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Last Updated on August 30, 2021

How to Set OKRs to Keep Your Goals on Track

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How to Set OKRs to Keep Your Goals on Track

Goals typically fail for several reasons, the main one being they lack purpose or a tangible reason why they have been set in the first place. If you don’t honestly believe in a goal or have an emotional attachment to why it’s been created, you’ll either lose interest or only do the minimum to deliver it.

There are several other reasons goals can fail, including:

  • The goal is too ambitious and so far from being achievable that there is no point working on it as you feel you’ll never achieve it.
  • The goal completion target is so far off into the future that you just put it off as there is no urgency.
  • The goal isn’t specific enough and so vague and hard to plan for as they may sound great, but you’re not sure how you’ll achieve them.

OKRs can provide the structure and direction you need to achieve your goals, whether you’re a company or an individual.

They create the purpose and direction you need to achieve and work towards, as well as offer strategies for how you’ll measure your progress, success, and then ultimately the initiatives to get you there.

Where OKRs work better than a single goal approach as they link everything together.

At the highest level, you have your company vision; below the vision there is the annual OKRs (3-5); then below these come the quarterly OKRs.

Each one is serving the next and is being achieved by all the initiatives (the work) being delivered by the teams and individuals day to day, week to week, and month to month.

What Is an OKR?

OKR stand for “Objectives and Key Results” and was initially created by Andy Grove in the 1970s while at Intel. Since then, OKRs have been taken on and used by companies like Google and Netflix[1].

OKRs are a collaborative way to create goals for a company and individuals as they are not only ambitious and inspiring but also achievable.

OKRs were not only created to set objectives for companies but also to improve collaboration, engagement, and transparency between senior management and its employees. Having shared objectives throughout the company brings the whole workforce together to work towards common goals and then celebrate together when they’ve achieved them.

The objective within an OKR is the outcome you’re looking to achieve, and the key result is how you’re going to measure whether the outcome has been achieved.

Key results are what make OKRs measurable; they tell you if you’ve been successful with the objectives set up front as, without them, the success of an objective can be left open to opinion.

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History of OKRs

OKRs were first introduced by Andy Grove in Intel, the co-founder of Intel and former CEO. It was brought up in his book “High Output Management”.

That philosophy was adopted slowly into business over time. It slowly became popular among other Silicon Valley companies, Google included.

Google was the next major one as John Doerr, someone who worked at Intel under Grove’s leadership, suggested using this method. The key difference was setting OKRs every three months.

Eventually companies like Amazon, Twitter, Spotify, and others created those tweaks in OKRs to fit company needs. The concept was adopted overall, but at this point only the core concepts of Grove’s initial concept remain.

What Makes a Good Objective?

Objectives tell you where you need to go and should inspire and set the direction.

When defining the objective for your OCR, it has to be clear, well-written and free of doubt about what the outcome of the objective is.

An objective should always be an outcome that you may not initially know how to achieve, but you understand what the outcome is you’re looking to aim for.

It also needs to be balanced in how achievable it is. If the objective is to achieve 100% market share in your industry, that is not only too ambitious, but it’s very likely to be impossible.

You could also make the opposite mistake and make the outcome of the objective too easy (for example, increase our market share by 1%).

If the objective is too easy, too hard, or impossible, you’re wasting your time creating it as it offers no value, and ultimately the team will pay no attention to it and lose faith in the overall approach.

What Makes a Good Key Result?

If the objective sets the direction you want and defines the outcomes you need to achieve, you can think of the key results as the milestones to get you there.

The key results are how you’ll track progress so you can quantify and measure as you go to make sure you’re on track to achieve your chosen outcome.

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If the objectives are well-defined and thought out, the key results are what keeps the team motivated and focused. This is because they’re measurable. Once complete, it can be a tick in the box to show not only progress, but also celebrate the success you’ve achieved.

These small, significant milestones keep the teams and individuals motivated, especially when working with quarterly objectives.

The vital part of creating key results is that they’re measurable. There should be no doubt if you’ve achieved a key result or not. For example, if you have an objective of “Increase revenue this quarter by 5%,” one of your key results could be:

“Sell 100 of our new training courses.”

If you’ve only sold 80 training courses, then you only achieved 80% of that key result.

How to Create an OKR

An OKR consists of an Objective, which defines what you’re trying to achieve, and up to five key results. The key results are how you measure if you’ve achieved the objective.

Under the key results, you also have a set of initiatives, which are the activities or the work required to achieve the key results.

You create OKRs to set the overall direction for a company and create the alignment needed, so every employee is working with the same shared purpose.

While we will be discussing OKRs mostly at the company level, keep in mind that individuals can also use them for life planning.

A company typically has a single vision or a mission for the company, and this direction you want to move towards could be set for the next decade or even longer. This is the ultimate purpose that aligns your company’s employees and, in some cases, your customers on why you do what you do.

This vision sets your direction, which then allows the creation of the company OKRs, which are set annually. These 3-5 OKRs are the objectives that will move your company closer to that overall vision and are specific to what outcomes you need to achieve in the next 12 months.

Each company OKR has clear key results (up to five) that are measurable, so you can track progress and measure success. These company objectives encompass all parts of the business and can overlap over multiple departments.

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The departments within the company then set group OKRs, which are set quarterly using the company OCR’s as the direction. Again, like the company OCR’s, they all have key results defined and agreed on so the departments can measure progress.

Tips On How to Write OKRs

  • Writing OKRs is simple if your familiar with SMART goals. The formula goes like this: Objectives are your goals and intentions, while the key results are the time-bound and measurable milestones under those objectives.
  • Stick with one objective and three key results if you need specifics.
  • Objectives should be ambitious and inspirational, concrete, action-oriented, and not fuzzy.
  • Describe the outcomes and not the activities themselves.

Examples of Different Types of OKRs

Seeing OKRs as a unit – something that can’t be separated from one another – it starts to become easier to see various types of OKRs. Below are some examples of different types of OKRs

  • Committed OKRs – This is where the goals that everyone agrees needs to be achieved. Without them, there is no success. Prioritizing them means that the company will grow.
  • Aspirational OKRs – Consider these as audacious goals. They require teams to stretch past what they typically do. It’s tougher, but they serve as a tool to push teams to think and act differently and get out from beyond their comfort zones. The concept argues even if you don’t complete the goal, the fact the team and individuals made an effort means they pushed much farther than setting a mediocre goal.
  • Learning OKRs – These focus around explorations, experiments, and trying to prove hypotheses. It’s about reporting findings or proving or disprove certain notions or beliefs or theories. These are ideal in the early stages where inputs and outputs aren’t clear.

Common OKR Mistakes

Like with any goals, people do make common mistakes when setting these up. Some mistakes you want to avoid are:

  • Forcing people to be setting OKRs, or heavily influence their own objectives.
  • Starting from the bottom and working up rather than setting from the top down.
  • Setting too many objectives or key results.
  • Mistaking tasks as key results.
  • Using OKR as a compensation program or a performance review system.
  • Setting an OKR and forgetting about it.

How to Track OKRs

OKRs must be tracked and reviewed regularly.

The direction of the company, although this is an ongoing activity, is typically reviewed annually, but the company OKRs need to be reviewed quarterly.

A quarterly review would entail looking at the progress of the key results defined at the start of the quarter. These key results tell you if you’re going in the right direction through measurement and progress tracking.

A quarterly review also gives the teams a chance to review the OKRs when it comes to the value they’ll provide the company, the staff, and its end users.

What you created three months ago may not hold the same value today. Discuss the value of the OKR. Is it still pushing you towards the overall company vision, or do you need to change or potentially create a new one?

To review OKRs at the team level and the initiatives in place to deliver them, you need to meet at least every two weeks or even weekly in some cases.

Meeting regularly follows the same principle as the quarterly and yearly review as you look at how are you progressing. What is working and what isn’t?

How to Adopt OKRs

There is no specific method to implement this in a business aside from the core concepts. As such, follow these steps to implement it:

  • First, communicate. You want to ensure everyone knows about it and is willing to use it. Ways to communicate this concept shouldn’t just be restricted to an email. Conduct workshops, bring it up in meetings with the entire company. You want engagement so talk about it.
  • Second, have a tool to adopt it. There are various tools to help you manage your OKR. In some cases it can be a spreadsheet that you’ve put together or you can find specific software devoted to managing it. Happierco is one.
  • Third, organize. OKR is set during a specific time frame much like any goals. For many businesses, they set it quarterly, but you’re not restricted to that. It can be monthly or even yearly. Whatever works best for your business. To help with organizing as well, ask yourself these questions: What I have to accomplish? ; How am I going to get this done? By asking those questions, you’re setting your objective and key results respectively.
  • Fourth, set company OKR. Company OKR is important to do first and should be done by the CEO or someone in upper management. Essentially someone who knows what’s most important for the company and has access to the bigger picture.
  • Fifth, set team OKR. With company OKR in mind, you’re able to set team OKRs after. They can be boiled down to team priorities and can be found by first having a meeting with team managers and then having those team managers go back to their respective teams to define said priorities.
  • Six, set individual OKR. With all the knowledge in mind for the company, individuals will be adequately prepared to set their own individual OKR. This will be based on the team priorities and will specify what each team member will be working on.
  • Seven, review. Before work even starts, it’s helpful to review everything and ensure individual OKRs fit together with everyone else’s. This is essential as every single OKR has to be aligned and connected in some fashion.

FAQs

Advantages and Disadvantages of OKRs

Advantages:

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  • OKRs encourage people to set ambitious goals. It’s not always about what’s obtainable but how close you can get to completing the objective.
  • OKRs are more likely to be reviewed often in business environments. You typically set them every 3 months.
  • OKRs are quantitative in nature. Several goal-setting methods focus on the goal itself rather than how you get there.
  • OKR allows more freedom for people to design their own objectives and results. This is due to the inherent nature of adopting OKRs.
  • OKR is separate from any kind of compensation. It’s somewhat of a performance metric but allows people the reduced pressure of it being a performance metric if that makes sense.

Disadvantages:

  • OKRs relationships aren’t always obvious. It can be difficult to see how one person’s objective connects to others’ objectives.
  • OKRs can get lost in translation easily. It’s easy for team managers to design OKRs and have them not align with the organizational priorities. Even in cases where they are clearly communicated.
  • Key results can be too prescriptive for some people and lead to them being demotivated. Even in cases where they were previously engaged in the objective.
  • It’s easy to set too many OKRs and get overwhelmed.

What Is the Difference Between OKRs and KPIs?

The key difference between these two is the intention behind the setting of the goal itself. KPI goals are usually pretty obtainable and represent an output of a process or project that’s already set. OKR goals are usually more aggressive and ambitious.

List of OKR Tools

There are several tools to consider that help with setting OKRs. Here are some:

  • CultureAmp – helps with identifying goals.
  • Koan – helps with making OKRs transparent.
  • Weekdone – simplifies OKRs altogether and keeps everything in sync.
  • Perdoo – sets OKRs, bringing you through the step-by-step process.
  • Engagedly – provides inspiration to create and track objectives.
  • SimpleOKR – provides feedback and reviews of OKRs
  • Peoplegoal – scores OKRs which helps in the evaluation process.
  • ClickUp – helps with managing all OKRs efficiently.

The Bottom Line

OKRs are a great way to adapt your goals into a more structured and trackable format that will keep your goals on track.

The OKR approach gives you the ability to separate your long term and shorter momentum goals so you can stay focused and interested throughout the year.

Making them measurable by creating key results allows you to track progress through to completion, which is a great way to stay motivated and push to complete more.

Like standard goal-setting, if you don’t invest the time up front to create them correctly, you’ll either lose interest, or they wont deliver the value you had hoped for.

To be successful when implementing the OKR approach within your company, don’t have too many, make them transparent, make sure your teams are aligned, and check progress regularly.

If you do all of this, you’ll give yourself the best chance to reach your goals.

More Tips on Objectives and Key Results

Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Medium: Objectives & Key Results

More by this author

Ben Willmott

Productivity and Project Management blogger for at work and at home

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Last Updated on September 27, 2021

8 Reasons Why Goal Setting Is Important to a Fulfilling Life

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8 Reasons Why Goal Setting Is Important to a Fulfilling Life

The importance of effective goal setting cannot be overstated on our personal journeys towards success. This is why there are countless articles out there on how to set your own SMART goals and even why it’s a skill commonly taught to a small degree in classrooms.

Learning the importance of goal setting and the benefits of sticking to those goals can be the defining factor determining whether we truly embrace the importance of goal setting. The more willing we are to embrace this method, the more likely we become to reach our personal definitions of personal and professional success.

Thus, this article is going to walk you through some of the benefits you’ll see from learning to set goals for yourself and answer the question — why is goal setting important?

1. Goals Guide and Align Our Focus

It’s hard to get to where you want to be in life if you don’t know what you’re aiming for. Some people believe avoiding goals means living a more care-free life. How many times have you heard the phrase “If I have no expectations, then I can’t be disappointed”?

But is that really what our lives have come to? Living just to avoid disappointment? It doesn’t seem like an overly optimistic view in my opinion. And since you’re reading this article, I’m willing to bet that you agree with me.

Without goals, we lack a degree of direction and focus. Sure you may be able to avoid disappointment, but just avoiding disappointment doesn’t mean you are necessarily happy.

Without goals, we will pointlessly waste our time, energy, and efforts. Listen to anybody who is the top of their field and they’ll tell you something like this,

“Yes talent is important, but often your success depends much more on what you decide to do with that talent.”

And what you will do with your talent largely depends on your focus.

Your goals give you direction. Your goals give you something to shoot for. This direction and target you create in your mind will help you to progress towards your main life goals rather than simply wander around aimlessly. These goals will help you align your actions and behaviors as you continue moving forward.

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So, why is goal setting important? Because it gives you direction, alignment, and purpose!

2. Goals Help You Avoid ‘Shiny Object Syndrome’

Basically, shiny object syndrome is always being in pursuit of the next big thing, constantly switching your goals based on what you feel is most fun and interesting at the given moment, but never actually giving yourself time to accomplish any of those goals.

You don’t get anywhere because you continually change the direction you are heading in. This is one of the consequences that may result if you decide to live a life without goals.

Your goals can sometimes help you to create mental barriers, or blinders, that help you to remain focused on what you think is important and avoid the things that are second priority. When you outline goals for yourself, you are better able to avoid things that distract you from achieving and accomplishing those goals.

Setting goals helps you to step around the other shiny objects because you’ve taken the time to make some mental notes that remind you what it is that you want from your life. Your goals act as subconscious deterrents to anything less than your main priorities. This is what helps you to reach your personal definition of success.

So, why is goal setting important? Because not only do goals tell you what you want from life, but they also help you realize what you need to give up and avoid to achieve that.

3. Goals Turn Our Largest Goals into Manageable Steps

A lot of us have big hopes and dreams. It’s one of the things that make our lives exciting!

But a lot of us never take the time to figure out how we can effectively get from point A to point B. So, sadly, we never fully achieve those goals. We look at our dreams and convince ourselves that only a select few people ever achieve them, so we write ourselves off as people not meant to reach that level of success. Looking at the end product of a goal can be intimidating, daunting, and discourage us from even pursuing them.

Thankfully, goal setting helps us break large intimidating goals into smaller ones. These small steps and more achievable goals will help us to build momentum and will encourage us to keep working towards the next phase of our goal. The form the foundation from which we can begin building the life that we truly hope to have for ourselves, our families, and may even for our communities depending on how big your goals are!

Whenever I get talking about this aspect of goal setting, I can’t help but think about the mountain climbing analogy, and that the easiest way to climb a mountain is simply step by step.

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So, why is goal setting important? Goal setting gives you a list of manageable steps that you can take in order to take your life from where it is now to where you want it to go both effectively and efficiently.

4. Goals Encourage You to Take Action

This builds on the last benefit of goal setting. Not only does effective goal setting help you break down your larger goals into smaller, more manageable ones, but it also encourages you to actually begin taking action on those goals. After all, a plan is completely worthless if you aren’t willing to invest the effort required to execute it.

Setting your goals and putting your plan in place motivates you to begin taking action towards achieving them. These goals give you something to plan and work towards. Essentially, they help propel you forward.

What I like to do is write out and place my goals somewhere that I’ll regularly see them. This constantly serves as a reminder of my top priorities. It allows me to focus on taking small progressive actions towards achieving these goals daily.

This ensures that I don’t fall into the trap of setting a goal, beginning to work towards it for a while, but then having my motivation fade resulting in me falling off track. This is exactly what many people see happen when it comes to their “New Year’s Resolutions.”

If you want to learn about how to take action towards achieving your goal, here’s how: How To Take Action Towards Your Goals Right Now

So, why is goal setting important? Because goal setting actually motivates you to stop thinking about your goals and actually get out there and achieve them!

5. Goal Setting Helps You Continually Improve

This is something that a lot of personal development and self-improvement writers talk about, continual improvement. For those of you who are not aware of the term, continual improvement is exactly what it sounds like — taking small steps towards improvement as frequently as you can to develop into the person you want to become.

What’s the point in improving a little bit each day if you’re not improving in the areas that you want to improve in after all?

The goals that you define for yourself will inevitably shape you into the person who you want to become. They’ll shape your character. Your goals can help you measure your progress as you strive for this type of development.

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Essentially, having goals helps you determine where you started, where you are now, and how much further you need to go. In this manner, your goal setting can serve as milestones and benchmarks that help you determine how well you’re progressing towards your most important goals!

So, why is goal setting important? Goal setting helps you make improvements each day that will slowly transition you into the person you want to become.

6. Goal Setting Keeps You Accountable

Not only does setting goals help you measure your progress, but it also is a means through which you can keep yourself accountable. Too many goals fail because they lack this crucial aspect of outlining accountability.

For example, if I have the goal to do 50 push-ups, that’s great. Most people would support that goal. However, this goal lacks accountability. When do I want to accomplish this goal by and what steps do I take to get there? These are important questions that the original goal leaves unanswered.

A much more descriptive and specific goal could be to do 50 push-ups within the next 3 months by starting at 5 push-ups, and then adding 5 each week. This goal outlines the deadline as well as the steps I’m going to take to achieve it. This plan will keep me accountable because if I fail to retain my progression schedule, I will know that I’m not going to achieve the goal on time.

Additionally, it can serve as a marker helping to signify when something is impeding my progress that I may not have initially accounted for. This tells me that I need to re-evaluate what I’m doing and figure out what adjustments I can make to facilitate my success.

So, why is goal setting important? Setting goals is key to keeping ourselves accountable and on-track towards accomplishing our goals according to the schedules and deadlines we set for ourselves.

7. Goals Make You Feel Good

Trust me, the progress you feel as you set and achieve goals can become super motivating and super addicting (in a good way)! The dopamine release you get from achieving your goals is like a little reward for our brains that continually motivates us to try and hit that next goal!

Having some clearly defined goals will help you to feel better about yourself and your life in general, especially when you stick to those goals, actively work towards achieving them, and end up accomplishing and surpassing your initial expectations. I’m not the oldest book on the shelf myself, but I can attest that there are not many feelings quite like the one you experience when you truly get on a roll!

Additionally, our goals give us an endpoint to shoot for. Rather than progress for progress’s sake, you can actually see where you’re heading! That’s so much more rewarding. Think about a long car trip as a kid. You ask “if you’re there yet?” ever 20 minutes. It seems like the drive drags on forever.

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If you don’t know where you’re going, you risk the journey becoming tedious. It doesn’t tend to be much fun wandering around aimlessly. Goals make us feel good about where we’re directing ourselves.

So, why is goal setting important? Because setting goals and accomplishing them plain and simply make us feel better about ourselves and our lives!

8. Goals Help You Live Your Best Life

I’ve talked a lot in this article about how goal setting helps us progress towards our top priorities and live the way we truly want to live. So I think it’s fit to end the article with this goal because, in the end, I feel it’s the most important one.

Setting your goals and clearly defining what they mean to you will help you live a life that is tailored to your beliefs and values. Your life will become directed towards the things that you most want to achieve.

Life is a tricky game and only in very rare circumstances are things handed to us on a silver platter. Often it takes a great degree of work, planning, and effortful execution of both.

There is no point clinging on to things in your life if they don’t bring you happiness or help you accomplish something that, in some way, aligns with your goals.

Simply put, setting goals helps us live a life that allows us to pursue the challenges and rewards that we truly want to achieve.

So, why is goal setting important? Because our time is always limited, and setting clearly defined goals can help ensure that you make the most of your life and live to the fullest! Find out more here: How to Use SMART Goal to Become Highly Successful in Life

Final Thoughts

These are just a few of the benefits of goal setting that outline why it truly is so important. If you take a moment or two, I bet that you can even think of a few more benefits yourself that you could add to this list.

If I could leave you with something, it would be this:

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Goal setting has the potential to take us to some amazing places in life because we all have talent and ambitions. To achieve your biggest dreams, you need to be willing to sit down and create a life design uniquely tailored to you that will help you achieve them!

More Tips About Goals Setting

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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