Objectives & Key Results (OKRs)

Align people around a shared ambitious goal and then maintain focus through measuring progress regularly
Contributed by

Bella Bardswell

Published August 07, 2023

What Is Objectives & Key Results (OKRs)?

OKRs are a collaborative goal-setting framework for organisations, teams and individuals to set challenging, ambitious goals with measurable results.

OKRs have two parts:

  1. The Objective - The what. The definition of the outcome that you are striving to achieve.
  2. The Key Result - The how. The success criteria used to measure progress towards your outcome.

Why Do Objectives & Key Results (OKRs)?

Communication - OKRs connect strategy and execution by enabling the communication of your strategy to every person

Focus - Prioritising less, so you make big progress on less things, versus slight progress on lots of things.

Align - Have everyone moving in the same direction as a team, aiming for the same Objectives and measureing progress with the same Key Results. They also help teams know what is happening around them (up, down and sideways), so teams can align and collaborate more easily.

Commitment - When you are part of a team defining the problem you are going to solve, and there is clarity on how success is defined. You have the ingredients for autonomy and empowerment. People will naturally commit.

Track - Know how you are doing, so you can change if you need to. This transparency also fosters accountability... there are no locked cupboards or water melon reports

Results - Setting stretch goals and maintaining focus on them, will inspire and motivate people to do great work. Indeed, teams that consistently used goal setting frameworks can achieved a 3X increase in productivity in 12 months (Source: Align)

How to do Objectives & Key Results (OKRs)?

Writing OKRs should be a bottom-up (80%) and top-down (20% process).  So thinking about the top-down, you should definitely make sure you have sight of the draft OKRs at the level above your team so you can align. If it's not clear, then have a chat with someone or ideally get them to present to your team as it's really key that your team all understand what bigger outcomes your team is working towards. 

Step 1

For bottom-up input, have a think about your plans and goals as a team for the year. Ideally, get all people in the team together on a virtual call or in a room. Start by restating your mission and vision. (If you don't know this, you need to figure it out first, or get enough clarity that you're all pointing in roughly the same direction!)

Think about what you want to acheive as a team in the medium to long term. I recommend using post-its, 1-2-4 to avoid groupthink and dot voting to keep momentum forward.  At this stage don't worry about expressing things as objectives, just capture the ideas. 

Step 2

When you have prioritised to a list of 5-8 ideas. It's worth thinking about blockers for success and just checking that doesn't raise any other key objective areas. Next, you need to identify your top 3-5 ideas. This is prioritisation and I recommend practice like priority sliders or the $100 game to do this. 

Step 3

For your top 3-5 "outcomes", iterate on the wording to rephrase these as Objectives. A good Objective should be designed to get people jumping out of bed in the morning with excitement.  It tells everyone, "what are we aiming to achieve?"

Good Objectives Guidance

  1. Outcome Focussed - Focus on the destination not how to get there, a task list or a predetermined solution. Leave space for learning, adapting and innovation
  2. Inspiring - Describe an important and/or worthwhile goal that inspires people to act
  3. Ambitious but Achievable - Objectives should be ambitious and challenging but still achievable
  4. Qualitative - Describe the goal or problem. Numbers come later with KRs.
  5. Time Bound - Set a target date so things don’t drift and you know if you’re on track.
  6. Clear and Memorable - Remove the jargon. Expressed so all can understand
  7. Limit to 5 - To enable focus on the highest priorities and keep tracking effort sensible
  8. Owned by Team - The team who are part of defining their Objectives will be motivated and take accountability
  9. Support your company mission - It should be clear and understood how Objectives support your organisation’s mission

Step 4

For each Objective, brainstorm key results. Use dot voting and 1-2-4-All practices to iterate to a set of 3-5 Key Results. Key Results take all the inspirational language in your Objective and quantify it. To create, ask: “How would we know if we met our Objective?” Generally ideate as a group for KRs, iterate to final wording and numbers solo or in a pair.

Good Key Results Guidance

  1. Quantitative measurement of value - Measure desired outcomes and impact, i.e. results, not tasks completed.  Consider how your stakeholders/customers/users measure success. 
  2. Necessary and Sufficient - Taken together, your KRs should be necessary and sufficient to achieve the related Objective. Mix leading and lagging indicators.
  3. Stretch (within reason) - Each KR should be a challenge but not so difficult that it becomes demotivating. The rule of thumb is that over time, you should average 50-70%.
  4. Specific & Measurable - There should be no room for debate on how to score a KR. This will help surface assumptions and misalignments.
  5. Limit to 5 - To enable focus on the highest priorities and keep tracking efforts sensible.
  6. Owned by team - Teams should define their own Key Results to create a culture and environment where people are empowered to do amazing innovative work.
  7. Easily understandable - Remove the jargon and describe your KRs in a way anyone can understand

PS - You can also use AI tools to help you generate ideas for KRs, like this one.

Last of all, don't forget to assign owners for all Objectives and Key Results, those responsible for iterating, finalising and writing your OKRs down somewhere where everyone can see them.

NB - OKRs are simple but hard. Consider getting support from someone in your team with experince or an external expert.

Look at Objectives & Key Results (OKRs)

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