We come across numerous strategy and execution methodologies and models in the work we do and the people we speak to. Some would even feel guilty if they use more than one methodology, as if they are “cheating on OKRs”. Guilt might arise in extreme cases, but confusion seems to abound everywhere.

If left unexplained, the different methodologies cause more confusion than clarification. So, in an attempt to clarify the language of goal management methodologies to a specific group of people, we came up with a picture and found it incredibly helpful ever since.

Although we focus on goal management, we have to consider goal management in the broader context of strategy execution. We’ll see quickly that not all the methodologies serve the same purpose, and a methodology has to be utilised for its benefits. (In the post, we’ll use methodology, framework and model interchangeably.)

Each methodology serves a specific purpose

“All models are wrong; some are useful.” – George EP Box

It’s conservative to assume that most methodologies weren’t just dreamt up; they were designed to address a need. Of course, no methodology will address all needs, and you shouldn’t expect it. Instead, expect it to serve a specific purpose and use it for that purpose.
With that in mind, be sure to compare apples to apples when considering goal management methodologies. Balance Scorecard, SMART, 4DX, BHAG, MBO, OKR, GQM are just some of the many terms we hear. For example, a BHAG might be good when thinking about the next five years, whereas OKRs are great for thinking about the next three months.

So in an attempt to differentiate the apples from the oranges, we came up with this picture:

(Our focus was on goal management, so we started populating some of the models on the left-hand side.)

In addition to providing a lattice to hang terminology from, it highlights three focus areas that require attention when striving for effective execution:

  1. What you want to achieve – The left-hand side (what I call “the facts”). This needs to cascade from purpose, to strategy, to goals, to daily actions. Are your goals and actions contributing towards living out your purpose, the reason you exist?
  2. Who you want to become – The right-hand side (what I call “the feelings”). This is the stuff of culture, and the appropriate culture will depend on your organisation. Does your company culture contribute towards successful strategy execution?
  3. The discipline in cultivating both – The system. There are habits that are useful to cultivate both of the above. For example, to cultivate the left-hand side, it’s weekly meetings to ensure progress, breaking down barriers together, quarterly reflections, annual planning, etc. To cultivate the right-hand side, it’s hiring procedures, celebrating people, endorsing values, driving transparency and communication, etc.

Most models are useful, provided it’s clear where they fit in.

It doesn’t start, or end, with goal management

There are many ways to break down an organisation’s strategic journey. The picture above is a helpful starting point. Let’s drill into the left-hand side a bit.
Your purpose unpacks why you exist and should be a reasonably timeless statement that informs your goals and culture. On the other hand, your ambition details what success looks like in the medium to longer term, usually 3-5 years.

Next is your strategy. Simplistically, your strategy is how you will get from where you are now to where you want to be in 5 years (your ambition). This is informed by your internal capabilities and the external environment in which you operate (competitive landscape, changing customer preferences, regulatory requirements etc.). Your strategy, therefore, reflects the critical choice or set of choices that your organisation is making in pursuit of achieving its ambition.

That strategy, we find, is best translated into goals through OKRs. Through OKRs, we aim to fill the gap between what the organisation is aiming for at a high level and what the teams within the organisation need to be doing daily (actions and behaviours).

There are numerous methodologies to tackle each of the above. Some will address multiple levels as well as the habits that need to be implemented in teams. As long as you know where it fits, you can use it accordingly.

Be free to adapt your goal management methodology

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” – Leo Tolstoy

All organisations that consistently execute successfully have processes and a culture that enable their goals to be met. The organisations struggling to get things done all struggle in their own way.

The processes and culture that successful companies employ transcend any single tool or framework. That said, a framework is useful, but should serve the principles necessary for successful strategy execution – principles of alignment, focus, transparency, accountability, and so forth. If some of these principles are being neglected, your team will become less effective.

Before you adopt a methodology, understand the rationale for the methodology. How does the methodology serve the principles, and are they all being addressed?

Then adapt your methodology to your unique circumstances. Exploit the benefits of the methodology you use. Don’t stick to the methodology irrespective of what might come your way. Adapt the methodology, but be wary of adapting the principles.

For example, many models lack a focus on the ongoing discipline of execution – a regular cadence to instil habits within teams. This is critical for successful execution. Most of us understand that goals will change and need to be updated; similarly, our systems will change and we need to adapt the methodology accordingly.

Frameworks are great servants but terrible masters.

Here are the key takeouts:

  • Frameworks, models and methodologies are designed for a purpose and are there to serve you.
  • Sticking to the methodology because you feel some sense of responsibility towards it is seldom useful.
  • Stick to the principles and you should be fine.
  • Adopting too many methodologies cause confusion.
  • Be clear on which need (at what level of the picture above) the methodology is addressing.
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