OKRs turn missions into milestones.
It’s a simple way of putting it, but it really gets at the heart of what we’re trying to accomplish with OKRs. Either you’ve got a big idea you’re trying to make a reality, or you’ve been given one by a CEO or leadership team.
But just saying you’re going to “end poverty” or “make the world’s best mattresses” doesn’t really answer the nagging question, “So what do we do next?”
We’re obviously building up to writing our own OKRs, but first, let’s nail our definitions.
Again, OKR stands for Objectives and Key Results.
Objectives (the “What”)
An Objective is what you want to do. It describes your mission-supporting goal and sets a deadline for achieving it. We’ve developed some criteria over the years that we believe help make Objectives better but, for now, let’s think of them as the highest priorities your team needs to accomplish in the next 30-90 days.
You’ll constantly come back to your Objectives to inform and check your actions, and they’ll become rallying points for your team.
Key Results (the “How”)
Knowing how to progress toward your Objectives is well… key. Objectives must be paired with a roadmap that will help you know whether or not you’re on the path to meeting your goals.
That’s probably the simplest way to think about Key Results: They are the benchmarks you can measure that track your progress toward the Objective. Typically, there are 3-5 of them per Objective.
An Early Example
All of Us Working Together
OKRs work just as well for people who are making top-level decisions at organizations as they do for individual contributors and members of teams.
If an organization is describing its actions with OKRs, it gives the gift of specificity. It then becomes clear to everyone else what actions they must take to support the organization. OKRs have the power to work throughout an organization, by influencing the Objectives and actions of every unit.
We’ll talk more later in this course about “aligning” OKRs in an organization. For now, keep in mind that OKRs aren’t just work for “the bosses.” It’s a common mindset — and a public agreement — that gives everyone permission to focus on what matters most.
A Note About KPIs
I’m guessing quite a few of you have come across KPIs in your workplaces. They’re another popular acronym that tends to pop up alongside goal-setting conversations.
KPI stands for Key Performance Indicator. Like Key Results, they help to measure things. But unlike Key Results, they aren’t necessarily attached to an Objective.
As we get deeper about Objectives and Key Results, you may find that some of your day-to-day KPIs are elevated to Key Results or — just as likely — you might find that even though your KPIs track important metrics for your business, that doesn’t automatically mean they’re indicators for your OKRs.
As we progress through this course, it will get clearer as to what’s a Key Result and what’s simply a KPI. For now, let’s just remember that Objectives describe what you want to achieve. And Key Results describe how you’ll achieve it.
- OKRs help break up big, audacious missions into actionable goals and milestones.
- Objectives are the “what.” They’re the most important things you can accomplish in the next 30-90 days.
- Key Results are the “how.” They are the benchmarks by which you’ll track progress toward completing your Objectives. There are usually 3-5 Key Results per Objective.
Additional Resources & Further Reading
- Article: Metrics: The Bridge Between Mission and Execution
- Resource: KPIs and OKRs: What’s the Difference?
- Article: OKRs for Students
- For a deeper dive on using OKRs within your organization and earn your OKR Certification in our Coursera course.