The Relevant Organisation

Posted by Bo Pedersen
on February 4, 2019

What is relevance?

Yuval Noah Harari’s latest book, 21 lessons for the 21st Century is a great quick read.

Describing how new technologies are impacting labour markets, Harari identifies a new threat to workers everywhere: irrelevance.

Whereas workers in the 20th century were at risk of exploitation, in the future, billions of workers will face the prospect of becoming almost completely irrelevant as companies leverage technologies which render human input redundant or at best a low value commodity.

According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, relevance is “the degree to which something is related or useful to what is happening or being talked about.”

For companies, the mission and goals define how their relevance to the world.

The mission describes what the company intends to achieve for the world.

The goals define milestones to realising the mission.

As a company, defining a clear mission, and setting good goals to set the direction of travel is imperative, and regular reviews to sanity check both are good business practice. Is our mission still relevant? How is the world changing and what does that mean for us?

Are we relevant?

As an employee, ask yourself two questions:

  1. Is my organisation relevant to the world?
  2. Am I relevant to my organisation?

These are tough questions, made all the harder by globalisation and ongoing innovation, which constantly change the playing field.

Microsoft’s changing mission

Microsoft’s original mission was: “Put a computer on every desk and in every home.

Then the world changed and the original mission became less relevant.

In 2013, the company mission changed to: “Microsoft is a technology company whose mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.”

With hindsight, the shift in mission makes sense, and perhaps it could be argued that this shift should have happened sooner.  The new mission is Microsoft’s way of defining it’s relevance to the world.

Am I relevant?

Even if you have satisfied yourself that your organisation is relevant to the world, you have to go one step further and ask:

“Am I relevant to my organisation?”

A different way of asking this question is:

Do I know how I can contribute towards the company mission and goals?

This question of course assumes knowledge of the company mission (if it exists), and company goals (if they exist).

Whether you’re a CEO, a manager or an individual contributor, this is a crucial question to answer.

How OKRs help companies and individuals stay relevant

Fortunately, help is available.

Companies everywhere are adopting Objectives and Key Results, or OKRs, as a way of defining how everyone in the organisation can contribute towards the company mission and goals.

Focus on what matters

The first way OKRs really helps is to clarify for everyone what matters most. On a quarterly basis, the company (usually led by the CEO, or another C-level executive) will define and communicate the company Objectives. These Objectives, with associated Key Results to measure progress, defines what matters most to the organisation that quarter. The company objectives should support the company mission and long term goals.

Align Everyone

Once the company OKRs have been communicated, the rest of the organisation can define OKRs to support the company OKRs. Whether top-down, bottom-up, or some hybrid mechanism, enabling teams and individuals to define how they will contribute towards the company OKRs gives everyone an opportunity to define how they are relevant to the organisation.

The Relevant Organisation

The end result?

A company working towards a relevant mission, and employees who can contribute meaningfully towards this mission. A relevant organisation, with relevant employees.