How-To Write Objectives and Key Results
Although OKRs sound great, not all organizations get them right. The challenge is writing a good OKR is a complex process. Leaders often get confused when defining Objectives, their respective Key Results, and the work they must do to accomplish them.
Do not worry. With the right strategy and knowledge, you can very well succeed in writing a successful OKR.
Step #1: Brainstorm and Strategize
Before setting OKRs, it is essential to brainstorm and strategize. You should know your destination before you plan how to get there. This is why you must have a clear understanding of your company’s mission and vision.
Brainstorming and strategizing aligns your team with a purpose, and help you work towards common goals that have a visible impact on your company’s performance. So, how do you brainstorm? The best practice here is to ask yourself a series of questions like:
- What is the vision of your company?
- Where do you see yourself in the next 3-5 years?
- To reach the envisioned goal, what must the company achieve in the next quarter?
The idea here is to foresee long-term goals and identify the right steps to take.
Step #2: Prioritize
Once you identify the company’s long-term vision, the next step is to define the right measures to accomplish the set vision. Most organizations have dozens of Objectives they work to accomplish every day. OKR aims to prioritize the most important two to three to provide your organization with a sense of clarity and focus on what really matters. This helps to deconstruct the long-term vision into attainable short-term Objectives that keep an organization focused on the right work.
Step #3: Set an Objective
Now that you have a clear understanding of the long term goals and priorities, you are in a position to set top-level Objectives. Setting Objectives helps you create OKRs that steer your organization to the right destination, without them you are likely to get lost. Remember the phrase from Lewis Carroll, “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” Setting the right Objective is, thus, very crucial.
People Stretch recommends setting 2-3 Objectives per level (company, department, team, individual). They should be written to be both inspirational and aspirational, reaching as many teams as possible. Below are some best practices for writing effective Objectives.
And boring objectives transformed into more inspirational goals:
Here are a few additional considerations before moving on to set Key Results:
- Do the set Objectives reflect the vision and mission of your organization?
- Is the set Objective realistic and ambitious yet attainable?
- Will the objectives push the organization and employees outside their comfort zone?
- Are the objectives clear, concise, and easily understandable by everyone?
OKR Mistake #4: Set Key Results
Now that an Objective is set, it is time to keep yourself aligned by identifying the Key Results. Key Results are what you track to ensure you are moving in the right direction. Let’s understand this better with the help of an analogy.
Imagine you are in Paris, and you need to go to Washington DC. Washington DC is your destination or Objective. To ensure you are heading in the right direction, you use a navigation system like GPS. Your Key Results are your GPS coordinates, and ensure you are on the right track.
People Stretch recommends having 2-3 Key Results per Objective to prevent employees from being overwhelmed. Consider these best practices for writing effective Key Results:
To keep things simple, here are a few questions you should ask yourself:
- Are the Key Results specific, and do they support the set Objective? Ideally, your Key Results should not be broad. We recommend having only two to three Key Results per Objective.
- Are the Key Results clearly understood by the responsible people? To ensure that Key Results are achieved successfully, leaders should communicate with their teams what is expected from them and give them a framework to measure their progress.
Now that you have a basic understanding of writing OKRs, let’s have a look at a few example OKRs segregated into three categories – top-level, department, and individual.
The executive leadership team sets the OKRs at the top-level before rolling them out to the rest of the organization. Top-level Objectives should inspire as many levels of the organization as possible. It should be ensured that Key Results are easily understandable by anyone.
OKRs at the department level are set up during the team planning phase. Here, you introduce the top-level OKRs to the next rung below to ensure that their efforts and outcomes align with and contribute to the company’s long-term goal. This prevents unnecessary confusion and overlap.
The primary purpose of an OKR at an individual level is to focus and inspire. Your team members choose two to three big things and work on them this quarter, and measure the Key Results to ensure that they have gotten there. Individual OKRs inculcate a sense of accountability and enable better conversation in one-on-one meetings.
The key to setting successful Objectives is to consider your long-term goals and prioritize clear objectives each quarter to ensure progress. Once you have set an Objective, identify the Key Results, and work to achieve them.
People Stretch Solutions understands that writing Objectives And Key Results is challenging, especially if you have not written them before or are uncertain of the long-term vision of your company. That’s why we created The Executive’s Guide to OKR, the culmination of our experiences implementing OKR frameworks in dozens of organizations and lessons learned in the process.