Struggling with misalignment and disjointed teams? This quick guide teaches you how to set Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) to boost engagement around shared goals, a method used by Google, Netflix, and other successful organizations.
Learn how to write inspiring objectives, set measurable key results, master OKR cycles, and avoid common pitfalls. Follow these OKR best practices to rally your teams, create focus, and drive results.
Why we need to know how to set OKRs
Workplace alignment is broken. A staggering 95% of employees don’t understand their company’s goals, according to Gallup. No wonder performance suffers – only 35% of US staff feel engaged at work.
But what if there was a way to rally your teams around shared objectives that really move the needle for your business? A goal-setting approach that boosts clarity, focus, and results?
Enter OKRs – Objectives and Key Results.
This simple yet powerful framework is used by elite companies including Google, Spotify, and Intel to engage employees and accelerate growth.
OKRs distill an organization’s priorities into concrete goals that inspire teams and enable data-driven execution. They promote transparency around progress and outcomes. The result: better collaboration, agility, and measurable results on objectives that matter most.
With clear focus and shared purpose, OKRs unlock discretionary effort and peak performance from your people.
OKRs are a goal-setting framework used to drive engagement, accountability, and results. With clear objectives and measurable key results, OKRs keep everyone aligned to top business priorities and focused on outcomes that really matter.
At its core, OKRs have two components:
- Objectives: These are significant, concrete, and inspiring goals that reflect an organization’s top priorities. For example, an objective could be “Increase customer retention by 15%.”
- Key Results: These are measurable steps to achieving the objective. Key results act as milestones to track progress. For the sample objective above, key results could be:
- Reduce customer churn rate to less than 5%
- Launch VIP loyalty program for top customers
- Increase Net Promoter Score to over 70
With engaging objectives and rigorous key results, OKRs create clarity, transparency, and urgency throughout an organization. Employees understand how their work ladders up to big goals. Leaders get an aggregated view of progress toward strategic outcomes.
And with regular check-ins on OKRs, teams adapt quickly when circumstances change. Resources get allocated dynamically to the most important objectives. In this way, OKRs drive organizational agility and performance.
Crafting rock-solid OKRs is critical to realizing these benefits. But it takes skill and discipline to develop objectives and key results that get results.
How to write strong objectives
The keystone of any OKR framework is the objective. This sets the direction and rallying cry for your teams. Well-crafted objectives have four key attributes:
- Significance – The objective should connect to a vital company goal and strategy. Ask yourself “If achieved, how will this objective create significant value for our business?” Significant objectives inspire teams to bring their A-game.
- Concreteness – Vague objectives lead to confusion and poor execution. Use specific, unambiguous language. For example, “Increase revenue from new product line by $2 million” is far superior to “Grow new product revenue.”
- Action-orientation – Verbs drive action. Use active voice and strong verbs like improve, expand, reduce. “Improve product uptime to 99.95%” pushes teams more than “High product reliability.”
- Inspiring – Objectives should energize and mobilize teams. Use vivid and positive language. Consider how achieving the objective impacts customers and business. Paint that picture.
Here are some examples of rock-solid objectives:
- Increase customer lifetime value by 20% in 12 months
- Reduce customer wait times by 50% in 6 months
- Launch AI chatbot and reduce support calls by 30% by Q4
Well-crafted objectives set a clear, actionable course for your teams. They focus efforts on outcomes that deliver disproportionate value. The result is engaged, motivated teams and accelerated progress on your most important goals.
Best practices for OKR cycles
To sustain momentum and impact with OKRs, disciplined goal cycles are critical. Here are some proven techniques:
- Cadence – Set OKRs on a quarterly or biannual schedule. Quarterly allows for urgency while biannual reduces burden. Google uses quarterly OKR cycles to maintain focus amid rapid growth.
- Goal-setting meetings – Hold collaborative meetings at the start of each cycle to define objectives and key results. Ensure involvement from executives to individual contributors to drive engagement. For example, Netflix holds company-wide goal-setting workshops.
- Progress Monitoring – Check in on OKR progress at least monthly, if not more often. Schedule regular updates on key results through team huddles or one-on-one meetings. Some teams hold weekly OKR progress reviews.
- Agility – In dynamic environments, business needs can change quickly. Provide a mechanism to modify or add OKRs mid-cycle if needed. For example, attaching dates to key results allows adjustments.
- Retrospectives – After each cycle, hold retrospectives to discuss achievement, gaps, and learnings. Analyze why some OKRs were met while others were missed. Identify process improvements. Feed insights into planning the next cycle’s objectives and key results.
Benefits of OKR cadence:
- Maintains consistency – OKRs remain top of mind.
- Creates urgency – Frequent sprints drive progress.
- Enables transparency – Regular updates increase visibility.
- Allows agility – Flexibility to adapt to changing needs.
- Drives improvement – Continual refinement over time.
In summary, disciplined OKR cycles promote sustained alignment, accountability, and results quarter after quarter.
Common OKR mistakes to avoid
Even seasoned OKR practitioners make missteps now and then. By learning from others’ mistakes, you can craft an effective OKR program from the start. Here are some of the most common pitfalls to avoid:
- Not getting buy-in – Without broad buy-in, OKRs won’t take hold across your organization. Avoid just handing down goals from the top without input from below. Make sure all levels fully participate in co-creating objectives and key results.
- Setting too many OKRs – Resist the urge to establish too many goals. This creates confusion and diluted focus. Keep it simple – limit your organization to 3-5 objectives per quarter. And cap key results at 3-5 per objective.
- Lacking transparency – Don’t hide OKRs in obscurity. Ensure every employee can see top-level company OKRs. Make OKR tracking visual and public through shared dashboards. Transparency drives accountability and engagement.
- No regular reviews – Don’t “set and forget” your OKRs. Schedule regular check-ins to review progress. Adapt goals if business conditions change. And hold quarterly retrospectives to identify improvements for the next cycle.
By dodging these missteps, you set your OKR program up for success from day one. Take the time upfront to build skills in objective-setting, progress tracking, and open communication.
Making OKRs work starts with laying the right foundation
With clearly defined objectives and key results, teams stay aligned and motivated around your most important goals. Tracking progress and outcomes provides focus and accountability. Regular OKR cycles promote agility to drive sustained execution.
But successful OKR implementation takes work. It requires executive buy-in, consistent diligence around progress updates, and a culture of transparency. By following the best practices outlined here, you can get your OKR program off the ground successfully.
With the techniques covered in this guide, you can start crafting impactful objectives and key results for your organization.
Well-designed OKRs will help you:
- Align your teams around shared goals
- Increase transparency on progress and outcomes
- Boost employee engagement and motivation
- Accelerate growth through laser focus
- Rapidly adapt to changing business conditions
Don’t let competitors leap ahead. Start leveraging the OKR framework today to engage your people and outperform rivals. The first step is setting meaningful OKRs that move your organization forward.