Though reflection and grading are both important parts of the end of an OKR cycle, there are important differences between the two. Learn how the reflection and grading processes compliment each other and inspire teams to write even better OKRs for the next cycle.

The Objective and Key Results (OKR) goal-setting framework really shines at the end of each OKR cycle when it’s time to evaluate company goals and an organization’s overall performance. This data-driven evaluation, when done right, can provide tremendous value and insight to a company.

The first step is to objectively grade your company OKRs. Honestly scoring your team’s performance should not feel like a personal judgement on anyone’s ability. It’s just an objective evaluation of what was accomplished during the quarter.

As Andy Grove, the father of OKRs, says, ask yourself, “Did I do that or did I not do it? Yes? No? Simple. No judgments.”

However, grading alone is not enough. What comes after is just as important⁠ — reflection. The two are different yet complementary conversations.

Grading is about accurately evaluating a company’s performance. Did the team succeed or fail in reaching its goals? By how much? Getting an accurate account of how the quarter played out is necessary for having honest and meaningful conversations.

Reflection is about placing performance in context. What factors were out of your team’s control? Do the results match your efforts? Where could you have done better? The goal is to distill lessons from your experiences.

In his book Measure What Matters, author John Doerr writes, “In evaluating OKR performance, Objective data is enhanced by the goal setter’s thoughtful, subjective judgement.”

This article will explain how the reflection process helps companies better prepare for the upcoming quarter and to write better OKRs.

A welcomed pause before making your next move

As one quarter comes to a close, it can be tempting to keep the momentum going and rush to the next. But it’s not only nice to take a break to reflect between quarters, it’s critical. It’s a moment where you can look back, celebrate wins, and learn from both successes and missteps.

Rushing from one quarter to the next is not a wise strategy. It’s vital to pause and reflect if you want to make better decisions and avoid repeating mistakes.

In Measure What Matters, Doerr quotes philosopher John Dewy, “We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.”

And according to research from the Harvard Business School, “Learning from experience is more effective when complemented with reflection — that is, the intentional attempt to synthesize, abstract, and articulate the key lessons taught by experience.”

Reflection is where you can use your judgement to contextualize your graded OKRs. Maybe there were some factors out of your company’s control that kept you from reaching your top-level goals, like a slow economy or issues with your supply chain. During reflection, you can identify strategies to work around these factors in the next quarter. Or maybe you reached your goals too easily and could have stretched them farther. Or the KRs you chose were just not the right ones. Whatever the case, after reflecting on your OKRs you’ll be better equipped to make better decisions.

Here are some more reflections Doerr recommends in Measure What Matters for closing out an OKR cycle:

Did I accomplish all of my Objectives?

  • If so, what contributed to my success?
  • If not, what obstacles did I encounter?
  • If I were to rewrite a goal achieved in full, what would I change?
  • What have I learned that might alter my approach to the next cycle’s OKRs?

All the lessons learned from reflection can then be used as a guide to write your next quarterly OKRs.

Better OKRs

The only way to improve your OKR-writing ability is practice. The more you write OKRs and reflect on them, the better you will get. Reflection will help you write more clear and efficient OKRs for the next cycle.

In Measure What Matters, Doerr provides the following example: Imagine one of your team OKRs is to recruit new customers and you set an individual Key Result to make 50 phone calls. Reflecting on the progress made on this OKR can provide lots of insight. Let’s say one employee makes 35 calls, but most last a few hours and result in eight new customers. Another employee can rush through all 50 calls and only land one new customer. Which one was more successful? Upon reflection, it becomes clear that the Key Result should not have prioritized the number of calls made, but rather the number of new customers.

From there, a company can decide whether to roll this OKR over to the next quarter with new Key Results or drop it. Either way, they learned a lesson they can apply to future OKRs moving forward.

Where can I get more information?

“The key to satisfaction is to set aggressive goals, achieve most of them, pause to reflect on the achievement, and then repeat the cycle,” writes Doerr.

So, make sure to take a break between OKR cycles to savor your progress and learn from your experiences.

Have you made any breakthroughs when reflecting on your OKRs? Let us know what you’ve learned. To learn more about OKRs, be sure to check out our FAQs, Resources, and Stories.

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