Setting Long-term Goals with the OKR Framework

What is OKR?

OKR (also “OKRs”, Objective & Key Results) is a framework used to set and communicate company, team and employee objectives. It connects the objectives to a company’s vision and mission and measures progress against them.

OKR was originally developed by Andy Grove, one of the founders of Intel and author of High Output Management. John Doerr, from venture capital firm KPCB, later popularized OKRs by introducing them at many of his portfolio companies. Since then, OKR has been implemented and is actively used by Google, LinkedIn and other companies.

However, the method can also be applied to personal objectives. John for example has set a goal for how many times a week he wants to be home in time to have dinner with his family.

Objectives

Objectives are what you want to accomplish and are usually qualitative. The objective is designed to get people inspired and excited, so you want to use the common language and vocabulary of your team, even if it is informal. When formulating goals, aim for fulfilling the Eisenhower IDEA criteria for goal setting:

  1. Inspiring — only visionary, bold and eloquent objectives move people and your organization forward.
  2. Difficult — aim high with stretch goals far from the status quo, even go up to the point where one might feel slightly uncomfortable.
  3. Explicit — make your objective clear, concise and easy to understand from a first and brief glance, even for an outsider.
  4. Achievable — only commit on goals that can be nearly or completely accomplished in the underlying goal period by the assigned team or individual.

Key Results

Key results explain how you get to a certain goal. They are usually quantitative, but always measurable in their progress. Some people choose to start their list of key results with “as measured by: …”. With key results, keep in mind: only results matter for each milestone on your way to accomplishing the corresponding goal. So a key result must not put too much focus on a potential solution nor can it be a plain task list. When formulating, aim for fulfilling most to all SMART criteria by George T. Doran:

  1. Specific — target a specific area for growth or improvement and leave little to no room for interpretation.
  2. Measurable — quantify or suggest an indicator of progress to track, e.g. a number or ratio.
  3. Assignable — specify who will do it or at least be held accountable (the fewer people the better).
  4. Realistic — state what results could realistically, even if difficult or aggressive, be achieved given circumstances, dependencies and available resources.
  5. Time-related — if not by default at the end of the given period, specify by which date or event each result should be achieved.

Keeping Track of Accomplishment Progress and Final Evaluation with Grading

Objectives and key results should be reviewed weekly or bi-weekly to ensure focus and prevent “set and forget”.

At the end of your goal period, take adequate time for an in-depth assessment of each key result to show respect for the time and efforts invested by the assignee and to find ways to further improve productivity and collaboration in your organization.

Grading should be done quickly using percentage-based scoring. For example, Google uses a 0.0–1.0 scale. Some, however, favor visualizing the accomplishment in different ways like traffic light colors or smileys.

Don’t weigh one key result more than the others when average-grading the total goal, even in the case of different value contribution levels — it’s about the tendency, not perfection.

Benefits of Rolling Out OKR in Your Organization or Personal Life

OKRs can help to clearly put down your plans and commit to taking action through continuous measurement. Further advantages are:

  • Foster longer-term thinking and discipline of planning before taking action.
  • Clarify and agree upon expectations for teams and individuals.
  • Establish a common and open measurement of progress and definition of success.
  • Help teams and individuals align goals among each other and enable them to see how they are contributing to the big picture in regards to the company and top-level goals.
  • Establish transparency, cross-functional communication and understanding of priorities, both which are made and how potential reprioritization occurring along the way is decided in context.

Common Best Practices When Introducing OKRs in Order to Increase Your Chance of Success

Set goals per year and then per quarter — at a company (big picture at top-level), a team (inherited and newly-matched priorities, not just the bucket of individual goals) and an individual level (personal development and individual contributions).
1 company, 1 team and 1 individual objective is a good start for the first quarter with OKRs. Later, focus on 3-5 challenging objectives per year and 1-3 per quarter, with 4-5 or less key results for each.

Choosing objectives requires deeper thinking — a day or two in preparation and an extended drafting and review phase is not much when you work on your goals for the entire quarter or year.
Publication company-wide of drafts or a presentation with Q&A can assure cross-functional alignment and agreement on dependencies before finalization.
But don’t over-engineer anything — the goal setting, monitoring or grading process — it is the transparency, commitment, and actual work put towards the goals that matter.

At least 50% of objectives should be created from the bottom up (while mostly connected to top-level goals) to increase team motivation and aspiration.
For each key result, owners might list out projects and tasks for the month or week that they are working on themselves later.

To keep motivation up, goals should be rarely adjusted during the quarter, if ever. At most, a minor monthly adjustment in order to react to outside changes should be fine.

Start Setting Your Own Goals Now — with Our OKR Guide at Your Side

Get the official Eisenhower OKR Cheat Sheet including a well-written example to learn from right here:

Eisenhower OKR Cheat Sheet

Eisenhower_okr-cheat-sheet

Print-ready PDF with introduction, OKR example and tips for goal setting and grading.
Includes best practices and cascade and cycle examples.

100% free for personal use

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