A Guide to Setting Goals
with Objectives and Key Results

See also: Setting Personal Goals

Objectives and key results (OKR) is a handy goal-setting process that employees use to plan and track ambitious goals. The strategy to plan and measure OKR goals has the power to unify and engage employees, inciting growth and positive change in companies. For this reason, the OKR methodology is often recommended for use by company teams rather than individual employees.

To fully understand the OKR meaning, it’s vital to examine their two core elements: objectives and key results. In addition, it’s imperative to know the advantages of using OKRs, and how to plan and establish them in order to secure success with its methodology. Furthermore, following OKR practices will prevent common mistakes, which will expedite the goal-setting process for company teams.

Wooden blocks spelling 'GOALS'

What is an OKR?

OKR lays the groundwork for companies to set and measure the progress toward goals, as well as assess actual outcomes. There are 2 elements of OKR:

  • Objectives—the goals or results that company teams wish to achieve

  • Key results—the measurements of progress toward each objective

Attributed to venture capitalist John Doerr, this fill-in-the-blank statement succinctly captures OKRs: I will (objective) as measured by (key results). This statement highlights how each objective must be tied to key results. Without this connection, the objective is merely a longing that fails to propel the team toward an achievable goal.

You can learn visual examples of OKR by using various databases available online. Here’s one example of an OKR: a company’s sales team wants to improve a customer’s experience; this is the team’s objective. To measure the progress of this objective, the team determines a couple of key results: increase Net Promoter Score (NPS) and order rating. In this simple example, it’s important to notice that the objective is connected with at least 2 quantitative key results, which makes them measurable.

Main advantages of using OKR

Many companies are using OKRs because of the ample benefits that this goal-setting methodology provides. These are several advantages of using OKRs:

  • Alignment of employees and ability to link them to larger company objectives

  • Growth in employee engagement through straightforward guidance on objectives

  • Boost in overall measurement, responsibility, and visibility in companies

  • New opportunities to glean insights from regular progress updates

  • Advancement in making more knowledgeable and impactful decisions

Some of the known companies that use OKR goals are Microsoft, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google, and Intel. As a matter of fact, Google was still a startup company in the 1990s before it utilized OKRs. Through embracing this goal-setting methodology, Google was able to reach the success that it currently enjoys in the 21st century.

Planning and establishing OKRs

To secure success with the OKR methodology, a company must thoroughly plan and establish OKRs. This is the process:

1. Identify areas of growth

Consider this question: where does the team need to do better? For instance, a sales team might notice that only 50% of its sales quota was met during the previous quarter. This prior result indicates an area of growth that the team can later define as an objective.

2. Review mission and vision statements

Analyzing mission, vision, and overall priorities offers a chance for the team to unify its potential objectives with the company’s primary concerns. It also offers a chance for the team to consider and apply relevant guidance from the company’s line of command. Using visuals, such as those from vector image stocks on various databases as Depositphotos.com, can effectively communicate company-wide initiatives.

3. Brainstorm and select objectives

This step works best when all team employees are encouraged to participate. To help with this, creating a document for collaboration will allow everyone to easily add their ideas for possible objectives.

While defining objectives, ensure that they challenge the team, rather than maintain the status quo; positive change and growth require ambition.

4. Determine critical results for each objective

Key results must be quantitative to be measurable. For instance, the sales team from step #1 might set this key result: increase sales quota by 10% by the end of the next quarter.

5. Designate team leads for each key result

A team lead is responsible for documenting and reporting the team’s progress toward achieving the key result. This promotes accountability for the team’s efforts and beneficial oversight of the work.

6. Document and report OKRs

This step is one of the most important in the OKR methodology. It can be done through regular check-ins (daily, weekly, bi-weekly, etc.) with team employees. These check-ins provide a moment for everyone to review current accomplishments and new understandings toward OKR achievements.

OKR best practices

Adhering to the best OKR practices is valuable for companies and their achievements. Here are some of them.

OKR visual with icons and keywords.

Setting a timeframe

Setting a timeframe will clarify when the key results should be actualized for teams. For companies that run on a quarter system, the conclusion of a quarter is a realistic timeframe to complete certain OKRs.

Starting with 3 to 5 objectives

In addition to scattering employee efforts, too many objectives can be counterproductive by quickly overwhelming teams. Therefore, starting with a few important ones creates a necessary focus.

Creating key results with measurable outcomes

It’s also best to distinguish the difference between daily tasks and critical results for team employees that need to be tracked. While daily tasks are necessary for completing each key result, they are not—in and of themselves—the key result.

Maintaining visibility about OKRs

Transparency often inspires more collaboration within companies, encouraging openness and inviting trust.

Routinely documenting and reporting progress on OKRs

Methodical records build momentum toward the team’s desired results. This also allows members to see where they fall short.

Common OKR mistakes and their prevention

Company teams inevitably make mistakes while planning and establishing OKRs. Here are the most common missteps and ways to avoid them.

Selecting unattainable objectives

While it’s crucial to be ambitious, it’s demoralizing when goals are set beyond the team’s reach. Collaborating with team employees on planning and establishing objectives is crucial to avoiding this mistake.

Neglecting to document and report progress

The OKR methodology is successful because it requires documenting and reporting progress. However, when this isn’t done, it undermines the entire process. Scheduling regular check-ins, at least weekly, with team employees corrects this common mistake.

Failing to provide support or resources

Team employees must be supported to complete key results and achieve objectives. Failure to do this jeopardizes the team’s ability to meet OKRs. The most suitable time to prevent this mistake is while setting goals; take a moment to examine whether the necessary support system and resources are available for the team.

The Skills You Need Guide to Personal Development

Further Reading from Skills You Need

The Skills You Need Guide to Personal Development

Learn how to set yourself effective personal goals and find the motivation you need to achieve them. This is the essence of personal development, a set of skills designed to help you reach your full potential, at work, in study and in your personal life.

The second edition of or bestselling eBook is ideal for anyone who wants to improve their skills and learning potential, and it is full of easy-to-follow, practical information.

About the Author

Anna is a passionate blogger, who loves sharing all kinds of self-motivation secrets and tips on self-growth with all the enthusiasts. Mastering at Denver University in Photography, and working as a journalist for different online media, she is now running her own business and expert blog. The visual stock platforms mentioned in this blog and tips will be perfect for anyone who is just beginning to learn how to make good use of visuals, or for those who already know what they're doing.