Great teams needs clear goals. “OKRs” or “Objectives and Key Results” are a simple way to do it. I know it’s probably setting off your acronym allergy, but don’t panic — OKRs are just a simple way to formulate your team’s goals in ways that balance the best of both worlds: qualitative and quantitative, inspiring and specific, chocolate and peanut butter.
What are OKRs?
- What: a simple way to set clear, actionable objectives for your team.
- Why: Communicates focus efficiently. Makes progress measurable. Establishes a shared language and format.
- How: Use a simple two-column format like this:
(What we want to get done)
(How we know we’re successful)
|Get physically fit||Lose 5 pounds|
|Run a marathon in under 10 hours|
|Reduce sugar intake 50%|
- When: Ideally, quarterly. Your OKRs should update every 3 months or so, or more frequently as needed. Or use them to define success for a specific project.
- Who: Ideally, all teammates and stakeholders. The people doing the actual work need to feel like the OKRs are clear, meaningful, and realistic.
“A good OKR marries the big-picture objective with a highly measurable key result.” –Eric Schmidt, How Google Works
Objectives = “What we want to get done”
- Qualitative, time bound, actionable, and ambitious
- Your objective is a single sentence that is qualitative and inspirational
- “Use the language of your team. If they want to pwn it or kill it, use that wording.”
Key Results = “How we know we’re successful”
- Not an action, but a result. Describe an outcome. Not: a laundry list of tasks. How is the universe different once you succeed? (e.g., “build web site” vs. “web site launched by Jan 1 w. 10,000+ visitors first week”)
- Rule of thumb: aim for 70% success. Try to hit about 70% of your key results. If you’re 100% successful, you’re probably setting the bar too low. Less than 70% successful, it’s probably too high.
- Short and sweet. Try to keep your language super crisp. It clarifies thinking and makes it easier for busy colleagues to grok quickly.
- Don’t over-sweat the semantics. The important thing is that the language is clear and inspiring for the people doing the work, not the Planning Police. Avoid Dilbert-ization.
- Top-down vs bottom-up. It’s more motivating to achieve your own objectives than someone else’s. Leadership dictating OKRs for a team rarely produces great results. Build psychological ownership by having the whole team participate in the process.
- Not all key results need to be quantitative. Not everything needs a number. Silicon Valley’s use of OKRs might differ, but not everything in the universe is “data” or bean-counting. Keep it human.
- Use post-its. In a group setting, you can use big post-its for Objectives, then stick smaller post-its with Key Results next to them. It’s a nice way to pull OKRs out of a group discussion.