An OKR consists of an objective together with some Key Results. The most common recommendation is to keep the Key Results to 2-4 per objective. The Objective should be general / broad enough for an entire organisation or team to only work on 2-4 of them at a time.
In order to get the full impact of OKRs, the formulation of the objectives and key results need to follow some set principles. The success of an OKR implementation is of course dependent not only on the format of the OKRs, but on what actual objectives and key results are set for your team or organisation.
Here we will cover how to write great OKRs. You can further learn on how to fill the three types of OKRs (strategic, team and individual) with great content in the articles strategic OKRs, team OKRs and Individual OKRs.
Principles behind great OKRs
Both objectives and key results should adhere to some basic principles. Note however, that each OKR implementation and organisation is unique and there is often room for flexibility in the details of how to formulate OKRs to ensure a strong organisation fit.
Inspiring – this is the component of your OKR that should speak to the heart and be the leading star in why the goal is worth pursuing.
Qualitative – your objective shouldn’t contain metrics, it should point direction towards a desired future state by speaking to the heart. The role of measurability relies on the key results that have the opposite recommendation.
Clear and communicative – everyone in the organisation should be able to easily understand an objective, no matter if it is on company or team level. It should spell out what the desired state is clearly and avoid to many assumptions about the reader (such as understanding of team specific abbreviations).
What and why – great objectives combine the what with a why to connect the objective either to strategy/vision/mission or to a higher level OKR. This can be accomplished by the formula of verb + what we should do + why. This is a great way to strengthen vertical alignment.
Many organisations prefer to use a set formula for objectives to ensure consistency in the organisation and make life easier for those that craft the OKRs. A very common version of this formula is ‘verb + what we should do + why’, an example would be ‘Grow our license product to improve our overall margins’.
Writing Key Results
Quantitative – the role of the key result is to set an expected pace and to be able to continuously follow-up on progress over an OKR cycle. None of this is possible if the key result is binary (complete X) or just a date (release Y by date). There are ways around this however, a little creativity often can break down a project into milestones that can be measured or a binary outcome can be presented as a percent completed.
Results – It is sometimes missed that Key Results should in fact be results. Not completed activities or a quantity of actions, but actual valuable outcomes. You sometimes call this leading indicators – they should have a clear connection to a desired lagging indicator (such as sales). This way you could call picking up the phone for 100 sales calls a key result if you are sure on the clear correlation with booked meetings for example. It should be noted that completed projects can have a clear correlation with results as well, why a completion date manytimes is accepted as a key result.
Clear – it is very easy to quickly get lost in key results if they are not very explicit and clearly formulated. Typical examples is putting a number of website visitors but then becoming unsure if it should be unique or total or goal setting a number of recruitments but then becoming unsure at what exact a recruitment is considered completed. The same goes for transparency – if the key result contains abbreviations and team specific language, it will not work as a good communicator internally.
Ambitious – OKRs are for driving change and improvement, not for upholding the status quo. They should also strive to push the team to think of new ways of reaching results as opposed to only optimising current processes. At the start of an OKR cycle – the key results should be dauntingly ambitious with maybe a 70% chance of success if execution goes really well.
Measurable – always make sure that you can actually measure what you set out to target. Many times, getting the right data out of systems or defining metrics is more complex than anticipated. This way, it is not always the perfect key result that will drive the best activity, but the one you actually manage to find a solid method of measuring and doing proper follow-up on.
Just like Objectives, key results can be written as a formula. The key result formula usually looks like: ‘verb + metric + from X to Y’, for example ‘increase quarterly revenue from €100k to €120k’. With the wide range of different key results, it is however common to see key results in the format of ‘Get 100 signups'(where no baseline metric exists) or ‘Launch project X by Date’ (a milestone key result), both of which can work well for a team.