How to set goals with OKRs

Table of Contents

As stated by John Doerr “Ideas are easy, Execution is everything. It takes a team to win.” John Doerr is the first person who worked with OKR goals under the guidance of Andy Grove at Intel. He is considered one of the experts and a source of invaluable insights on the power of OKR.

Andy grove the President of Intel implemented it in 1970s. It was later spread among different companies, especially when Google was on its initial stage. Nowadays OKRs are used by tons of companies from SMEs to Fortune 500. Some of the well known companies are Google, Intel, Linkedin, Zynga, Oracle and Twitter.

There are certain insights on OKRs, that we will discuss later.

First let’s know why bring OKRs to your organization ?

When bringing OKRs to an organization it helps to clear about what they are, why they can be helpful and how can they be used. OKRs shows complete transparency. Research also reveals that the performance is higher when people are committed to a specific goal.

OKR is a leadership process for communicating the set goals and also monitoring those goals and results in organizations. The main goal of OKR is to connect company, team and other personal objectives in a way to measure the results, making all the employees work together in a unified direction. There is a OKR software that is needed to implement OKR.

OKRs is required to make sure each individual knows what is being expected out of them at work. It is kept public for everyone, so people and teams move forward towards the goals and know what others are focusing on.

OKRs has 3-5 high level objectives. These objectives have 3-5 key measurable results. Every result has a progress indicator of 0-100 or 0-1.0 that shows its achievement.

It is also said that every leaders should  implement it’s OKRs since, it is lightweight and does not consume time or resources. There are a lot of benefits for productivity, focus and company culture.


  1. OKRs increases clarity

The greatest benefits of OKRs is that it provides structure and clarity to an organization to work towards a common goals.

When there is a team of dozens or hundreds all moving towards one goal, you can achieve come pretty incredible results. This seemed to get more clarified seeing the results obtained.

I was once working on a case study of a customer, which by the way is fun on its own. It became all the more paramount with the perspective gained from OKRs. It helped draw a line from OKR of case study to company-wide OKr for revenue.

Let’s look at the steps

  • First is going through the case study
  • Then middle and bottom funnel traffic
  • Then is higher conversion rates
  • More trial starts
  • And therefore this leads to increase in monthly recurring revenue.

2. OKRs increase focus

It is important to revisit the OKRs, ideally every week would be great. This helps to keep your mind focus since there is a objective to achieve.

It’s like when your mind is drifting you could stop yourself and ask

“does this get you any closer to meeting your goals?”

This will drive you towards the OKR review board to see if the current tasks fits within the stated goals. With this OKR review board it will help you get back to work and feel confident to move forward to right directions.

3. OKRs increases collaboration

Collaborating with OKRs is a good decision. It was difficult to set a new landing page live because they do not have a front end development skills. It needed to create 3 to 5 new infographics.

You have to simply get in touch with the people you need to work with on different projects and find a common ground with them so the work ends up on a person’s OKR list.

Other benefits:

  • Alignment and cross functional cooperation
  • Reduced time for setting goals
  • Clear communication
  • Employees engagement
  • Autonomy and accountability
  • Focus and discipline
  • Bolder goals

It keeps vision, goals and objectives always in front of employees. It helps them know exactly what is expected out of them. They can also align the work to teams and department and company goals.

If OKRs is set up and used regularly, it is very simple to use and does not take much of the time to implement it. It takes just few hours to check and review the OKRs. It is appreciated by the leaders and managers, seeing the employees moving forward to important goals and not small unimportant tasks. Focus and productivity is the results of a good OKRs process.

How to use OKRs ?

Once everything regarding an objective is decided the OKR strategy can be communicated to all the stakeholders and make sure they well understood.  

As the people start working they will update their results regularly. An objective is considered done when 70 to 75% of the target results have been achieved. If 100% of the objectives results get done then it is not considered ambitious enough.

Make sure to review the OKRs regularly. The OKRs can be changed according to the company needs. No process should hold more value than common sense and everyday business.

  1. Start small and iterate

It is important to know about the tradeoffs before adoption of OKRs. Which means it is a good idea to start small and iterate as you understand the fact how it works in your company.

As per Google introducing OKRs start with the basics:

  • What are OKRs? Give a basic explanation to your team and how it works.
  • Why use OKRs? Review your current status to goal setting and limits or issues. This is a good time to show how OKRs connects everyone’s work to the company’s purpose.
  • How do OKRs work? Have a timeline for your OKRs cycle. This will indicate what is expected of each person. What will be the major milestones. What will success look like. And at times it might take a little work to convince the team that 60/70% is enough.

2. Focus on communication and prioritization

Since the OKRs is public sometimes it is not  a easy thing for the team. Therefore it is clear as to where you can see what people are working on and what metrics they are chasing an important part of adopting OKRs.

As said by Dick Costolo former Google and former Twitter CEO,

“As you grow a company the single hardest thing is to scale a communication. It is very difficult. The OKRs is a great way to make sure everyone understands how you are going to measure success and strategy.”

3. Use regular check-ins to stay disciplined

It is important to have regular check-ins on the OKRs strategy set. Though this doesn’t mean only at the start and end of an OKR cycle.

It might include:

  • OKR planning sessions: Bring together a small team together to talk through the objectives and key results for next cycle.
  • Weekly check-ins: A meeting for the team focusing on the tactical updates to ensure everyone is working on the right priorities.  
  • Mid cycle review: A step needed to reassess the OKR. Addition or elimination of any action plans for addressing OKR that are below your goal.
  • All hands meeting: A wide company meeting where everyone is communicated and reiterate your strategy and goals.

4. Don’t go all in on OKRs

It might not be a good idea to just drop OKRs on the entire team. Instead choose to either integrate them horizontally or vertically.

  • Horizontal: Start with a team and add other teams each cycle or quarter.
  • Vertical: Start company with OKRs and senior management and then add new layers each cycle or quarter.

Now we know the uses of OKRs. But how does OKRs fixes the strategy execution problem?

Strategy execution is a difficult task. Let’s look into some facts over this.

  • Donald Sull found that in his research in 2015 that even 45% of middle managers could not even name one of their organization’s top priorities. These were the managers responsible for executing strategy. But they had no clue what strategy is.
  • Kaplan and Norton found in 2015 that 9 out of 10 organization failed to execute their strategy.
  • Almost 95% of the employees didn’t know or understand their organization’s strategy. They didn’t even know whatever they are doing will actually help to realise that strategy.

Having knowledge over objectives and key results can help your organization become a great place to work. It helps to clear the path of success and held the teams consistently hit their goals.  

It helps to become a great place to work by letting teams have more autonomy. You make them responsible for objectives without actually dictating them how they need to realize those objectives.  

It also to have more clarity on the strategic priorities by making them transparent to the entire organization. This helps to focus on what truly matters. Teams will be able to consistently hit their goals by following a simple structure which has real data so the teams can actually push the company forward.

The anatomy of OKRs

Now since we know where the OKR  framework is coming from and the value is to bring the organization. Let’s look into the anatomy of OKR.

The objectives tells you where you need to go. These are the statements that aspire and set direction. Key results helps to know “ how do i know i am getting there?”  They help you specify the objective and helps you measure the progress towards it.

Initiatives answers the question, “ what will i do to get there?” initiatives are are work that you need to put in order to drive towards the progress on your key results.

Your objective and key results are your outcomes, and your initiatives are the outputs.

OKRs should be public within an organization so that the employees know the organizational objectives and the success point.

In an interview Dick Costolo, former Google and former CEO of Twitter, was asked ”What did you learn from Google that you applied at Twitter?”

To which he replied, “ The thing that i saw at Google that i applied at Twitter are OKRs. Those are the great way to help everyone in the company understand what’s important and how you’re going to measure what’s important.”

“The thing that I saw at Google that I definitely have applied at Twitter are OKRs – Objectives and Key Results. Those are a great way to help everyone in the company understand what’s important and how you’re going to measure what’s important. It’s essentially a great way to communicate strategy and how you’re going to measure strategy. And that’s how we try to use them. As you grow a company, the single hardest thing to scale is communication. It’s remarkably difficult. OKRs are a great way to make sure everyone understands how you’re going to measure success and strategy.”

About the author

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Co-Founder @ BigRadar. Building conversational interfaces for small and large enterprises.

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