the same way you can’t just go slicing open oranges with a machete and expect to have a tasty glass of OJ. The COO position is a little more complex than fruit juicing, balancing the complex pillars of vision, alignment, and execution.
What’s the best way to squeeze?
OKRs: Your Ultra-Grade, Top-of-the-Line Juicer
OKRs put the oomph in “Operating” for the COO.
They are a cross-functional framework for creating vision, adapting strategy, and realigning execution. If this sounds familiar, you’re catching on. There is an intrinsic relation between OKRs and COOs, with a parallel between what OKRs provide and what COOs seek to accomplish.
OKRs are to the COO what the juicer is for orange juice.
They are backed by data-driven transparency and rigorous accountability. OKRs can expose blockers and weaknesses in your operations, but also pave the way to achieving the pillars of vision, alignment, and execution. Need a crash course on OKRs? Download this playbook.
COOs get a better “squeeze” on operations with OKRs because, like the juicer, OKRs solve several problems for the COO. We’ll explore a non-exhaustive list of problems around alignment and engagement that plague even the greatest organizations.
Problem 1 — Tossing Oranges: Resource Waste
Resources, both time and money, are top-of-mind for anyone in the C-suite. It doesn’t take a twenty-year career or even an MBA to understand that throwing money away is the quickest way to go out of business. What causes companies to waste resources? A lack of alignment on priorities and objectives.
Resource waste is like tossing half of your oranges in the garbage and expecting a full pitcher of orange juice as a result. Where do OKRs come in?
Using OKRs on the front line of strategy execution gives organizations a vision of what matters.
Objectives and Key Results bring structure to the complex question, “What are we trying to do?”
Objectives are the aspirational guideline for the organization, departments, and individuals. Key Results are the quantitative backups that show your organization’s progress towards the Objectives.
Teams must know that if they’re not contributing to the final batch of orange juice, their priorities are out of line. Is the company trying to improve the quality or volume of orange juice? Do we need more or less pulp? As a COO, lacking alignment means that teams are producing pulp-infused, low-grade orange juice when the company wants pulp-free, high-grade orange juice.
Reverse engineering the company’s Objectives and Key Results is the first piece of the puzzle for determining how COOs get the most squeeze. When organizations become more aligned and transparent on collective goals, resource waste can be avoided. Nobody likes tossing out good fruit.
Problem 2 — Hand Cramping: Redundancy Hurts
If OKRs answer why, can they answer “how?” Yes, through alignment.
Remember, OKRs are both organizational and personal in scope. Alignment for the COO comes in two forms: aligning their personal OKR to the organization’s goals and aligning the individual/team OKRs with the organization’s goals. As a COO, you can become the architect of this interconnective OKR web.
Back to our orange juice, teams have to understand who is focusing on what in the juice making process.
For example, teams must align on who is picking the right oranges, cutting the oranges to be juiced, operating the juicer itself, and collecting/storing the juice. This is similar to sales teams understanding what marketing teams are doing at the top of funnel, marketing teams understanding new features from the product teams, etc.
Alignment is never as black and white (and orange) as making orange juice, but it follows the same guidelines. As COO, you can ensure every team member’s OKR feeds into the department’s OKR, which aligns with other department’s OKRs to feed into the organization’s OKR.
If eight people on the team are focused on cutting the oranges but only one person is juicing, the team is not aligned, and the operations are redundant. “How” is the common-sense question for operations. Choosing the right framework that allows teams to transparently prioritize operations is crucial.
OKRs offer a clear “how” to the alignment concern that plagues many organizations. When teams understand how their individuals’ pursuits connect, it builds the accountability of the entire team and promotes a culture of transparency and focus.
Problem 3 — We’re Done Making Your Orange Juice: Lacking Engagement
Disengagement stems from several sources.
- Ineffective operations management, which devalues team members’ efforts when work is inevitably wasted.
- Lack of team collaboration, which causes dependencies, delays, and defects, fatiguing even the best workers.
- Simply poor team management and leadership, where team members experience little focus or unity on the greater objective and engagement suffers.
These operational factors can’t be ignored, but to understand where these factors might originate, it identifying a singular source is helpful. A gateway engagement killer that OKRs counteract is the output versus outcome mentality. Back to the juicing board we go.
Do you care how many oranges your teams can juice in an hour? Your first instinct might be, “Well yes, of course I do! That affects the amount of bottled orange juice we can sell.” But let’s pose some “What if?” scenarios:
- What if the juice is overly pulpy because your team was worried about the number of oranges squeezed? Sure, they got the juice, but the quality isn’t up to par.
- What if they don’t squeeze each orange for all of its juice because it’s easier to get “most of the juice” and toss it away. Yes, they hit their numbers, but at a much higher cost to the company.
This is an extremely simplified example of the output mentality.
What you should care about is how many bottles of orange juice you can get off the line, ready to be sold, at the standard you expect. The finished product is the goal. The outcome mentality.
OKRs shift the execution focus where other methodologies fail, affecting engagement as a result.
With OKRs, everyone has individual accountability for the entire goal-setting timeline: weekly, monthly, quarterly, whenever. Counter to traditional strategy execution and KPI-focused metrics, OKRs aren’t about aimless tasking and time consumption for the sake of it. When teams are focused on what matters, effectiveness and efficiency improve. Teams that feel and understand their impact are engaged teams.
OKRs focus on outcomes. Not outputs. Bottles of high-quality orange juice. Not oranges squeezed. Teams can take pride in the final product, a refreshing glass of OJ, not in the fact that they squeeze 76 oranges.
Key Results, the “KRs” in OKRs, are the data that measures the outcomes of effort across the board.
As a COO, applying this principle of execution through OKRs is the centerpiece for creating outstanding change. Understanding the nuances of each department and individual roles uniquely positions the COO to contextualize the organization’s operations.
The “how” behind implementing OKRs in organizations and departments varies, but the COO can be a huge factor in the OKR process. The selfish payoff from OKRs and the strategic empowerment that comes from the OKR process is a no-brainer for the “brains” of operations.
How to Get the Most from Your Squeeze as a COO:
Incorporating OKRs could be the centerpiece for COOs to create outstanding change. Through the orange juice metaphors, you have seen how OKRs promote a culture of transparency and focus while engaging and aligning teams on what matter.
OKRs help COOs better understand the nuances of each department and contextualize the organization’s operations as a result, based on the pillars of vision, alignment, and execution.
The selfish payoff from OKRs and the strategic empowerment that comes from the OKR process is a no-brainer for the “brains” of operations.
The problems explored in this post are not all-inclusive. We don’t expect you to just take our word for OKRs. If you’re curious to see the data and learn more about the extensive potential of OKRs as a COO, check out the whitepaper below from Constellation Research:
Before reading this whitepaper, it’s helpful to understand what a COO’s OKR might look like and how that OKR aligns with the organization. We’ve provided an example below for your convenience, as well as an alignment tree for COOs.