Everyone Has Customers (of some kind)

This understanding will change your business at every level

Hey folks,

I’ve been doing a lot more writing about OKRs lately. In fact, I’m writing a new book about them with my longtime colleague and co-author Josh Seiden. You heard it here first. (Actually, you’re hearing it first, period—we haven’t publicized it yet! Stay tuned for more soon.)

And one of the reasons we wanted to do a new book about OKRs is to debunk some of the misconceptions people have about them so it’s easier for more companies to incorporate OKRs into their operations and reap the benefits. One very common misconception? That OKRs only work for teams who work directly with a company’s customers.

The truth is, every team in every organization can use OKRs because everyone has customers. I’m using this week’s newsletter to explain how, why, and what I mean.

- Jeff

Article: Everyone Has Customers (of some kind)

As the Objectives and Key Results framework has picked up steam, I’ve noticed a big hiccup in its uptake: people tend to think that only certain teams and organizations can use it. The key value of OKRs is that they help teams focus on changing the behavior of their customers in ways that drive business results. A lot of teams hear “customers” and think, We don’t interact with customers directly—we don’t have customers ourselves. OKRs must not work for us. But that’s where they’re wrong.

Everyone has customers of some kind—whether they call them that or not. So, everyone can benefit from using OKRs.

Before the chorus protests, let me explain what I mean.

We all make things for people

No matter what kind of work you do, you make something. Maybe that thing is a physical product like graphic t-shirts or electric vehicles, or a digital product like social content or code. Maybe you provide a service that involves creating an experience for people, like legal consulting or hospitality. Or maybe you make something in a different vein entirely—an internal vacation policy or a piece of legislation. Whatever you make, that is your product.

You don’t make these products or provide these services and simply throw them out into the ether, hoping they land somewhere. You make them for people. You do it to serve people. For some of you, those people are direct buyers of your product or service. For others, those people are your colleagues and team members. Whoever they are, those people are your customers.

Your colleagues can be your customers

Let’s say you’re in the camp making internal vacation policies (said another way, you work in HR), and your company, a dating app startup, is struggling with employee burnout—getting employees to take time off is a challenge. You know burnout is bad for business in many ways. It makes employees less satisfied and engaged at work, less productive and efficient, and more likely to make mistakes. None of which is likely to enable them to produce good work or good results for the business.

When you write or update the vacation policy, you have a goal in mind. In this case, your goal is to get employees to take more vacation. If they take more vacation, they’re more likely to remain engaged, effective and happy on the job, and they’re likely to do their jobs better. You’ll know your new policy is successful if you see employees start to take more time off. If you don’t see that happen, however, you may need to make more changes to the policy or change something else about your approach.

Whichever change you make, you have the ability to influence your colleagues’ behavior, and your goal is to influence it in a way that produces positive results for the business. Your actions don’t influence the people using the dating app; they influence your colleagues. That makes them your customers.

OKRs for everyone

So, in the OKRs framework, “customers” and “customer behavior” just means “the people you make your thing for” and the actions they take. When understood in that way, OKRs can be applied to every role in every team in every company. No matter what it is you make, or who you make it for, you make a product (of some kind) and you have customers (of some kind).

Interested in working together?
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