Successful Goal Setting using the OKR Method
You probably have already a list of things you want to accomplish in your life. They might be small or large goals, important or relatively insignificant. But simply having a goal is not enough. You can tell yourself that you want to earn a million dollars all you want, but if you do not have a plan for making that money, you’ll never achieve that goal. This is where the Objectives and Key Results (OKR) method can help.
The initial form of the method was created by the Hungarian Andrew Grove (András István Gróf) at Intel, and it’s used by many other companies including Adobe, Facebook, Google & LinkedIn. The OKR method is a way to set goals. It’s popular because it’s simple, yet powerful when everybody in an organization or team uses it.
Get it out of your head
Most of the time when I ask people to write down their goals, they either write down a lot of them or need time to think of even one. I rarely see people write down two or three goals off the top of their head.
It turns out that keeping goals in our head leaves us with too many vague notions. We haven’t given them much thought, and just do the work that’s in front of us. Taking a moment to put goals on paper makes you choose the most important thing you need to work on. Creating an actual phrase for your goal will make you think about the wording. It makes you consider what the goal means to you. By clarifying what it means to you, you increase your commitment to the goal.
OKR is a method of goal-setting that makes it easy to not just set goals, but also to achieve them. Your objective is the goal you want to get to. It might be something like “lose weight” or “write a book.” While there’s nothing wrong with having more than one goal at a time, the fewer you try to juggle, the more successful you will be at achieving those goals.
An objective is a sentence that hopefully makes you jump out of bed every morning. It should inspire you, maybe even scare you a little, but definitely excite you.
Your Key results are an expression of your progress towards one of your goals. Essentially, it is a non-debatable way for you and others to determine whether or not you’re progressing towards your goal. A key result also provides context to your goals.
When determining a key result, it’s important to use a specific quantitative measurement. For example, if your HR team objective is to “Become the fastest-growing company”, your key result should be something challenging, like “Reduce employee turnover to less than 2% monthly.” You can then give yourself a score when you come to the end of the period, depending on how well you achieved that specific, quantitative result.
So a key result should be:
Keep in mind, a key result is not a todo and a list of key results is not a todo-list. When you see key results you should be able to come up with different tactics to reach it. If you write down tasks, it will limit people to come up with creative solutions to reach the objective.
We call the scoring of key results Grading. An often-used grade is between 0.0 and 1.0. Anything below 0.5 means that a KR was probably too ambitious. Between 0.5 & 0.6 is a step in the right direction. And between 0.6 & 0.8 is very well done! Above a 0.8? Dare to set your OKRs a bit more ambitious next time!
Since OKRs are time-bound, it’s important to work in a certain Rhythm. This is something your team or the organization you work in agree to. You can imagine that working on a set of OKRs for 1 month may be a bit too short to really achieve anything, where 6 months would probably be a bit too long. Often, a period of 3 months is chosen as a rhythm. This means you get to set and reach new OKRs every quarter.
The grading of OKRs should also happen during this rhythm. Obviously, you want to measure your progress not only at the end of the quarter. A sensible default is to grade every month when working with quarters. But in some cases, organizations do this much more frequently — during their weekly meeting, for instance.
I’ve spoken previously about team OKRs and Organizational OKRs. It’s good to mention that OKRs cascade. To be sure, a team or person can set goals that can impact an organization, so it makes sense to first clarify the organization’s vision and how it relates to the organization’s long-term goals. So before defining any team or personal objectives, start talking about the organization’s OKRs. A team or department can then start to derive and align their OKRs from that.
This brings us already to the last point of OKRs: Transparency. One of the key factors of the OKR method is that organizational OKRs, team OKRs or even personal OKRs are open to everyone.
This may sound a bit scary at first. Of course, you can still keep sensitive personal OKRs for yourself — but within teams and organizations, it’s powerful to be open about the things you want to achieve as a person or as a team. This way, people around you know what you’re working on. Maybe they can help you. Organizational OKRs help people within the organization align and derive their team OKRs. Naturally, when you share your objectives with others, accountability goes up.
Hopefully this introduction to OKRs has helped you to get started with the method. If so please let me know down in the comments and feel free to share it :)