Published on 06.26.2019
The definition of “OKRs” is “Objectives and Key Results.” It is a collaborative goal-setting tool used by teams and individuals to reach for their most ambitious goals with measurable results. OKRs are how you track progress.
Whether talking about office operations, software engineering, nonprofits or more, OKRs work the same for setting goals throughout many company levels. They can also work for personal goals and can even be used by individuals to get things done at places where senior leadership doesn’t use them.
An Objective is simply what is to be achieved, no more and no less. By definition, objectives are significant, concrete, action-oriented, and (ideally) inspirational. When properly designed and deployed, they’re a vaccine against fuzzy thinking—and fuzzy execution.
Key Results benchmark and monitor how we get to the objective. Effective KRs are specific and time-bound, aggressive yet realistic. Most of all, they are measurable and verifiable. You either meet a key result’s requirements or you don’t; there is no gray area, no room for doubt. At the end of the designated period, typically a quarter, we do a regular check and grade the key results as fulfilled or not.
Where an objective can be long-lived, rolled over for a year or longer, key results evolve as the work progresses. Once they are all completed, the objective is necessarily achieved.
OKRs were created by Andy Grove at Intel and taught to John Doerr by him. Since then, many companies have adopted them, including Allbirds, Apartment Therapy, Netflix, and inspiring nonprofits like Code for America.
Early on in "Measure What Matters", Doerr writes about “MBOs," or “Management by Objectives.” MBOs were the brainchild of Peter Drucker and provided Andy Grove a basis for his eventual theory of OKRs. In fact, Grove's name for them originally was “iMBOs," for Intel Management by Objectives. However, despite the original reverential name, Grove created some key differences between the two which he passed along to Doerr.
Grove rarely mentioned objectives without tying them to “key results,” a term he seems to have coined himself. Other key differences between MBOs and OKRs are that the latter are quarterly, not annual, and they are divorced from compensation.
Doerr was the one who crafted the name "OKRs," which he assembled from Grove's lexicon.
The most famous story about OKRs is that of Doerr introducing the philosophy to Google’s founders in 1999. Gathered around a ping-pong table which doubled as a boardroom table, Doerr presented a PowerPoint to the young founding team, which included Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Marissa Mayer, Susan Wojcicki, and Salar Kamangar.
Doerr's Objective and Key Results for the PowerPoint presentation were this:
O: Build a planning model for their company, as measured by three key results:
Google then set their OKRs and the rest is history.
But what are some other examples?
Let’s set an objective: “to build the world’s tallest building.” The tallest building in the world is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, so to achieve our objective, the building we are constructing needs to be taller. Our first key result would be: “building has more than 163 floors and is taller than 2,436 feet.” To ensure our project moves on time, we add more key results: “plans to be complete by November 2018," “environmental review complete by March 2019," “construction begins by December 2019," and “building opens by January 2022."
When written out, it would look like this:
O: Build the world’s tallest building.
As discussed earlier, OKRs can work for all industries and even personal goals. Here are a couple of select examples:
Doerr was asked about his personal OKR in an interview on Recode Decode. He answered, “You know, my daughters have both left home, but I had read and I believe that having family dinners together was a good thing. So, I set an OKR, shared it with my team to be home for dinner by 6:00 p.m. 20 nights a month and be present, turning off the phone. I put a switch on the router. We shut down the internet to the whole house.”
“It’s not only the quantity but the quality,” he added.
This personal OKR would be written out like this:
O: Have more quality family time as measured by:
And while it is a "personal" OKR, Doerr was transparent from the onset. Not only did he share it with his colleagues and family, but he also shared it in an interview.
For other examples of industry-specific OKRs, click here.
OKRs can be two things, committed or aspirational.
Committed OKRs are like their name suggests: commitments. When graded at the end of an OKR cycle, a committed OKR is expected to have a passing grade.
Aspirational OKRs, on-the-other-hand, are sometimes called stretch goals or "moonshots." The pathway to an aspirational OKR is expected to be forged since no one else has gotten there before. They also may live beyond an OKR cycle or even be transferred between team members.
To learn more about committed and aspirational OKRs, click here.
This system is deceptively simple, but when used properly, good OKRs will equip your organization with superpowers to create things like high output management in all your business goals. Learn more about OKRs by reading Measure What Matters or exploring more FAQs, Resources, and Stories right here on WhatMatters.com.
Or, if you're looking for an OKR coach, check this out.
Cascading OKRs will help align the various teams and individuals across your company toward the same overall goals. Here are some examples.
What is a good number of OKRs to have? When it comes to objectives and key results, what to focus on can seem like an objective itself. Here’s the answer.
Why use OKRs? Because OKRs are about way more than just having goals. Objectives and key results help you articulate how you're going to achieve them.
Are you looking for an OKR coach, speaker, or author? Let John Doerr and the "Measure What Matters" team guide you through OKRs with FAQs, Resources, and Stories.
If you’re looking for paid ways to scale OKR adoption and usage across a company these tools might be something to look into.
Organizations that are mission-based can be rewarding but it can be easy to drift from the original mission. Learn how OKRs are great for keeping nonprofits on-track.
OKRs are great for software engineers because they prioritize ideas and assign metrics to completion. Get inspired by these real-world software engineering OKR examples here.
The 5 key benefits of OKRs include focus, alignment, commitment, tracking, and stretching. Learn more about each of them and how they work here.
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“OKRs” stands for Objectives and Key Results. They are a tool used by individuals, teams, and companies like Google for setting ambitious goals.
OKRs can be used for office administration to help improve productivity and efficiency across your entire operation. Learn how with these examples.
If you’re approaching the end of on OKR cycle, it may be time to refresh on how to grade them. Here are some examples of how.
Pairing quantity and quality key results is a great strategy to strengthen OKRs. Learn how to do it with these examples.
OKRs are great for setting personal goals outside of the office. Learn how to use them to think through unambiguous life goals.
If you’re feeling that your OKR cycle is not working, take a step back and try to pinpoint the problem. Here are 7 ways to do that.
Bottom-up OKRs sparks innovation by freeing individual employees to be creative. Here are some examples.
Committed or aspirational OKRs both serve different purposes and have separate ways they can be acted upon. Learn how here.
What free tools and software are available for tracking OKRs? If you're looking for a budget-friendly way to commit to transparency, here are some ideas.
What are some examples of OKRs and how do I write them? Get ideas for bettering your OKRs or compare your current ones to gain insight.
Company-wide OKRs help align teams and provide clarity throughout entire organizations. Spark inspiration for your company with these examples.