Setting measurable (quantifiable) Key Results is crucial for OKRs to work. But many teams have challenges understanding the real difference between measurable outcomes (the result) and actionable outputs (any actions taken to get results).
As there are different terms around outputs (deliverables), from now on we will use the term initiatives as it makes more sense when you are working with OKRs.
Remember, initiatives can be any deliverables, activities, plans, projects, to-dos, or other forms of deliverables (outputs).
💡 Before writing Key Results, make sure you have set a good Objective! If the Objective is not good, it’s extremely hard to write good Key results.
What is a good Key Result
Key Results measure the progress and the success of the Objective. It means that they should be relevant to a specific problem that you are solving, and the progress on KRs should indicate that you have made the desired improvement.
Good Key Results are measurable outcomes, and achieving them would have a definite positive impact on the business.
For example, if your Objective is to “Increase brand awareness through social media”, you should think about what kind of quantifiable consequences are important to reflect this improvement: for example, increase the number of shares, followers, mentions, increase website traffic from social media and so on.
Think about what kind of change you want to see in your potential customer’s behavior. Because simply counting how many blog articles you are posting does not reflect how well-known your brand is.
Evaluating productivity by the number of activities completed is useless. And calling it “success” is yesterday’s practice.
Remember success is what you achieve, not just what you do.
💡 If you have lots of business metrics in mind but struggle to write Key Results, make sure you also know the difference between KPIs and OKRs.
How to write measurable Key Results to Team Objective
Separate Initiatives and Key Results
Problem-solving is about coming up with solutions. However, it is simply dangerous to go straight to the solutions without identifying what measurable change needs to happen. It’s a very known “doing without thinking why” syndrome, and it might end up with your team doing a lot of work for nothing.
Visually separating actions from the results is a good exercise for your brain.
You can create your own document but here we share a template for you to use.
When you are brainstorming ideas on how to achieve the Team Objective, make sure you immediately evaluate if this is an action (Initiative) or something that could be a measurable outcome (Key Result).
The exact measurements (the bottom line and the target value) are not important during the brainstorming process, just focus on what kind of outcome could be important.
You can use the form below to document the ideas.
How to write a measurable KR if we can only think of initiatives
Let’s say the problem you are trying to solve is to increase brand awareness. Since your brain is wired for problem-solving, you might immediately jump to solutions and make a to-do list:
-A/B test and launch new ads
-Post on Linkedin every week, etc.
But wait a second. Just running an A/B test is not going to solve the problem so how will you know that you are moving in the right direction?
Take a step back and evaluate what kind of real change you want to see during the quarter.
- Why do you want to run an A/B ad campaign?
- To figure out the best way to reach new people.
- So the outcome is to bring visitors to the website.
- How are you going to measure it?
- Set a target value that is achievable for the quarter.
If this initiative does not bring you to the desired outcome, you will keep brainstorming and coming up with solutions on how to achieve it.
The major learning here is to always ask “what are we doing this for” or “what is going to happen after we’ve done it”. It sounds simple but it’s still the biggest challenge teams face while writing Key Results.
The rule of thumb is this: if it doesn’t have a number, it’s already not a Key Result.
But if it does have a number, it doesn’t mean that it’s a measurable outcome yet. It just passed the first test. The next thing to think about is if the measurement is reflecting an impact, a change, a result, or just the amount of activities you do.
The most effective and valuable Key Results are measuring important outcomes that have significance for the business. How many blog posts you write (still an initiative) does not matter as much as how many readers your blog has (good measurable outcome).
You might achieve the desired amount of readers with just one post or it can take 10 posts and different tactics before you nail it.
Ask the right questions
Asking the right questions directs the right thinking process. It’s easier said than done so here are some approaches you can use while brainstorming possible outcomes to drive.
If you have a long list of Initiatives, discuss them one by one to find out why you are doing them.
Take an Initiative, imagine you have done it and keep asking “So what?”.
Try to understand why those things matter. What should happen after you have done them?
Map out possible measurable outcomes your initiatives could drive. Are they driving the same thing or could you group them?
If all of the ideas are going in different directions, you need to pick your priorities based on what results seem to be most important in the current moment.
Other questions to ask while drafting Key Results:
➡️ How do we even know that this area needs improvement? If something indicates that there’s a problem (like unique visits to the website dropping), the same thing can indicate if there has been an improvement.
➡️ Look closely at the wording of your Objective. For example, if the Objective is: Increase brand awareness among local businesses. What do you mean by awareness? What factors does it consist of? What are the local businesses? How will you know it’s happening? If there is too much gray area then you might need to rethink your Objective.
➡️ Think about what actually matters. What do you consider as an impact? For example, do you want more website page views or does this actually not matter if no one signs up?
➡️ Are you measuring the amount of effort or the result? You should measure the results.
➡️ What can your team possibly influence and take action upon? Do not set Key Results that are too big for your team and have too many third parties (other teams) involved.
Check what kind of data is available
To be able to track the impact, you need to have the measurements in the first place.
If the team is lacking ideas or understanding of “how can we prove the success of our Objective?”, dig into the measurements available.
Do you have any dashboards? Maybe your tech team can give you some insights into what data is available. Do you use any CRM systems, software, or analytics that can provide you with data?
After you have a better overview of data available, start thinking about what this data is telling you. Figuring out what the data is telling you helps the team to make more and more connections between actions and results. During this exercise, you can find the measurement you are looking for.
For example, you are viewing your blog analytics and you see that you have many views. When you check your product sign-up data, it appears that almost no one signs up from the blog.
So it seems that you need to analyze why they don’t sign up after reading your articles. Maybe the call to action is not clear and you need to change it?
Or are they simply the wrong target group or you are writing about the wrong things? Either way, it looks like the blog needs some work to drive more signups.
If you don’t have any data available, then your first step is to start gathering it. That might mean that for the first quarter you are setting up dashboards and analytics, monitoring the data, and trying to make sense of it. That is okay as well. You cannot nail the OKRs if you are not friends with data.
Look for inspiration
If you don’t have much data and your team is also lacking ideas of what to start measuring – do some research or ask an OKR coach for advice.
Take a look at a few examples of outcomes that are focused on business value:
- Customer acquisition outcomes – daily active users, registrations, participants, number of sales meetings, onboarded clients, calls, interviews with partners.
- Interaction outcomes – unique views or reads, website conversion, completion of onboarding steps, number of clients using a new feature, click-through rate, open rate, success rate, bounce rate, new traffic.
- Outgoing communication outcomes – pre-orders, leads, new deals closed, new hires.
- Financial outcomes – ROI, cost efficiency, LTV, deal size, average transaction value.
- Efficiency outcomes – page loading speed, number of bugs-related customer support tickets, average response speed, customer satisfaction score.
Example: Marketing team setting Key Results
We are going to run through an example of a marketing team trying to set measurable Key Results.
Let’s say a company realizes that to increase revenue, they need more good quality leads.
In that case, the marketing team Objective might be “Increase our brand awareness to bring in new leads”. And so the first thing marketing wants to do is to write a new marketing plan to try to improve the situation.
The new marketing plan is an Initiative but not a Key Result. And from the Objective we can already see that we need to define Key Results in at least two areas:
- What measurements will show that we have done a good job promoting our brand?,
- How many new leads are we hoping to get?
Depending on which works best for the company, there are many ways to measure if you have made your brand visible to new audiences.
If you have a blog, you could set a KR saying “Increase blog new visitors by X%”. And you could try to be more visible in social networks as well by setting a KR “Increase Linkedin average post views from X to Y”.
When it comes to getting more leads, think about what you actually want.
Do you want just more leads or do you want leads that convert to customers as well?
Most probably you want leads that convert.
That means if you do not know yet which kind of leads have the highest chance of ending up as customers, then it’s time to look into it.
You should start by defining the requirements for Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL). Based on that we can set a new Key Result saying “Increase Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL) from X to Y”. Again, any lead doesn’t count, only the ones that match the MQL criteria.
And we have our Objective with proper, measurable, outcome-based Key Results:
Objective: Increase our brand awareness to bring in new leads
KR1: Increase blog new visitors by X%
KR2: Increase Linkedin average post views from X to Y
KR3: Increase Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL) from X to Y
Keep asking “Why”
As you can see from the example above, setting Key Results is like being a curious 5 year-old who is continuously asking “BUT WHY?”. The why questions are good to take your mind from the first ideas that usually are initiatives to a more deep understanding of the actual needs. The “why” is the outcome we need for the business.
If you are stuck when writing Key Results, keep asking “but why” and continue the process until you are happy with what you are hearing.
Let’s go through more examples.
(Bad) KR: “Implement new sales process”
But why?: “Because our results are too low right now”
But why?: “Because our sales take too long and we can’t sell enough in one month”
I think we got it! Our outcome isn’t that we have the new process, this is our output! The real outcome that we are looking for is that we could close our sales faster. We just need to define how fast is enough.
Our KR could be something like “Reduce lead to closed sale average time from 14 to 10 days”. If the new process doesn’t bring results immediately, we need to keep improving it until we have reduced the days. We keep the focus on the measurable outcome!
Human Resources (HR) example:
(Bad) KR: organize training sessions for our product team
But why?: “Because they need more knowledge”
But why?: “Because they need to perform their work tasks better”
But why?: “Because they need to be more on time with their things. So other teams do not have to wait and disturb their work because of it”
We got it! What we want here is the team delivering things more on time. We might achieve it by training them but also by giving them reading, sending them to some courses, conducting 1:1 meetings, etc. The problem might not even be their knowledge of time management. Maybe it’s the question of how the process has been set up? Or which software they are using for their project management.
The right focus and KR could be “70% of product team projects are delivered on time”. If we focus on just training them, they might be better at organizing their time but it might mean they are more organized at home but the work is still delivered late.
💡 Check this article to learn why you shouldn’t cascade initiatives and call them “goals”.
- If a KR doesn’t have a number in it, it’s not a Key Result.
- Key Results are measurable outcomes and achieving them would have a definite positive impact on the business.
- When brainstorming ideas on how to achieve the Team Objective, make sure you evaluate if this is an action (Initiative) or a measurable outcome (Key Result).
- If you can only come up with activities, ask yourself: “what are we doing this for” or “what is going to happen after we’ve done it” to make sure the KR is measuring change.
- To be successful with OKRs, you have to be friends with data. make sure you have it available before finalizing your OKRs.
- If you get stuck writing KRs, keep asking “why?” and you’ll eventually find what is the change you need to be measuring.