Understanding OKR

objective key results

One of my old mentors had an aphorism. To be fair he had lots of them, and his influence is probably why I do too. But in this case, I’m referring to the one that was his favorite, and you could count on hearing him say it, if not daily, at least several times a week.

His favorite was “What gets measured gets managed.” Although now that I think about it, maybe that’s more of a heuristic than an aphorism. Regardless of that distinction, there’s a process you can implement to do that.
Objectives and Key Results is another framework for setting goals and evaluating results, whether for individuals, teams, departments or entire organizations.

OKRs begin with setting a goal or objective, and clearly defining key results that come from achieving it. Objectives need to be clearly defined, so one may conclude whether or not they were achieved. “Sales growth in Q4” is not clearly defined. “25% sales growth in Q4” is much more specific.

After all, if you don’t know what your goal actually is, you can’t make plans to achieve it. To take the converse of my old mentor’s saying, “How can you manage it if you can’t measure it?”

With that out of the way, then you’re able to decide on plans and initiatives to actually achieve that objective. Think in terms of now that you have your goal, what steps are you going to take to reach it? Clearly laying out the steps intended to reach the goal provide accountability: When the time comes for post-forensics you can look at each step you took and be able to decisively answer whether or not it helped or hindered your achievement of the overall goal.

It’s advisable to first implement OKRs in small numbers. Don’t try to set goals to change everything, everywhere, all at once. Trying to set too many targets stretches resources thin and imperils achieving any of them. There’s a saying for that: “All emphasis equals no emphasis.”

Instead, identify one target you want to achieve, set down the steps to achieve it and measure how well you succeeded (or didn’t). That data gives you valuable information to set up the next one.

To that end, if you’re looking to identify a target to achieve, set one that you’ve so far failed to achieve measurable progress on in other ways.

I’ll the first to tell you that there are many frameworks for goal setting and planning as there are business consultants, and probably more. Learning about one will have moments of déjà vu as you see similarities and parallels with others. There is definitely an overlap between OKR and others like Key Performance Indicators or Objectives/Goals/Strategies/Measures.

More important than which one you implement is the consistency with which you implement and execute the one you select.