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OKRs stands for Objectives and Key Results. It is one of my favorite frameworks for organizing goals and priorities. OKRs can be effective for your personal development or for guiding a global organization.

OKRs originated over 20 years ago at Intel from Andy Grove but became more popularized through its usage at Google. They share many similarities to 4DX but are lighter weight and thus a more adaptable system.

Defining OKRs

Objectives identify to goal to achieve. They’re usually one sentence, specific and actionable.

Key Results describe how the objectives are achieved. Like objectives, they are specific, quantifiable, and time-bound; think SMART goals. When reviewing a key result, it should be immediately apparent whether or not it has been reached.

Objectives tend to last longer, whereas key results usually change each cycle.

Ideas are easy. Execution is everything.

The OKR Process

In his book Measure What Matters, John Doerr describes four superpowers for using OKRs.

  1. Focus and Commit to Priorities
  2. Align and Connect for Teamwork
  3. Track for Accountability
  4. Stretch for Amazing

Focus and Commit to Priorities

Whether it’s an individual or an organization, we’re usually trying to do too much. We’re pulled in too many directions, trying to do too many things simultaneously. 

People are more effective when they know what’s important and where to focus.

Focus means saying “no” to many ideas and potential goals, which doesn’t mean lowering the bar to try and do less. We are still aiming high and stretching ourselves but doing it in a targeted way. Saying “no” to secondary goals produces the highest impact on the primary goals.

These are similar to concepts we explored in setting Wildly Important Goals in 4DX.

Align and Connect for Teamwork

The OKR for every team in an organization should be transparent to the whole organization, and it allows contextual awareness of points of synergy or dependencies. 

OKRs can cascade down from the top or aggregate up from the bottom. The best is when some of both core directional priorities flow down from the top, and innovative new ideas are bubbling up from the implementation level. 

This two-way flow of priorities creates significant alignment within the organization. 

High-functioning teams thrive on creative tension between top-down and bottom-up goal setting, a mix of aligned and unaligned OKRs.

Teams are now working on the same things, bringing their best to pull in the same direction. Suddenly teams, who were postured as competing with each other, are now sharing resources and working together collaboratively.

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Track for Accountability

We regularly and transparently grade OKRs. Because they are measurable, it should be clear if we’ve met that measure. The cadence can vary depending on your context, and if the whole OKR period is three months, you may report monthly.

I like to use a combination of colors and decimals, which I took from Google’s example in Measure What Matters.

  • [0.7 to 1.0] we delivered
  • [0.4 to 0.6] we made progress but fell short of completion
  • [0.0 to 0.3] we failed to make real progress

Percentages seem natural, but they often serve as placeholders for poor estimates. Think about that project that’s been 80% done for the past month.

For example, consider this KR: produce seven new training videos by March 1. Depending on the possible scores, the team will have different responses.

  • [0.9] 6/7 videos completed. We call this a success.
  • [0.6] 4/7 videos completed. What is needed to finish? Is there a way to get back on track? More people or more time.
  • [0.3] 2/7 videos completed. Time to investigate. Is there a major barrier? Is this KR still relevant?

Tools become important here if OKRs are going to scale across an organization. 

When a hundred teams keep their OKRs in separate docs, nobody has time to open and read through all of them. Dynamic, searchable, cloud-based tools work best here. 

It’s beneficial if it can be the same tool you use to organize your daily work.

Even for personal goal setting, I need to record my OKRs so that I frequently review and engage with them. Otherwise, I will get distracted; move my focus elsewhere and miss out on the potential impact of the OKR I took time to craft.

If you share a goal and nobody sees, is the system truly transparent?

Stretch for Amazing

We all have those stories of when we personally or a team we were on did more than anyone expected. Teams can often accomplish more than they think they can. 

OKRs should stretch us. 

When setting the objectives, we should ask, “what objective, if achieved, would fundamentally change the game we’re playing?” Sometimes we’ve already ruled out these objectives because we labeled them as impossible. 

What would it take to make it possible? Well, that’s what we build the key results around. A good rule of thumb is to set the goals high enough you only expect to meet them 70% of the time.

Next Steps to use OKRs.

OKRs feels like a sweet spot to me of lightweight but fully integrated. I use it for my personal goal-setting, and I’m working to see it implemented in the organizations I work with.

The framework is simple to learn and communicate but requires a high level of commitment to succeed. If you’re interested in learning more about OKRs, I suggest reading John Doerr’s book Measure What Matters or checking out his website

If you want help identifying objectives or key results for your next project, personal or professional, signup for one of the free 30-minute coaching sessions I offer each month.

Maximize Your Leadership Potential

Leadership isn’t a journey you should take alone. What if you had someone to come alongside you? I provide coaching to help you reach your vision, lead others and grow as a leader.

Schedule a Free Coaching Appointment

This post is part of Reaching the Finish Line: A Goal-Setting Guide for Everyday People. Knowing and crossing the finish line is essential to intentional living.