Published on 09.06.2019
The definition of “OKRs” is “Objectives and Key Results.” It is a collaborative goal-setting tool used by teams and individuals to set challenging, 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 its company strategy with this management framework and the rest is history.
But what are some other high-level examples?
The city of Syracuse, New York recently set this objective: to “achieve fiscal sustainability.” Fiscal sustainability is a great goal for any government, local or otherwise, but it has to be measurable. That’s why Syracuse is using Objectives and Key Results.
When written out, along with their Key Results, Syracuse’s OKR looks like this:
O: Achieve fiscal sustainability.
As discussed earlier, OKRs can work for all industries and even personal goals.
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 goal 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 company OKRs, click here.
OKRs can be two things, committed or aspirational.
Committed ones are like their name suggests—commitments. When graded at the end of a cycle, a committed OKR is expected to have a passing grade.
Aspirational ones, 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 be long-term and live beyond an OKR cycle or even be transferred between team members to stretch employee engagement.
To learn more about the committed and aspirational versions of Objectives and Key Results, click here.
If you're looking for some OKR tools to help you set ambitious goals, look at these OKR-tracking tools for personal goals and smaller teams and these tools for larger enterprises.
The Andy Grove method of grading OKRs is a simple “yes” or “no” approach. However, there are ways to grade them, too—namely "the Google method."
To learn more, 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 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.
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Committed or aspirational OKRs both serve different purposes and have separate ways they can be acted upon. Learn how here.
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Common OKR mistakes are all litmus tests to decide: Are you really measuring what matters? Check and see with these common OKR mistakes taken from Google’s OKR playbook.
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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.
A well-defined company purpose provides a clear vision and inspiration for your team. Learn how to find your company's mission with these strategies.
The 5 key benefits of OKRs include focus, alignment, commitment, tracking, and stretching. Learn more about each of them and how they work here.
“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.
OKRs are great for setting personal goals outside of the office. Learn how to use them to think through unambiguous life goals.
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.
Company-wide OKRs help align teams and provide clarity throughout entire organizations. Spark inspiration for your company with these examples.