OKR goals infographic for 2017
Download Definitive OKR Goals Infographic for 2017

What does OKR stand for?

Objectives and Key Results (OKR) at the most basic level is just a way of setting goals. Yet it is a modern management approach to setting company-wide goals so as to align everyone and focus on the same key priorities that truly drive results. The OKR methodology is a “Shared Goals” system which creates clarity and aligns all of your organization, connects everyone to your Top Company Goals, increases performance and drives better results. Since Google began using OKRs in 1999, this framework revolutionized goal-setting and has become the de facto standard for aligning company goals with employee goals for the world’s best performing companies including Linkedin, Oracle, Twitter, Dropbox, McKinsey, John Hancock, VMware and many others. Here we will explain the introductory basics about how OKRs can help organizations improve performance, achieve a higher level of productivity and organizational clarity, and ultimately succeed with better results.

What are OKR goals or “What is an OKR” as usually asked?

OKR goals is a goal-setting system for organizations which helps create clarity and focus, align everyone at the organization, connect their work to the organization’s top strategic priorities:

  • Inform everyone at your company clearly about what is truly important to the organization
  • Align everyone to the Top Company Goals and ensure they all move in the same direction
  • Focus all the effort at your company on that really really matter and what moves the needle
  • Connect all employees your company’s mission and to the most important priorities
  • Track goal-achievement and progress at every level of the organization
  • Establish clear Key Performance Indicators for measuring progress
  • Achieve higher performance and results

Benefits of OKRs – Why Use OKR Goals?

  1. Align Your Company: align everyone’s work at your company to the top objectives.
  2. Create Clarity & Focus: everyone knows their few clearly defined goals and the entire company focuses on the few things that matter most.
  3. Connect Employees to Your Mission: connect your employees’ work to your company’s mission – this impacts your employees’ performance and your company’s results.
  4. Improve Continuous Learning: OKRs offer your company faster learning and improvement that drive better results.
  5. Create Transparency & Accountability: OKRs bring transparency to your company and everyone can see what others are working on and this drives more collaboration and better performances.
  6. Accelerate Results: as a result of clarity, focus, alignment, connection and improved continuous learning, your company will accelerate performance and driver better results.

Read here about more benefits of OKRs.

This link features a team at Google discussing how they use OKRs at Google to run teams more effectively: Google and OKR Goals.

Note that setting OKRs is not complicated – it’s simply goal-setting in a way that is aligned and transparent. However, it can become slightly confusing when companies are just starting to use OKRs without prior experience or when a lot of internal alignment is required. The good news is that all of this can be learned. Another set of good news is that if you do OKRs then your company will benefit if you use the process with consistently and in a disciplined manner.

However, no company should ever start doing OKRs merely for the sake of doing it because everyone else is. The OKR system is an enabling mechanism for much more effective, efficient, aligned, and high-performance business operation which many refer to as operational excellence. It also creates better clarity and accountability for everyone at the company. These are the key reasons why companies should start using OKRs.

The following is an excerpt from the eBook “Definitive Guide to Objectives and Key Results” created by Atiim for you to get understanding of OKRs before getting started with them. If you need a comprehensive guidance on how to implement OKRs, download the complete guide.

What are OKRs?

The Ultimate Guide to Objectives and Key Results (OKRs)
Read Ultimate Guide to Objectives and Key Results (OKRs)

OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) is the next generation goal-setting process and system, an evolution of S.M.A.R.T. goal methodology (Specific, Measurable, Aligned, Relevant, Time-based), and MBO (Management by Objectives). These traditional goal-setting practices have been used successfully since the early 1950s, but the OKR process is different from these methods because it adds two important aspects critical for today’s rapid-paced work environments:

  1. cascading alignment of goals and
  2. breaking up an Objective into smaller steps (the 3-5 Key Results).

Below, we show the definitions of Objectives, Key Results, and Tactics. It’s important to know that Objectives inform the “What,” Key Results inform the “How,” and Tactics fall under Key Results – they inform the “how.” It’s also important to note that Tactics are not tasks. To clarify this point, think of tasks as those in Asana, Jira, or Trello, which are popular tools for task management. Tasks are the many actions that fall under a Tactic, and are necessary to be completed in order for the Tactic to work. You may need a couple of Tactics to achieve a Key Result. Then, you must achieve a couple of Key Results in order to hit the Objective. Diagram below illustrates this process (but doesn’t include the tasks, which are always a couple of levels below Objectives).

History of OKR Goals

History of OKR goals


Cadence of OKRs

what are okr goals




Objectives (Os)

  • An objective states “What” (what you want to achieve). It’s a title that names a set or a group of Key Results
  • An Objective (in OKRs) as basically a “Strategic Theme” (aka the a “Burning Imperative” as some companies call it) – it is a qualitative headline, an overarching a theme of what you want to accomplush
  • It is qualitative because it is just a name of a group or a set of Key Results (i.e. and KRs are used to measure the Objective)
  • Quarterly – you don’t want to set objectives 12 times per year or monthly, just 4 per year
  • Each Objective has 1-5 Key Results which measure the Objective
  • Google suggests: “use expressions that convey endpoints and states, e.g., “climb the mountain,” “eat 5 pies,” “ship feature Y.””

Key Results (KRs)

  • Key Results is a “result” that you seek (it is not a task)
  • Each Key Results is your “How” – it’s how you will achieve the Objective, or how you will know if you succeeded
  • It is a “Measurement” of the Objective – KRs help you measure the progress made on your Objective
  • Thus based on a prior point, a Key Result includes in it a KPI (Key Performance Indicator) and is written in such a way that it is like an MBO because it’s the very outcome or end result that can be either a measurable Milestone (and sometimes, if possible, quantified as a Metric)
  • It is a success criteria that shows you how you are making your progress
  • It can be a Milestone – thus it is qualitative but measurable by Complete/Incomplete or by % progress
  • Or it can also be a Metric – then it quantified with a number ($ or any monetary value, # of units, etc.)
  • Google suggests: “Key results should describe outcomes, not activities.”

“Key results” can be thought of as measurable steps to achieve the objective. Like objectives, key results must be measurable and should ideally be quantified (thus we recommend you set them as a Metric if possible).

What Is Unique About OKRs?

OKRs are unique in several ways:

  • OKRs communicate the Top Company Objectives more clearly, accurately and consistently
  • Focus everyone’s effort on priorities & what really moves the needle
  • Align goals throughout the organization towards the key top goals
  • Give employees meaning & purpose (they see their contribution)
  • Allow for several measurements/KPIs to measure the Objective, not just one like MBOs
  • Frequent progress check-ins and progress drive better execution
  • They create unparalleled transparency, accountability and empowerment
  • Strategic – they emphasize results and outcomes, not tactical tasks or activities
  • They tap into the collective wisdom of your group and are both top-down and bottoms-up
  • Help managers be more effective and improve coaching and continuous learning
  • OKRs are designed for operational teams to execute effectively, not just for HR

When writing OKRs, use simple, direct sentence structure. Phrase OKRs in the language that’s most relevant to the targeted group or individual so that they have a concrete understanding. When composing Os and KRs, use action verbs to make them more powerful and clear – that will also ensure KRs will become more actionable and easy to understand when they are cascaded down as objectives.

How to Use OKRs?

OKR Goals Excel Template
Download Free OKR Goals Excel Template

Your company’s OKR approach will vary slightly – or significantly – from that of next organization, but there are some best practices to keep in mind when implementing OKRs.

Quantify (Use Numbers)

For one thing, it’s ideal that both the objectives and each of their key results are quantified, and are not merely measurable (i.e. as that is different from being quantified). You must avoid ambiguity and subjective language altogether when composing OKRs – that way, you can clearly define your objectives and the steps needed for execution, providing you with a marker against which you can measure progress. Google strictly believes that “it’s not a key result if it doesn’t have a number”. likewise, the objective that encompasses each set of key results should also have a number.

Collaborate

More than half of your OKRs should come from the bottom up. This allows leaders and lower-level employees to collaborate and align priorities, while also opening up new perspectives for upper-level management. Not every person’s OKR will be a company-level objective, but each individual’s OKR must still somehow contribute to the all-encompassing organizational goals.

Maintain Frequency

Make OKRs a part of the weekly process. While OKRs are determined at the start of each quarter, they must be acted out on a daily and checked on a weekly basis. When a CEO, executive or a manger meets with their people each week and reviews weekly progress, he or she must ask: “Where are you with regard to your objectives, what are bottlenecks in meeting your objectives, and do you need everything from me?” This develops goal-meeting as a habit.

Keep it Positive

Avoid turning OKRs into a performance review. Not achieving 100% of an OKR should provide learnings, data and indicators about what not to do next quarter. In other words, it’s OK if some portion of a bonus is tied to an “operational” OKR (not “aspirational”) but it is not meant to be a central issue in a performance review. There is a lot more to performance reviews than achieving any given OKR. Plus, OKR achievement should always be assessed in the right context when discussed in performance reviews. This creates an opportunity to go back and assess why the objective couldn’t be met, which key results were too difficult, and whether or not obstacles can be avoided moving forward.

Impose a Limit

Never assign more than four or five objectives per quarter. Also, avoid having more than four or five key results for each objective. Keep it between 4-5 objectives with 4-5 key results for each. Any more will require too much “intellectual juggling,” and individuals won’t be able to dedicate enough time to executing each OKR

Key Tactics

Key tips for effective implementation of Objectives and Key Results:

  • Make annual goals and break them up into quarterly objectives
    This creates long-term and quarterly clarity and focus – everyone knows how it all fits together
  • Set Top Company Objectives first
    This allows you to set the top priorities to which everyone can contribute and align
  • Set the shared Departmental, Group or Team objectives
    It’s important to set shared OKR goals that belong to the actual department, group or team and not just to individuals
  • Designate a DRI (Directly Responsible Individual) for every OKR
    There is a saying that “without responsibility there is no accountability” – DRI needs to help drive the achievement of the OKR plus do the retrospectives for continuous learning. Also, the DRI doesn’t need to be the group manager – they can just serve as a project manager or owner of the OKR.

When writing OKRs, use simple, direct sentence structure. Phrase OKRs in the language that’s most relevant to the targeted group or individual so that they have a concrete understanding. When composing Os and KRs, use action verbs to make them more powerful and clear – that will also ensure KRs will become more actionable and easy to understand when they are cascaded down as objectives.

If you’re unsure of how to author your OKRs, take a look at the goal cascading and examples below.

How Goal Cascading and Alignment Work

Goal cascading is crucial for a medium and a big company the and becomes the only way to manage it effectively.

How Goal Cascading and Alignment Work from Atiim, Inc.

OKR Examples

Ebook - The Ultimate List of OKR Goal Examples for B2B Companies
Download OKR Examples >

Here are some examples of what is acceptable (but not great) and what is bad when it comes to structuring your OKRs. This should give you some clarity about what you must avoid altogether, as well as what may be acceptable in early stages of rolling out OKRs at your company.

OKRs should be actionable, unambiguous, and fit the S.M.A.R.T. criteria

You can see a full list of OKR Goals examples for different departments and roles.

A list of OKR Goals Examples >

Insights from Google

“In late 1999, John Doerr gave a presentation at Google that changed the company, because it created a simple tool that let the founders institutionalize their “think big” ethos.” – Eric Schmidt, Google (in “How Google Works”)

Google has shown the world the power that can be honed through the use of OKRs. Now that OKRs have existed for over a decade, we find ourselves able to learn from our predecessors, and able to make more informed decisions about where we can go to strategize the process even more, optimizing alignment, engagement, and extraordinary results. For your own take on how Google uses OKRs, watch hour and a half Google Ventures video:

Here are the top 15 insights we collected from the video:

  1. Companies should fight the urge to say: “Well that’s Google, we can never be like them,” etc. As Klau put it, Google wasn’t even Google until they began using OKRs – it was just a “young and ambitious” company. In other words, it could work for any company.
  2. The reason Google was so attracted to OKRs is because they provide data. The setting, tracking, and measuring of objectives and their corresponding key results provides concrete data, which can be used to benefit any organization.
  3. OKRs are connected across the individual, team, and company levels. Klau uses the example of a football team: the head coach, defensive coordinator, and individual player each has his own set of OKRs, but they are all connected to the overall goals of winning games and selling tickets.
  4. Objectives should be a bit uncomfortable. As Klau puts it, if you know you’re going to nail it, you’re not trying hard enough.
  5. All OKRs contribute to company-level goals, but each individual’s set of OKRs is not necessarily a company-wide priority. Back to the football comparison: although the defensive coordinator may not be concerned with getting a feature in the Sunday paper like the PR team is, each team and individual’s OKRs all align back to the main priorities, which are playing well and achieving high attendance.
  6. OKRs inherently create discipline and transparency within an organization, because everyone can see what everyone else is working on.
  7. The writing and collaborating processes of developing OKRs often becomes a cyclical process – Klau uses term “virtuous cycle.”
  8. Allowing individuals to be a part of the OKR writing process could open up new discussions, and perhaps even provide new insights for upper-level management and other leaders.
  9. More than half of the objectives should come from the bottom up; in order for OKRs to be effective, they cannot all be dictated down from the top.
  10. It’s important to understand the difference between objectives and key results; Klau explains the two by using examples of actual OKRs that he composed in the past.
  11. In his examples of past OKRs, Klau refers to making a “measurable impact” with Blogger – but we wonder if that phrase could be better defined. A “measurable impact” to him might not be the same to another person. This one wasn’t so concrete and failed to have a number – which went against what he said earlier in the presentation, that each OKR should have a number with it.
  12. Low scores on OKRs should not be viewed as failures, because they still provide data and can act as a road map for the following quarter’s objectives.
  13. According to Klau, OKRs “don’t take a ton of time.” He further says that leaders can establish a rhythm very quickly when it comes to implementing and grading OKRs.
  14. Klau says you only need to have 1-2 one-on-one meeting per quarter. Yet, because data and feedback are crucial, weekly one-on-ones may better facilitate the OKR process. Having regular check-ins could prevent the need for the lengthy quarterly meetings Klau kept referring to, as well as formal, antiquated performance reviews.
  15. In response to a question about when a management team should adopt OKRs – Klau answers, “as soon as possible.” He says even if you’re a team of five, the earlier you adopt OKRs, the easier it will be.

If you need more OKR Tips, download the guide based on the insights we learned from Google: How to Set OKR goals Like Google: Top 10 Tips

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