The power of passive-aggressive OKRs 😏

Posted by Ivan Osmak
on February 19, 2019

At the start of each quarter, one of the things I enjoy the most is setting passive-aggressive OKRs. Yeah, I am a lot of fun to work with.

In general, I think people underestimate the potential of fringe management approaches such as embracing awkwardness or practicing the art of passive-aggressiveness – but, that’s a whole another post. 😎

What’s a passive-aggressive OKR?

First of all, when I say passive-aggressive OKR – I really mean passive-aggressive KR or key result. There are three main types of such key results.

Type 1: Smartass KRs 🧐

Example: Increase gross margin by 5%.

Why is it passive-aggressive?

It’s passive-aggressive because we are not tracking the gross margins in the first place. To achieve this key result, you first need to establish the process and habit of tracking gross margins. Increasing the margins by 5% is a great bonus.

Type 2: Proxy KRs 🙃

Example: Create 100 pages in Confluence (Wiki by Atlassian).

Why is it passive-aggressive?

It’s passive-aggressive because it seemingly is absurd. Obviously, the idea behind it is for people to communicate better, but this is very hard to quantify – so a proxy key result, such as the number of pages created in Confluence can be used.

Type 3: Shock KRs 😮

Example: Close less than 10 deals this quarter.

Why is it passive-aggressive?

It’s passive-aggressive because it looks like exactly the opposite of what the business wants. The logic behind it, of course, is to increase the ACV (Annual Contract Value).

Why do passive-aggressive key results work?

I found it that these kinds of key results work because they are very precise and offer very little room in terms of excuses. They are an excellent way of aligning organizational goals with individual ones.

Let’s walk through the examples again and see why are these KRs useful.

  • Example: Increase gross margin by 5%
    If we have just said start tracking gross margin, first it would be a task and it would not have a deliverable (do we use excel? how often do we track it? have we automated it? why are we even tracking it?). By putting a clear deliverable here – which is to increase the gross margin – we ensure that we will track it, that it will probably be automated in some way and that we also know why are we doing it in the first place
  • Example: Create 100 pages in Confluence (Wiki by Atlassian)
    It is almost impossible to directly measure how well the team is communicating. Communication is often like intelligence – one always does enough of it, it’s the others that don’t. So, by creating a seemingly obnoxious key result of creating wiki pages, we do end up communicating more and better.
  • Example: Close less than 10 deals this quarter
    Quota = Number of Deals x ACV (at least in Saas). Businesses, obviously, try to increase ACV as it makes economical sense (less overhead, better margins etc). Salespeople try to hit quota as, again, it makes economical sense (commissions). If we put “Increase ACV by 10%” as a key result, there are just too many variables that can be used as reasons why it didn’t happen and most of those are out of direct control of either sales rep or company. The only thing that can be definitely controlled is the maximum amount of deals.

In conclusion, we could also say that this is about focusing on the leading indicators (things we can influence), instead of lagging ones (results of our actions) – but, who would want to read about that…