Author:
Gail Thomas
Bruce Gil

Since Andy Grove’s system of Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) was first adopted by Google and memorialized in John Doerr’s book, “Measure What Matters”, the methodology continues to help leaders and organizations worldwide to achieve their most audacious goals. Yet occasionally, we find ourselves wondering “wait, what exactly does that word mean?”

We decided to take a step back to the basics: definitions. Here you will find a glossary of definitions for terms which are commonly used in the OKR world. Keep coming back here as we add new definitions to the “ABCs of OKRs.” Enjoy!

A

Accountability - OKRs are a tool to create ownership over the goals being set. Because they are written and tracked regularly, OKRs provide a practical reference point for progress or falling short of a target. OKRs differ from other goal-setting systems in that they clearly define the mile markers (Key Results) along the way to the “finish line” (Objective).

Action Item - Items you cross off from a to-do list as you complete them. But to be clear, crossing things off a to-do list doesn’t necessarily mean you’re making progress on your goals. Action items are not the same as objectives or key results. Ideally, your daily or weekly to-do lists are informed by your OKRs. If an OKR is off-track, ideally your to-do list will change in speed or scope.

Agile - A set of values and principles used by many software development teams to make decisions on how they do their work. These values and principles are customer-centric and favor collaboration, adaptability, and iteration. Scrum is a specific framework that follows agile values and principles.

Align - Bringing visibility to and uniting teams in support of common goals. Setting OKRs at various levels of an organization surfaces a company’s top priorities. This transparency increases the likelihood for success. OKR Superpower #2 is Align.

Alignment - A state where managers, teams and individuals clearly link their day-to-day activities to the organization’s goals. OKR Superpower #2 is Align.

Aspirational OKRs - A common category of OKRs, the other two being Committed and Learning. This type pushes us to be audacious. They require teams to stretch well past the usual to make them happen. For this reason, they’re harder to accomplish, but they are useful because they push teams to think and act differently and get outside our comfort zones. The idea is that if we organize around reaching 100% of an Aspirational OKR, we may only make it to 70%. But 70% of a big, audacious goal gets you much farther than just 10% of a mediocre goal!

Audacious Goal - Bold, clear, and risky goals. They’re moonshots that you can rally people around. Audacious goals are what your team would want to accomplish if there were no obstacles. OKR-users and non-profit Upsolve has a great example of an audacious goal, “solving inequality within our own legal system.” Aspirational OKRs are your best bet to reaching your most audacious goals.

B

Benchmark - A point of reference that allows you to gauge if you are making progress on your goal. For example, if your goal is to be fast, one of your benchmarks would be to run a five-minute mile. Running 6 days a week is not necessarily a benchmark. But increasing consistency from 4 days a week to 6 days a week would be a benchmark. Benchmarks help assess progress. Benchmarks make great key results.

BHAG - The acronym for “Big Hairy Audacious Goal” — huge and daunting — like a big mountain to climb. This memorable phrase comes from Jim Collin’s book, Good to Great.

Bottom-up OKR - Any OKR that is formed in response to an OKR set at a higher level in the organization. With clear information and communication flowing from an organization’s top layer to the entry level and visa-versa, the ideal result is engagement and alignment. The best OKR implementations use a 50/50 mix of top-down and bottom-up approaches. An example would be a car dealership whose top-level Objective is to become the leading electric car dealership in the region. A service technician at the dealership in support of that OKR sets an Objective to “Run a month-long mobile servicing pilot,” along with a set of related Key Results.

Business As Usual - The day-to-day or routine operations and activities of an organization or team. Even though routine activities are often challenges, they are not the same as OKRs. Instead, OKRs describe what change is needed, and how we want to do things differently. That’s why OKRs are the antithesis of “business as usual.” The acronym “BAU” is often used for “business as usual.”

C

Cadence - he rhythm with which an organization set its OKR cycle. An OKR cycle includes the following steps: setting OKRs, checking-in, grading OKRs and reflecting. Depending on the culture and context of your organization, an OKR cycle can be set to an annual, quarterly, or monthly cadence to meet your team’s needs.

Cascading - The process by which higher level OKRs are used to guide teams and individuals as they create their own OKRs. This process creates alignment throughout the company. An example would be a company-wide Objective: Become the leading electric car dealership in the region with a Key Result to Makeup 60 percent of all-electric cars in the region. Cascading down, the sales manager’s might turn that Key Result into his Objective with his own Key Result: Increase the number of cars sold by 55 percent over the last year. In turn, the sales associate could then make that Key Result into his Objective.

CFRs - This abbreviation stands for Conversation, Feedback and Recognition, and represents all the interactions that give OKRs their human voice and ensure that OKRs do not live in a vacuum. OKRs and CFRs are mutually reinforcing, with CFRs happening throughout the OKR cycle — including in one-on-one meetings: in-person, over video chat, or even in regular email updates. CFRs catalyze transparency, accountability, empowerment, and teamwork at all levels of an organization. At the end of an OKR cycle, they facilitate going beyond the grading of OKRs to dig deeper into why something was or wasn’t achieved.

Child OKR - An OKR nested under a parent OKR after cascading an OKR.

Collective Commitment - A shared goal that everyone in the organization agrees is worth pursuing and actively works toward. A collective commitment requires trust and transparency. Everyone involved must know what the goal is and what their role is in achieving it. There must be regular communication throughout the organization about the progress of the goal. This ensures focus and alignment.

Commit OKR - Making oneself accountable for accomplishing a goal.

Committed OKR - A common category of OKRs, the other two being Aspirational, and Learning. Unlike an Aspirational OKR, these OKRs are the goals we all agree need to be achieved. Without them, we don’t have success. We’ll prioritize everything to make sure this OKR is successful by the end of our 90 days.

Confidence Vote - A vote where each member of a team shares how confident they are in their team delivering on a key result. A low confidence vote signals to the team that they should assess their current strategy in reaching a KR and decide if they need to make any changes. Confidence votes discourage groupthink and ensures everyone is on the same page regarding a specific KR.

Continuous Performance Management - This is an alternative to annual reviews. Feedback is provided continuously throughout the year through structured quarterly check-ins and improving how our 1:1s are conducted. Continuous Performance Management creates space for critical questions: planning and reflecting on OKRs, manager-led coaching, bi-directional feedback, and career conversations.

Culture - In “Measure What Matters”, Doerr defines culture as the living expression of an organization’s most cherished values and beliefs. A strong company culture is based on transparency and accountability. When a company has developed a strong and open culture, it becomes easier to make more reliable decisions. OKRs and CFRs need a reasonably healthy culture to take root, but can also strengthen positive aspects of a culture.

D

Directional Alignment - One of two types of OKR alignment: Directional and Explicit. Directional Alignment tends to be more “fluid” than Explicit alignment, as it means using higher level OKRs as a guide for developing your team or individual OKRs. It works well when an organization wants to empower its teams to use their creativity and expertise to achieve organizational OKRs. An example would be: a SaaS team has a top level OKR/Objective to “Reach meaningful scale by achieving 5,000 software subscriptions/month.” The Business Development team might create an OKR to “Find 1-3 Acquisition Channels.”

E

Equity Pause - A process step during OKR-setting when teams and individuals ask if their OKRs are inclusive. This naturally requires analyzing if you are making space for everyone’s voice, or if the direction and goals reflect an unconscious bias toward one group over another. If OKRs are deemed exclusionary or biased, this is the best time to revise them to be more inclusive. The concept was developed by the 228 Accelerator as a part of the Equity Meets Design framework. We learned about this concept from the Creative Reaction Lab.

Explicit Alignment - One of two types of OKR alignment: Directional and Explicit. Explicit Alignment tends to be more”rigid” than Directional Alignment, as it entails using a measurable Key Result from a higher level OKR as the basis of your team or individual Objective, then writing your own set of Key Results to support it. Also called “inheriting” a Key Result. It often works well when an organization needs laser focus or is navigating a crisis. An example would be: a SaaS team has a top level Key Result to “Achieve an NPS (Net Promoter Score) above 90.” The Marketing team inherits this as an Objective, and develops a set of Key Results for it: “K1: Ensure every set of forms is reviewed within 12 hours. K2: Ensure every email is reviewed within 12 hours.”

F

Failure - An unsuccessful attempt at reaching a goal. The fear of failure holds many organization’s back from stretching their ambitions especially when goals are tied to performance reviews or financial compensation. But failure is common, and can be embraced as an opportunity to learn and grow. Collectively committing to goals also helps alleviate the fear of being held personally for a failure.

Focus - The center of attention. Using OKRs, teams are able to prioritize their time by setting only a handful of OKRs. This enables drilling down on and aligning with the organization’s top priorities. OKR Superpower #1 is Focus.

G

Grading OKRs - At the end of an OKR cycle, teams determine whether an OKR was accomplished, and to what degree. This process should be done objectively. These scores should be used to reflect on the past quarter, as a way to set up for the next one.

Goal - Is an objective or desired outcome one reaches as a result of focused work. Not all goals are OKRs. But OKRs are a type of high-priority goal.

Goal Setting - Is the process of creating and committing to goals. An effective goal setting method includes tying goals to a purpose, making the measurable, and tracking them.

I

Individual OKRs - OKRs set and committed to by individual contributing members. These OKRs should align with team, departmental and company-wide OKRs. They differ from Personal OKRs.

Input Goals - One of three ways to define a desired end state: inputs, outputs, or outcomes. An Input OKR (or Key Result) is based upon things that you can control, such as testing three marketing campaigns, relaunching a website or reducing the weight of a component. If your Objective is to elect a candidate, the input goal could be to “knock on at least 10,000 doors.”

K

Key Result -The “KR” in OKRs, these are written benchmarks or measurements which lay out “how” an organization, team, or individual plans to accomplish their Objective. Effective KRs should be specific and time-bound, aggressive yet realistic. Most importantly, KRs are measurable and verifiable — they track progress towards the Objective. Completing a Key Result is not subjective. At the end of an OKR cycle, you either meet the performance benchmark or you don’t. Key Results work as a set, must be tied to a specific Objective, and are used to guide actions throughout each cycle. There should be no more than five Key Results per Objective.

KPI - An acronym for key performance indicators. KPIs are metrics used to measure the operations of an organization. It’s important for KPIs to measure essential metrics that can help you make better decisions. For example, KPIs can track revenue or uptime of a key service. Some KPIs make great key results, but they need to be aligned with your objectives.

L

Laddering OKRs - When teams or individuals below the executive level set their own OKRs which may not align directly with the direct manager’s OKRs, but do align with the company’s overarching objective.

Learning OKR - A common category of OKRs, the other two being Committed and Aspirational. This type encourages teams to test a hypothesis or study a new approach by exploring an unproven theory or strategy. They are useful for defining success when the outcome is uncertain or undefined.

M

Measure What Matters Book - The #1 New York Times Bestseller book written by venture capitalist John Doerr which reveals how the goal-setting system of Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) has helped companies achieve remarkable growth, using examples from tech companies like Intel and Google to nonprofits like the Gates Foundation and ONE. The first edition was published in 2018, and the second addition is expected out in 2021.

Measurement - According to Oxford Dictionary, “The act or the process of finding the size, quantity or degree of something.” This is a vital component of Key Results, as it allows you to set exactly how you will determine whether (or to what degree) you have accomplished the desired outcome. For example, a team’s Objective to”Win the Super Bowl’’ might set their Key Results to be: 1) “Passing attack amasses 300+ yards per game, 2) Defense allows fewer than 17 points, and 3) Special-teams unit ranks in top 3 in punts return coverage.”

Metric - According to Oxford dictionary, “A system or standard of measurement.” A required feature of a good Key Result, it is a specific, numerical reference point that determines the degree to which a goal was achieved. Depending on the industry or circumstance, it might be a number, figure, statistic, or a rating.

Mission Statement - A short and clear statement that encapsulates “why” your organization does everything it does. A mission statement is often the raw material for top-level OKRs. For example, Google’s mission statement “Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful’ was the throughline for all of its projects like Chrome, Search, Youtube, and Android.

Moonshot - This refers to a goal that is so big, that it may seem impossible to achieve at first. The intention is to set the bar so high that, even in failure, the team makes more progress than they would have with a more realistic target. Norman Vincent Peale once said, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars,” a philosophy Larry Page often adopted at Google too.

N

Nested Cadence - An OKR cycle within a larger OKR cycle. For example, many companies set annual OKRs, and then use a quarterly OKR cycle to make progress towards those longer term goals.

O

Objective - The “O” in OKR — the written statement of “what” you (an organization, team, or individual) want to achieve over the next cycle, typically 90 days. It describes a future state that seems almost unachievable, and aligned with a company’s overall mission and goals. Objectives are significant, short, concrete, action-oriented, and inspirational. The three types of Objectives (and OKRs) are Committed, Aspirational, or Learning.

OKR Champion - A high-level advocate for the implementation of OKRs inside an organization. They are a cheerleader who sees through the process of an organization adopting and maintaining a healthy OKR practice. They help dispel any skepticism, reluctance, or misunderstanding about OKRs as well as role model the benefits and momentum around using the system well.

OKR Coach - An expert who trains and supports management and teams in using the OKR and CFR methodology and process. This guidance often includes hands-on assistance with crafting, implementing and refining OKRs, as well as explaining how to conduct CFRs. Additional resources are available here and here.

OKR Owner - A person assigned to a specific OKR who is responsible for the delivery of an OKR or key result. Each OKR has one owner, even when responsibility for accomplishing it is shared. An owner does not have to do everything themselves, but does communicate its status and rallys the team to come up with a plan if progress is thwarted.

OKR Review - OKRs work best with regular check-ins. They should naturally be a part of all conversations about goals including in one-on-ones and weekly and monthly staff meetings. Checking-in regularly helps teams adjust course, if they’re not making the progress they expected. At the end of the OKR-cycle, There should be a more formal grading process. Grading and reflecting on OKR provides an opportunity to celebrate wins and to analyze what can be done differently next time. Low scores signal the need for reassessment, while high scores show what worked.

OKR Superpowers - OKRs give organizations five strong advantages or attributes which help drive a company’s success. Specifically, these OKR advantages, which set them apart from other goal-setting systems, are: 1) Focus, 2) Align, 3) Commit, 4) Track, and 5) Stretch. Together, John Doerr refers to these “Superpowers” as F.A.C.T.S.

OKRs - O” stands for Objectives and “KRs” stands for Key Results. OKRs are a collaborative goal-setting methodology used by management, teams and individuals to set challenging, ambitious goals with measurable results. OKRs are how you track progress, create alignment, and encourage engagement around measurable goals.

Outcome Goal - One of three ways to define a desired end state: by inputs, outputs, or outcomes. An Outcome OKR (or Key Result) is the most powerful as it tends to describe the desired end result itself, rather than what you do to get there. Outcomes are also more complex than inputs or outputs as they address an underlying challenge more directly — reflecting a before and after. Crafting a great Outcome Key Result can require extra time for reflection, but the conversation that this provokes is often very enlightening. Examples include increasing a renewal rate by 10% or winning an election.

Output Goal - One of three ways to define a desired end state: by inputs, outputs, or outcomes. An Output OKR (or Key Result) is the effects of your inputs, such as increasing sales revenue, reaching a performance benchmark or achieving a 63% subscriber renewal rate. Effective Outputs embed the actions (inputs) within the goal. If your Objective is to elect a candidate, the Output Key Result could be to “get 20,000 people to commit to voting for her.”

P

Parent OKR - An OKR that has been broken-down into one or more child OKRs. Most Parent OKRs happen through cascading down through an organization. However, OKRs can also “ladder” up to an OKR at a higher level. The OKR that inspires the child OKR is called the Parent OKR.

Personal OKR - OKRs used outside the office for personal or life goals. For example, John Doerr has talked about using OKRs for his family. One of his objectives was to spend more quality time with his family. His KRs included having family dinner at least 20 nights a month. Although personal goals can involve career growth, Personal OKRs are different from Individual OKRs.

Private OKR - An OKR for goals that contain sensitive or confidential information, which are only shared among a specific team. They should be used sparingly or have set timelines for when they will be shared openly across the organization.

Progress - Positive movement toward a goal. Progress is measured through benchmarks that clearly show if you are advancing toward your goal. Completing to-do lists is a process step, and doesn’t track actual progress on goals. Example: That’s why it’s important that most, if not all KRs are benchmarks.

Purpose and Profit - A shorthand for the idea that good OKRs work toward both a mission and financial stability and growth. Ideally, OKRs reflect both your purpose and your organization’s ability to grow and sustain itself.

Q

Quality Key Result - Key Results focused on reducing any unintended consequences of ambitious key results, such as compromising safety, company reputation, or ethical behavior. Pairing quality KRs with quantity KRs can help strengthen OKRs. . For example, if you’re building a car, safety should be just as important as speed.

S

Sandbagging - Setting goals that under-promise so it’s easy to over-deliver. Sandbagging is prevalent in cultures that have a fear of failing. But sandbagging also keeps an organization from being innovative and reaching their full potential.

Stretch Goal - A high-effort, high-risk goal meant to help teams innovate or reach 10x their normal performance. The key to stretch goals is that teams must rethink how to best leverage their resources.

Strategic Planning - An organization’s overarching plan to reach its long-term aims. OKRs are not a replacement for strategic planning. OKRs are only the organization’s priorities for an OKR cycle. However, OKRs should align with strategy.

T

Team OKRs - OKRs set by and owned by a team within a larger organization. Team OKRs align with higher-level OKRs or directly to the mission either by cascading down or laddering up.

Top-line OKRs -Are an organization’s broadest priorities. These OKRs help align teams by ensuring all members of the organization are working toward the same goals. They can also serve as a thematic umbrella to organize frontline OKRs.

Tracking - Monitoring or following OKRs to ensure that they are working and achieving the desired results is key to the success of the methodology. OKRs aren’t meant to sit on a shelf, they should be checked on a regular basis and graded quarterly. This process is brought to life in CFRs which facilitate conversation, revision, and adaptation as needed. OKR Superpower #4 is Track for Accountability. Additional resources are available here and here.

Transparency - Visible, openly-shared, seen by all. One of the key virtues of OKRs is that everyone’s goals — from the CEO down — are openly shared. This paves the way for deeper conversations, more effective focus and collaboration, as well as alignment between departments. Openly shared OKRs show the connections between each individual’s work, team efforts, departmental projects, and the organization’s overall mission, which is why transparency is the backbone of Superpower #2, Align.

V

Value - Shared ideals or beliefs among the organization. A company’s values should inform their OKRs, and a company’s OKRs should align with its values.

W

Work Plan - A roadmap with specific steps for completing a project, initiative, or goal. A work plan is not the same thing as OKRs. OKRs are an organization’s priorities and can inform a work plan.