Let’s dive into the world of objectives and key results (OKRs). Some say it’s just another goal-setting approach, but for me? OKRs have become one of the most valuable tools that I’ve adopted in both my personal and professional life.
I’ve been using OKRs for years now. Not just for me and my teams but for other teams I’ve worked with on strategy.
Every tool and framework can teach you a thing or two when you use them for the long term. So, here’s my take on OKRs and a handful of hacks and insights from the trenches.
What are OKRs anyway?
I won’t get into the nitty-gritty here, that’s been well covered by others. If you’re not already familiar with OKRs, I suggest you stop reading and check out our book summary of John Doerr’s book, “Measure What Matters.” The following videos also give a great primer on the OKR method:
But in a nutshell, OKRs are a simple way to set goals that are high on impact. They pair:
- Objectives, which are the things you want to achieve, usually described in words rather than numbers.
- Key results, the measurable bits that tell you if you’re on the right track.
How I do OKRs
My OKRs usually have two flavours:
- Standard OKRs: These are your steady-state goals. They spell out what long-term success looks like for individuals, teams, or the whole organisation. They don’t change much over short periods.
- Priority OKRs: These are the goals of the moment. They’re all about what’s important now. Finish one, and a new priority takes its place.
I keep it short and sweet. A max of five objectives of each type, and each objective has a max of five key results.
I usually adopt a quarterly OKR cycle:
- Start of each quarter (April, July, October, January): look back at the last quarter’s OKRs, and set the stage for the next quarter.
- Months two and three of each quarter: check in on how I’m, or we’re, doing against the current OKRs.
What I’ve Picked Up Along the Way
Here’s my stash of OKR wisdom:
- Momentum, not perfection. The resources I’ve linked to earlier, they’re strict on the approach. But I’ve learnt that you don’t need to be an OKR guru from day one. You’ll get better at this with practice.
- Less is more, always. Keep your focus razor-sharp. No more than five objectives of each type at a time, no more than five key results for each. For the Priority OKRs, cut back even harder. One at a time? Great. Finish it, then go for the next one. If you need more, it can work, but remember: narrow beats wide.
- Key Results are indicators of success. Don’t chase them blindly. Goodhart’s law says that “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.” Sometimes, those Key Results might wobble, and that’s okay. Look at them in context of what else is going on.
- Collaborative OKRs setting. Particularly for Priority OKRs, blend what the business needs with what each person’s itching to tackle.
- The golden trifecta. Every organisation I’ve come across needs the following three Standard OKRs: financial results, happy customers/clients, and an engaged team. Some might need an extra one depending on their gig, but these three classics usually do the trick.
So, that’s my take on OKRs. Keep it simple, stay flexible, and give it a crack!
- For more on OKRs, check out our book review of Measure What Matters, by John Doerr