What Makes Good OKRs?
Caring About Quality
I have to say I’ve been coaching people and businesses on OKRs for years now, and one of the first things that anyone asks after drafting a first set of Objectives and Key Results is, “Are these any good?”
And I think this goes beyond just wanting an A+ on their homework… what people are really asking is, “Are these going to work?”
It’s an understandable concern. When it comes to affecting change in your organization, the stakes can be high. So let’s talk about quality!
But we won’t be talking in terms of “good or bad.” Instead, we’ll be talking about OKRs that are effective vs. those that aren’t as effective.
Identifying Effective OKRs
First, let’s take a look at some of the general hallmarks of effective OKRs.
Remember, OKRs describe your highest priorities for the next 30-90 days. More importantly, OKRs represent meaningful change, improvement and growth. For that reason, they can often seem like they’re asking for extraordinary, above-and-beyond performance. That’s a good thing!
When we talk about OKRs, we’re talking about inspiring accomplishment. Big things like:
- Introducing disruptive innovations
- Establishing differences between you and your competitors
- Being recognized as an industry leader in your category
So if you take a look at your OKR and they seem to be describing incremental change or “gimme” goals, you may need to think bigger.
Also, OKRs point out what we need to do next. It should be clear whether or not you and your team are meeting the criteria for success!
Let’s break it down a little further and look specifically at Objectives and Key Results themselves.
Identifying Effective Objectives
In order to look at the effectiveness of Objectives, let’s flesh out our understanding of what they are.
If you’ll remember from the last lesson, Objectives are derived from missions. So first of all, if your Objective doesn’t connect to the greater mission, it won’t be effective.
When reviewing Objectives, we often look to three gut checks:
- Is it meaningful? Is the Objective a top priority? Does it articulate a clear direction?
- Is it audacious? Is the outcome taken for granted or does it take what you do every day to the next level? Does it represent a significant change from where we are today?
- Is it inspiring? Is the Objective easy to remember? Does it empower your teams?
Identifying Effective Key Results
Now let’s refine our understanding of Key Results.
At the most basic level, Key Results need to support their attached Objective. So if it isn’t clear how meeting these benchmarks will make the Objective true, that’s the first warning sign that the Key Results may not be effective.
And like Objectives, effective Key Results also have some common characteristics that we can check ours against to make sure they’re doing their job:
- Are they specific and timebound? Is it plainly stated what needs to occur and by when?
- Are they aggressive, yet realistic? Are they aspirational, yet not so outrageous that they could never be accomplished?
- Are they measurable and verifiable? Is it clear when the criteria for success will be met?
An Example of an Effective OKR
- Effective OKRs represent meaningful change, improvement and growth. They’re our priorities for the next 30-90 days.
- Effective Objectives are meaningful, audacious and inspiring.
- Effective Key Results are specific and timebound, aggressive and realistic, and measurable and verifiable.
Congratulations! We’ve completed our first module. At this point, we should have a good, working understanding about what OKRs are and their individual components.
No doubt you’ve started brainstorming potential OKRs for you and your teams - and that’s the perfect place to be! Over the next few lessons, we’re going to start deepening our understanding of both Objectives and Key Results, in addition to writing some of our own.
Additional Resources & Further Reading
Writing Your First Objective