Committed vs. aspirational OKRs: What's the difference?

Committed vs. aspirational OKRs: What's the difference?

by Sam Prince


Published on 08.23.2019

When it comes to OKRs (objectives and key results), there are two types of goals: committed or aspirational. They both serve different purposes and have separate ways that they can be read, interpreted, and acted upon.

Committed OKRs are just that: goal-setting commitments. They are things that an individual, team, or organization has agreed will be achieved. Resources and schedules should be adjusted to make sure they get done. When graded, the expected score for a committed OKR is 1.0. A lower score requires a discussion, as it shows opportunities to adjust/improve in planning and/or execution. Aspirational OKRs, on the other hand, are how we’d like the world to look. They are sometimes called 10x goals or “moonshots.” The sentiment is best encapsulated in "Measure What Matters", where Larry Page is quoted as saying, "If you set a crazy, ambitious goal and miss it, you’ll still achieve something remarkable.” With aspirational OKRs, there is no clear path to get there—and no real knowledge of what resources will be required. They may also roll over from quarter to quarter, or year to year. Sometimes, they may even be reassigned to different teams. The expected average score of an aspirational OKR is 0.7, but with lots of room for variance.

Patti Stonesifer, the former CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, had this to say about committed and aspirational OKRs in "Measure What Matters." She writes, "Until you set a really big goal, like vaccinating every child everywhere, you can’t find out which lever or a mix of levers is most important. Our annual strategy reviews began with: 'What is the objective here? Is it eradication or is it expanding the reach of vaccines?' Then we could get more practical with our key results... You need those key results to align your everyday activities, and over time you keep moving them to be even more ambitious against that really big goal."

Common mistakes when writing committed OKRs

A common pitfall for writing committed OKRs is writing a Low-Value Objective (LVO), also known as a “Who cares?” OKR. It’s an objective that, even if it is completed, will go unnoticed because it has no impact.

All OKRs should be phrased to have a tangible benefit, and a team’s committed OKRs should use up most but not all of their available resources.

A committed OKR must deliver a 1.0.

Common mistakes when writing aspirational OKRs

So, what are some things to watch out for when creating aspirational OKRs? First and foremost, make sure your OKRs are clearly defined as either committed or aspirational when written. Just like regular OKRs, transparency is key. Marking a committed OKR as aspirational increases its chance of failure. Marking an aspirational OKR as committed propagates defensiveness and can disrupt workflow in teams and individuals. As Ryan Panchadsaram, co-founder of WhatMatters.com, shared, “You can write any objective you want and any key results. The key is not to sandbag and not to be unrealistic. If it's truly unachievable, I think you absolutely are going to set yourself up for a failure. But still make it a stretch.”

For example, if a poorly performing soccer team sets a goal to win the World Cup and that's not realistic, it's still possible to set a goal that is aggressive and a stretch—like to win a regional championship.

Committed OKR examples

Committed OKRs can include guaranteeing that a service meets its SLA (service level agreement) for the quarter; or delivering improvement to an infrastructure system by a set date. However, an OKR is a top priority for a period of time, not a comprehensive to-do list.

When a committed OKR is met, and a team feels comfortable that that key result has become “business as usual,” it may no longer be an OKR for the team. Or, they may choose to stretch it iof that's the most important thing they should collectively commit to.

The Mozilla Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that exists to support the open source Mozilla project, recently published this committed OKR:

O: Grow and diversify revenue through increased donor engagement.

  • KR1: Grow unrestricted donations by 25% with a baseline of $2,700,000 and a target of $3,375,000.
  • KR2: Host 12 engagement events to nurture major donor and foundation prospects with a baseline of 2 and a target of 12.
  • KR3: Grow highly engaged subscribers by 30,000, with 2.5% becoming new or re-engaged donors with a baseline of 60,000 and a target of 90,000.

Even better, this OKR about diversification and reach fits well under the Mozilla Foundation's mission statement, which reads, “Our mission is to ensure the Internet is a global public resource, open and accessible to all. An Internet that truly puts people first, where individuals can shape their own experience and are empowered, safe and independent.”

Common mistakes when writing aspirational OKRs

A common pitfall for aspirational OKRs is to write something like, “What could we do if we had extra staff and got a bit lucky?” Instead, pretend you're a genie and ask yourself, “What do my customers really wish for?” Your aspirational OKR should meet or exceed their wish, with the understanding that you’re not going to know how to achieve this.

As for resources with aspirational OKRs, they should be overused. If for any reason these OKRs can be completed without using every single team member, this means that the aspirational OKRs should not have been implemented in the first place. They did not pass the litmus test.

To summarize, an aspirational OKR is more fluid but still focuses on a direction.

Aspirational OKR examples

Aspirational goals can be stretch goals with unimaginable business outcomes. As stated above, they should remain on a team’s OKR list until they are done—no matter how long it takes.

DEED Developments, which is on a “mission is to empower the growth of the Minnesota economy, for everyone,” recently published this aspirational OKR:

O: Reduce the disparities faced by populations with barriers to employment.

  • KR1: Increase the average starting wage for people of color who DEED helps place in jobs by $2/hour.
  • KR2: Create a unique “Equity goal” for every single program across DEED, focused on reducing disparities based on either 1) race, 2) ability level, or 3) geography.

This OKR perfectly encapsulates the core tenets of an aspirational OKR. It is not only how we’d like the world to look, but will also probably roll over from quarter to quarter, or year to year.

Where can I get more information?

Are you setting ambitious committed and aspirational OKRs? We’d love to hear from you about them. Reach out and let us know here and be sure to check out all the other FAQs, Stories, and Resources right here on WhatMatters.com.

Or, if you’re looking for an OKR coach, check this out.

Sam Prince (@samprincetweets) is a journalist, storyteller, and the content strategist of WhatMatters.com. 


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Get exclusive guidance from John, Ryan, and the What Matters team by signing up for our weekly newsletter, Audacious. You’ll learn week-by-week how to sharpen your OKRs and stay on track to reach your goals.