If the global pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that scrupulous long-term planning may end up as a lot of wasted effort. This is not to say that long-term goals are not useful. As a company, you should definitely have a vision – an ultimate destination – so that all of your ongoing effort ties together with the bigger picture.
Having annual goals on the company level is important, but breaking the goals down into smaller focus areas helps to keep them agile. Such a shift towards agile goals might sometimes be challenging and time-consuming as it requires changes in culture and performance management, as 59% of professionals have reported.
To ensure agile goal setting and empower your team to work towards the right business metrics, try using the OKR goal-setting framework.
This ultimate guide will help you learn everything you need to know about OKR methodology and how OKRs could set you up for success.
Without further ado, let’s dive in.
What are OKRs?
OKR stands for Objectives and Key Results, it’s a quarterly goal-setting technique that consists of two basic parts:
- The Objective is qualitative and tells you what you want to improve,
- The Key Results are quantitative and define how you’ll know if you have achieved the Objective.
Two other crucial components of the OKR process are Initiatives and Weekly Check-ins — the ways to actually drive those OKRs and analyze the progress:
- The Initiatives include all the projects and plans that will help you achieve your Objectives,
- The Weekly Check-ins help you track accomplishments and upcoming Plans.
The Components of OKRs
The OKR goal-setting process starts when the leadership defines overarching Objectives for the company – focus areas that need improvement. Based on the context provided and explained by leaders, functional teams/departments write their team-specific Objectives and Key Results to contribute to one or several of the overarching Objectives.
Team OKRs should be aligned with the company direction and focused on improvements that a particular team would deliver within a quarter.
Having a clear outcome-driven focus for the whole team helps individuals in that team prioritize their day-to-day activities and understand how their work contributes to the bigger picture:
The progress on the Key Results should be monitored and discussed weekly to ensure better prioritization of initiatives and continuous alignment within a team. If a team is writing good outcome-focused OKRs, they would never need (or be able to deliver on) more than 3 Objectives per quarter.
👉 Read more about OKR weekly check-in and how to track progress within the team.
What is OKR used for?
OKR framework didn’t appear all of a sudden and other goal management tools had been used before such as MBOs, SMART goals, and KPIs:
Things changed in the 1970s when Andy Grove, CEO at Intel, took the idea of Objectives and merged them with Key Results to create what we now know as OKRs. Within the next few years, John Doerr learned the methodology from Grove and introduced OKRs to Google.
As an outcome-driven framework, OKR management famously helped Larry Page and Sergey Brin to take Google to new heights, and thousands of companies have learned to leverage the principles of the OKR method ever since. Larry Page, a co-founder of Google, credited OKRs:
OKRs have helped lead us to 10x growth, many times over. They’ve helped make our crazily bold mission of ‘organizing the world’s information’ perhaps even achievable. They’ve kept me and the rest of the company on time and on track when it mattered the most.
Today, leaders in LinkedIn, Twitter, Slack, Spotify, Uber, and Microsoft use OKRs to communicate improvement priorities across the company and align the teams to move in the right direction.
While working with ambitious companies around the world for around 10 years now, we at Weekdone have been gathering together some common OKR examples for different teams.
According to our OKR best practices at Weekdone, we recommend setting only Objectives on the company level and both Objectives and Key Results on the team level.
The reason behind this is that usually Company Key Results start reminding KPI targets and, therefore, no team can own and contribute to the company Objective. And if no one owns it, then it’s not an OKR.
It doesn’t matter if the entire company uses the OKR method or not, every team can try these OKR examples themselves:
Marketing Team Objective
Improve promotional channels to generate more Marketing Qualified Leads
Marketing Team Key Results
KR1: Increase email marketing MQLs from 100 to 150
KR2: Increase AdWords MQLs from 70 to 100
KR3: Increase organic search MQLs from 45 to 50
Product Team Objective
Research and map signups’ first product entry expectations and needs to improve areas that actually matter
Product Team Key Results
KR1: Analyze learnings from at least 100 Inspectlet recordings
KR2: Analyze learnings from at least 30 interviews with early-stage customers
KR3: Analyze signup funnel and figure out at least 5 main reasons for the drop-off
Sales Team Objective
Personalize sales approach and nurture new potential customers better
Sales Team Key Results
KR1: Improve conversion % from “trial” to “paid” from 20% to 35%
KR2: Increase follow up email open rate from 14% to 45%
KR3: Reach 8/10 average score on customer satisfaction survey with at least 100 responses
What are the benefits of OKR?
The main benefit of OKRs is making your management results-oriented and data-driven instead of using an output-focused, command-and-control approach.
So, instead of cascading tasks and assigning deadlines, you would be discussing the most important improvement areas, and have the teams engaged in problem-solving exercises. Such a discussion helps teams decide on the outcomes they can and will deliver.
Here are more reasons why OKR is your go-to management solution:
OKRs help you stay focused on what’s important
The key element of OKRs is using connections between Company and Team Objectives and connecting them to your daily work. Aligning your daily activities to the team Objectives helps you understand the quarterly focus of your team and company and let others know what your priorities are.
All the team members will understand exactly how their Key Results contribute to the company’s top-level Objective, and that makes it easier for that Key Result to remain top of mind during the OKR quarter. To get the most out of OKRs, take this benefit a step further: use an OKR tool that connects your regular business tasks to your company and team goals.
Using Weekdone OKR software you can easily set up connections between Company and Team Objectives and populate them with Key Results that indicate if you’ve achieved your goals.
Free 14-day trial & no credit card required.
OKRs help your teams get aligned and connected
Goal alignment is communication. It is not enough to write down a company’s goals and teams’ OKRs in a shared digital workspace and expect everyone to be on the same page. Proper alignment requires two-way communication: top-down and bottom-up.
First, the leadership should explain and clarify the company-level direction so that the teams have enough input to write their OKRs for a quarter. Once the OKR drafts are ready, each team should present them to the rest of the company and answer the questions that might come up.
Before finalizing the OKRs for a quarter, teams should also figure out dependencies with each other. If team A needs help or resources from team B, then team B should know about that and consider the time needed to deliver that help, and realistically assess what is achievable within a quarter. Once everyone is clear on what the priorities are, teams can move on to execution.
👉 Read more on how to conduct a successful OKR review in this article.
OKRs help you prioritize your weekly plans
Weekly Check-ins should serve as a starting point to come up with the plans for each week and move them further to the progress when done or to the problems when stuck. Once teams get clear Objectives and the Key Results figured out, team members are free to choose how to achieve their OKRs.
Weekly plans can be linked to the Team’s Objectives allowing us to clearly see how these plans will drive the Objective and if it’s necessary to keep or skip these plans for the sake of moving forward to the Objective.
Link your weekly plans with your Team OKRs from the Weekly Check-ins page to make sure that what you do each week is relevant to your long-term success.
OKRs help you track for accountability and transparency
Company OKRs are improvement goals, and obviously, achieving some of them will require collaboration from teams in different functional areas. Each team works towards their own OKRs as a group, and get together on a weekly basis for a quick team OKR check-in meeting to make sure their OKRs stay on track.
Weekly Team OKRs Check-ins are regular meetings attended by the team members who are working on the same OKRs. Apart from the regular progress update and staying in sync, the point of these meetings is to ensure regular exchange of information that will improve mutual understanding, and build trust.
Weekly OKR check-ins should have a clear agenda and should not last longer than half an hour. Normally, a check-in takes around 15 minutes and it could be a part of your regular team meeting.
OKRs help you set goals to drive improvement
OKRs are all about continuous improvement and growth.
You can choose how bold your goals would be: committed goals or aspirational ones. Committed goals are the ones that your team knows how to achieve so they fully commit to attaining 100% on the progress bar. Whereas aspirational goals might not get achieved 100% but they are important for growth and ongoing improvement.
Working with OKRs starts from the company level. Quarterly Objectives on the company level should be broad enough so that several functional teams can approach them from their different angles, but also specific enough so that there is a common direction.
Three months is enough time for a team to deliver valuable outcomes. During this time they will learn what works best and adjust their focus areas for the next quarterly cycle. By reviewing their Objectives and Key Results every 3 months, teams have 4 chances per year to respond to the changes in the real world. As opposed to having an annual review and realizing that they have been on the wrong path for a year.
What is the difference between OKRs and KPIs?
KPI stands for Key Performance Indicators and are used to track business metrics that reflect performance. OKRs, on the other hand, are a methodology for defining improvement areas and driving changes.
KPIs don’t tell you what needs to be changed or improved to drive the growth of your business metrics whereas OKRs help you clearly see how your business metrics relate to your daily work.
That isn’t to say your company can’t use KPIs. In fact, some KPIs are great for showing what level of performance you want to achieve and what OKRs to set to get there. In Weekdone, you can now start reporting KPIs and allow them to coexist with OKRs!
Here’s how KPIs and OKRs differ, and how your team can use them both:
A Company Objective is not a KPI target, it should be phrased as an overarching improvement area.
👉 Learn more about the purpose of OKRs and KPIs and how to apply them both in your business.
How to Write Good OKRs?
How to Write Company Objectives
A Company Objective should be a high-level improvement area that several teams would be working on. It should be broad enough to invite the teams to brainstorm the most impactful Team Objectives, but also specific enough so that it is clear what the direction is.
Before finalizing high-level Objectives, leadership should ask for feedback from the teams and clarify expectations in case something is not clear enough.
How to Write Team Objectives
Team Objectives are inspirational goals aligned with the overarching company direction. They should give the team purpose, a sense of urgency, and focus. Team Objectives are not projects, they are problems to solve or the most impactful improvement opportunities to pursue within a quarter.
A team as a group of people working towards the same outcomes should be responsible for writing their collaborative OKRs. To write a good Objective, a Team would need to answer the questions:
- What is our role in driving the Company Objectives forward?
- What can we create (innovate), fix (resolve), or improve (change) in order to be more successful?
- What is stopping us?
How to Write Key Results to an Objective
While an Objective is a problem to solve or an improvement opportunity to explore, Key Results indicate if that particular problem is solved or if that particular opportunity has succeeded in execution.
Under each Objective, a team would set 2-5 Key Results – measurable outcomes that represent a valuable change in the business. Note that Key Results are not activities you complete. They are the outcomes of those activities. So if you, for example, complete 3 Initiatives, what kind of real-life impact are you expecting to see? That would be the desired outcome.
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.
Common mistakes to avoid when writing OKRs:
- Always start by defining an Objective for a quarter
- Write at least 2 and no more (!) than 5 Key Results per Objective
- Make them ambitious but not impossible
- a KR is not an activity, it is the desired outcome of a series of activities
- Make sure it is achievable within a quarter and you have ideas on how to drive it
- Make sure you can impact this KR on an ongoing basis
- KR is not any regular business-as-usual KPI (business metric), it should define the success of an improvement-focused Objective
- A team’s actions should have a clear impact on Key Results during the quarter
- If you look at a Key Result and have no initiatives or action plans for driving it, it’s a bad Key Result
👉 Read more: OKR best practices and tips
Free 14-day trial. No credit card required.
The OKR Process
As you’re now familiar with the OKR method and how to write good OKRs for your team, it’s time to execute your goals.
Good OKRs are the heart of the OKR framework but without the right OKR process, they become useless.
Objectives and Key Results need to be actionable. It means when your team is setting OKRs, they should also have some ideas or plans on how to drive it forward.
If you set an Objective and you can’t think of any ideas to help you achieve it, then it is not actionable. While writing your OKRs, try to also discuss what could be done to drive the Key Results forward. This way you will see if this goal even makes sense.
In addition to evaluating the achievability of an OKR at the beginning of the quarter, OKR planning should take place on a weekly basis.
How do I start an OKR plan?
To drive OKRs forward it’s not enough just to set them and check in from time to time. There’s a specific planning and checking process behind any good OKRs.
In Weekdone we offer two components for planning OKRs:
- Initiatives – Sometimes referred to as: projects, activities, or the ideas planned by a team in order to move the needle forward on quarterly OKRs.
- Weekly Plans – Tasks that allow team members to focus on the most impactful tasks during a week, while keeping their long term goals (OKRs) in mind.
While OKRs are set on the team level and all of the team members will work towards achieving these results, executing plans takes place on the individual level. This is how individuals contribute to the team goals: everybody is working on their weekly plans, ultimately contributing to the progress of the whole team. Weekly planning drives the OKRs forward by focusing your attention on what you need to do during the week.
In Weekdone you can use the single Objective Details Page that gives you a bird’s eye view of a particular Objective. You can see how the Key Results are progressing and who has planned or completed any relevant Weekly Plans.
👉 View and manage Objectives, Key Results, and Weekly items together in Weekdone. Set your first OKRs now!
How do I track OKRs?
The core value of OKRs comes from the success stories and lessons learned as you track OKRs along the way.
For the OKR process to bring results we at Weekdone offer two OKR tracking best practices to follow:
- Hold OKR weekly check-ins
- Organize a quarterly OKR review or a retrospective meeting at the end of the OKR cycle
At the start of the OKR cycle, you set the Objectives and measurable Key Results.
Each week you should have a team or company-wide OKR check-in. An OKR check-in is a quick 15-20 minute meeting where you and your team reflect on the progress of Team OKRs and set new priorities for the upcoming week. The purpose of the OKR check-in is to facilitate OKR progress.
Teams make sure that:
- progress is happening by looking at accomplished plans
- the results of these plans
- the lessons learned when moving forward.
This turns your work towards achieving Objectives and Key Results into a weekly flow.
If you have the same OKRs for the whole company then, obviously, you should have those check-ins altogether. If teams have OKRs separately, they should also have team-specific OKR check-ins.
Once a month, or at least at the end of the quarter, the whole company should run a retrospective meeting to analyze learnings. It might seem impossible to share lessons learned on a company level but only when the teams haven’t analyzed what to share yet.
The OKR review process is rather simple, just remember to:
- have an open and honest but respectful culture
- share constructive feedback
- ask the right questions
- have valuable discussions to complement the answers.
How do I track OKRs in Google Sheets?
Besides the OKR process and best practices on how to track OKRs, you also need to have OKRs accessible for everyone in your team and easy to track.
Here you have a few options to set and track your OKRs:
- If you are a small team with up to 10 people, you can start from the OKR spreadsheets to first focus on learning the OKR methodology and educating the team;
- Once you’re a growing team of more than 10 people, OKR spreadsheets might become complicated to maintain and keep dynamic. In this case, consider using an OKR software like Weekdone.
OKR software offers a variety of features for teams and team leaders such as:
- hierarchical OKR view
- visual dashboards for simple OKR progress tracking
- Weekly Plans linked to the Key Results and Key Results linked to the Objective.
Here is an example of the aligned Objectives visualization where three different teams are working on their joint company goal – improving brand reputation:
👉 Weekdone offers a free 14 day trial for all teams, you can get started without yet committing to anything.
OKR software is the perfect solution to the challenges presented by OKR spreadsheets. Now the question is how to find the best OKR tool.
Let’s get a few simple OKR software options covered:
What is the best OKR software?
The best OKR software is the one that lets you clearly set up and manage Objectives and Key Results, and create alignment around those: weekly check-ins functionality, weekly planning, and peer feedback. The best OKR software should also suit your needs the most:
- Ease of use
- Progress tracking
- Reporting & analytics
- Teamwork capabilities
- Pricing and free trial options
- OKR coaching and support, etc.
And there are a lot of different OKR software tools to choose from. Below you’ll find the most popular ones and are free to start with:
Best OKR Software Solutions
Best for setting quarterly OKRs and alignment
Weekdone is OKR software for status reporting, aligning team OKRs with company-level Objectives, and visualizing your weekly and quarterly progress. Additional features support cross-functional team engagement.
- OKR hierarchy view lets you and your team visualize your company’s OKRs and their alignment across the entire organization;
- Weekly Check-ins help you connect your weekly plans with team Objectives to make sure that what you do each week is relevant to team quarterly improvements;
- Integrations with Asana, Jira and Google Tasks to keep the entire company updated about your biggest priorities and progress while using your favourite project management tool;
- TV dashboard feature that offers a bird’s eye view of your organization’s OKRs in addition to regular reports that you can export in a PDF or Excel format.
Bonus feature: Weekdone subscribers can receive company-tailored unlimited OKR Coaching to speed up the OKR learning curve and gain helpful tips.
Best for 360-degree feedback and employee engagement
Koan’s free OKR software helps companies of all sizes achieve goals through simple, positive habits embraced from the bottom up. Koan allows easy setting of OKRs and their owners, and the weekly reflections feature is great for keeping the team engaged and aware of their progress.
- Negative feedback management to let team members fill up quick, weekly reflections and share their accomplishments, top priorities and potential concerns;
- Progress Tracking gives visibility across your teams, trackable progress and viewable insights
Best for connecting KPIs and OKRs
Perdoo’s software offers OKR-related views and focuses on the Objectives and Key Results only. It’s easy and intuitive to set up and update OKRs.
- Groups feature to create teams and assign responsibilities and enable clearer execution and exercise accountability;
- KPI Monitoring for tracking each team’s OKRs and KPIs alongside each other and 360-degree transparency across the business.
OKR helps businesses bridge the gap between goal setting and execution, while switching from an output to an outcome-based approach to work.
The OKR framework helps leaders and their teams prioritize, align, and measure the outcome of their efforts. Linking Company and Team Objectives to the Key Results help team members understand how their daily work contributes to the bigger picture and what to focus on to drive improvements.
The right OKR software makes the OKR adoption process easier and serves as a shared environment where teams get aligned and goals get achieved.
Free 14-day trial. No credit card required.
How long is an OKR cycle?
Usually, the OKR cycle takes 3 months. If you are a small-to-medium company that is setting up OKRs for the first time and need a lot of flexibility, then you can set OKRs for a shorter period. In this case, instead of quarterly OKRs, try starting with 6 weeks at a time.
How many OKRs are in a quarter?
Depending on the size of your team, it might be enough to set 1-3 OKRs for a quarter for the whole organization. Later, once you get a hang of OKRs you can be setting 1-3 overarching Company Objectives and 1-3 team OKRs.
How do I create OKRs for something that’s not measurable?
Having a North Star Metric can help with creating OKRs, especially OKRs for startups. A North Star Metric is a measurement of your company’s success. Whether it pertains to customer retention, value, or growing revenue – it should help you analyze your success.
For example, if your North Star Metric is related to retention, then you need to figure out what kind of areas need to be improved to have better retention. While you might not have strategic measurable goals, you can have a North Star Metric that the OKRs should help to drive.
How long will it take to successfully implement OKR?
While the OKR cycle itself can take up to 3 months, the OKR planning process (especially if it is your first time setting OKRs) might take some time as well. It’s best to start planning OKRs 2-4 weeks ahead of the start of the quarter. Additional time might be necessary for the quarterly OKR retrospective and adjusting learning from the previous quarter to the upcoming one. You might expect 2-3 quarters of altering your OKR setting and tracking processes until you get to the really good OKRs.
Who should be in charge of my OKR program?
There are three options you could consider for the first-time OKR strategy roll-out:
- a pilot team,
- team leaders only,
- everyone involved.
You can also hire a dedicated OKR coach who’ll guide you on OKR best practices, train your teams and help your entire company implement the methodology. For example, Weekdone offers OKR training along with the software purchase.
How to cascade OKR company to teams?
OKRs never cascade, they align. Cascading focuses on a top-down approach and is related to traditional forms of management. Whereas OKRs cultivate alignment by allowing teams to link their team’s OKRs to the Company Objective and be responsible for driving company goals independently.
What’s the difference between OKR and MBO?
OKRs are meant for teams and organizations to facilitate growth, improvement, and alignment while MBO helps you track employees’ performance. OKR is an outcome-driven framework that guides teams to think about the outcomes of their actions whereas MBO is typically focused on clearly defined goals that are agreed to by both management and employees.
What’s the difference between OKR and SMART goals?
With SMART goals, there’s no Objective. In the OKR approach, the Objective is an aspirational statement that is supported by Key Results. SMART goals just stand on their own as quantitative results and are usually set for smaller projects. SMART goals don’t have any direct or established connection to higher-level goals.
Is OKR a performance management tool?
OKR is not a tool for performance management. When implementing the OKR goal-setting process, make sure that the progress on OKRs does not influence financial compensation or personal performance assessment of the employees.
Should OKRs be tied to compensation?
OKRs and performance management serve different purposes, and should not be tied tightly together. OKRs motivate teams to achieve ambitious goals, align, engage, and cultivate collaboration. Performance reviews help managers to evaluate team member performance individually and degrade the OKR benefits.
Recommended OKR reading
- OKRs and Project Management: OKRs vs Projects and OKRs for project managers to use
- OKR examples and OKR setting process: how to write OKRs for different teams and which OKRs to avoid
- The secret behind successfully implementing OKRs: knowledge, motivation and the right OKR tool
- A downlodable step-by-step guide for implementing Objectives and Key Results in your company