Starting out with Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) can be a stressful process, like getting prepared to go on an ocean exploration trip.
The ocean can be endless and scary.
It may be easier to stay out of it altogether and sit on the couch instead. But you’d be missing out on a great opportunity.
OKRs don’t have to be scary and the benefits of implementing them successfully outweigh any initial unease. All it takes is a little know-how and looking at some good OKR examples so that you can learn how to write OKRs.
So, before diving into OKR writing tips right away, let’s recap..
What are OKRs?
OKRs stand for Objectives and Key Results, a goal-setting and tracking methodology that helps teams build a transparent, accountable and collaborative way of driving business results.
The main reason why OKR framework has been successfully used by companies like LinkedIn, Adobe and Amazon is its focus on outcomes, not outputs.
As an outcome-driven methodology, OKRs help you focus on results that bring real business value instead of just doing different activities. These activities or initiatives, plans, projects, deliverables, milestones, tactics that you do to achieve your goal are the outputs. However, you cannot measure success by the number of outputs because you are not doing things for the sake of doing them – you are doing them so that your business performance improves.
That is why your focus should be on the outcomes that are the measurable results you expect to see after you have finished your outputs.
Knowing what you want to achieve helps you prioritize better and work smarter. This is why the OKR framework is specifically good for focus and team alignment on what’s important.
So what does OKR mean in business?
It’s easier to understand the OKR meaning in business context when you compare the OKR methodology with other measurement frameworks and business tools:
OKRs vs KPIs
It is extremely important to understand that OKRs do not replace KPIs. In fact, OKRs and KPIs co-exist and serve different purposes.
💡 Read more about the difference between OKRs and KPIs and why you should use both to progress with your business goals.
To put it short, you need KPIs to track business metrics that reflect performance, and you need OKRs to define which areas to focus on to improve performance.
That’s why using different tools to manage your business goals would be an ideal combination: spreadsheets or/and data analytics platforms for tracking KPIs and dedicated software like Weekdone for setting and tracking OKRs.
Also, you can enter your KPIs to the KPI block in Weekdone to communicate the updates on your most important numeric targets throughout the company.
You will set your OKRs in another view to make it easier for the team to keep their focus and come up with Initiatives to drive the Key Results forward.
OKRs vs task management
In an attempt to align everyone in the same direction, it might be tempting to organize everything teams do in a hierarchical view of job responsibilities. This hierarchical view usually is a waterfall structure of cascaded outputs (aka tasks, activities) and KPI targets.
And these are not OKRs. This approach wouldn’t change a thing in your current business situation.
When writing OKRs, a good start is to think of a Company Objective first. Based on the Company Objective, let the teams write their Objectives and Key Results to align with the Company direction. Objectives on the Company level represent high-level directions, and Team Objectives, when linked up to Company ones, become Company level Key Results. Teams would also set their Initiatives to drive Key Results.
With the OKR hierarchy you don’t have to cascade tasks and assign responsibilities. As a leader you just set up your business direction and let teams come up with their OKRs to drive your company goals.
💡 Take a look at how OKR hierarchy tree works in Weekdone or sign up for a free trial and start your writing your first OKRs today:
What are Objectives, Key Results, and Initiatives?
Objectives are your committed or aspirational goals and Key Results measure the achievement of an Objective.
Initiatives are long-term projects that a team needs to do to drive Key Results.
Weekly Plans are the individual tasks that you focus on for a week.
Keeping these four separate will help you keep your focus and prioritize better.
These guiding questions will help you better understand Objectives, Key Results, Initiatives and Weekly Plans and their purpose:
To write great OKRs just keep in mind these guiding questions to ensure you are staying on track:
- What can we improve to become successful?
- How will we know that we are improving?
- What do we need to do to achieve better results?
- Who does what and by when?
In OKR terms it’d mean:
- Key Results
- Weekly Plans
Now, as the OKR format is clear, let’s get to writing…
How to write good OKRs?
The process of writing OKRs for the Company or Team level helps you see your main issues and improvement opportunities clearly, and not mix them up with day-to-day operations.
Not everything you do for your business should be considered an OKR. OKRs cover the areas you need to improve: from the ways you work (internal processes) to the ways you think about growth opportunities.
Good Objectives unite teams, create long-term improvement habits, and put you on a rocketship to success.
How do you write a good Objective in OKR?
A Company Objective should be a quarterly 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.
- Find the product / market fit for the product ABC
- Become number one service provider in market ABC
- Add more competitive value to the platform to appeal to audience ABC
Consider these two suggestions as starting points to brainstorm your Company Objectives:
- If we have a lagging Key Performance Indicator (for example, “our website traffic has dropped from last quarter”):
- Where does this problem come from?
- In other words, what is broken?
- What do we need to fix?
- If we’re doing alright but we want to grow faster:
- What is the most impactful improvement area we can go after?
- Is it a new market?
- A new audience?
- A new service line?
- Upselling to current customers?
- Building relationships
- Forming partnerships?
Before finalizing high-level Objectives, leadership should ask for feedback from the teams and clarify expectations in case something is not clear enough. Very often, leaders would need to define words like “value” or “success”, and explain what it looks like in their mind’s eye.
Team OKRs will be driving the progress of Company level Objectives, serving as Company level KRs. This means that on the Company level, you don't have to write measurable Key Results. Because if you do, those Company level KRs end up being high-level metrics (KPIs) that no team can directly impact.
If no one can own or directly impact this OKR, this goal is just a high-level reference but not a real OKR. Remember that OKRs work best when a team that writes them takes full ownership of achieving them.
As Team OKRs will be driving the progress of a Company Objective, it is very important for every functional team to understand what the high-level Objective is. A team as a group of people working towards the same outcomes should be responsible for writing their collaborative OKRs.
Before your teams get to writing OKRs, structure team members’ thought process and ask them to answer these questions:
The answers to these questions would present good ideas for your Team Objectives that could be further discussed and recorded in a shared document for later review and feedback. When the answers are thought through and added to the shared document, allow a week for reading each other’s thoughts, give feedback, and hold 1:1 discussions.
When the most shared concerns are clear and particular Objectives are upvoted by most of the team, you can finally schedule a brainstorming meeting with a clear purpose: to come up with Key Results and Initiatives (action plans) for execution.
To write great OKRs and Initiatives for your team, ask yourself the following questions when setting Objectives:
- Does the Objective focus on the most important problem or opportunity?
- Is the Objective inspiring?
- Does the Objective move the company forward?
- Is the Objective timebound?
It is also helpful to look at what objectives shouldn’t be:
- Objectives are not projects with sub tasks
- Objectives are not your business-as-usual targets
- Objectives should not be difficult to remember
- Objectives should not be quantitative
- Objectives should not be unattainable in a quarter
Good Objective Examples
Now, let’s contrast and compare some good and bad examples of Team Objectives to learn how to write good OKRs.
Bad Objective: Achieve 50% increase in MRR
Why is it bad: it’s a performance target you want to achieve but it does not suggest how you are going to get there.
How to improve it: ask “how are we going to get there?”. What do we need to fix or improve? Do we need to try something that we haven’t tried before?
Decent Objective: Expand our services to offer more value to enterprise clients
Here, the focus is enterprise clients so whatever we define as “value” for this audience would be the central focus of our attention.
So your Team Objectives should be connected to a bigger picture and focused exclusively on the things that could have the biggest impact right now, and everything else should wait. When everything is a priority, nothing is.
How do you write a good Key Result in OKR?
Setting measurable (quantifiable) Key Results is crucial for OKRs to work. However, many teams have challenges understanding the real difference between measurable outcomes (the result) and actionable outputs (any actions taken to get results).
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, finding good web hosting for WordPress and so on.
Here are some guiding questions to ask while drafting Key Results:
- How do we even know that this area needs improvement? Is there anything that indicates a problem you might need to tackle?
- What does our Objective mean in detail? For example, if the Objective says ‘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?
- 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.
Key results should be:
- Lead to objective grading
- Be difficult, but not impossible
Key results should not be:
- Binary, they should be numeric and measurable
- Tasks to be achieved. Key results are metrics
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.
Good Key Result Examples
Let’s go through this sales Key Result example:
(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”
As you can see, 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.
(Good) KR: “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.
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.
How do you create an Initiative for an OKR?
With OKRs set, you will also need time to discuss the Initiatives you are going to set in action to drive progress on the Key Results.
An Initiative is any piece of work or output that takes a few weeks or a whole quarter to get done. Think of projects, research reports, or anything else you need to complete. An Initiative drives your OKR forward..
OKR Initiatives examples are:
- Make example videos for the Help Centre
- Map all onboarding / push emails for customers and see how we can differentiate
- Publish guest post articles with link to our landing page
💡 Some OKR tools help you visualize how Initiatives are connected to OKRs.
For example, in Weekdone Initiatives live under each Key Result to make sure your projects are tied to the specific outcome you want to drive.
They even work very similarly to KRs, with their visual progress bar showing how far you’ve gone with the Initiative. Whenever you move their progress forward, don't forget to add a Comment on what got done, what were the insights and lessons learned.
How do you create Weekly Plans for an OKR?
While OKRs focus on the measurable outcomes, the team should still generate, plan and execute different ideas. Weekly planning is the force that drives the OKRs forward by focusing your attention on what you need to do on a weekly basis.
While OKRs are set on the team level, executing plans takes place on the individual level. This is how individuals contribute to the team goals: everybody is working on their plans, ultimately contributing to the progress of the whole team.
Individual planning form in Weekdone is called Weekly Check-ins, and includes (by default) three main categories: Plans, Progress, and Problems (or PPPs).
PPP (Plans, Progress, and Problems) is a status reporting method for prioritizing and tracking individual weekly activities to keep your team updated on your weekly flow of tasks.
Weekly Plans could be:
- Get the draft of the article ready for the review
- Present new product ideas to the team
- Customer research via Skype
- Summer campaign review and launch
As you now understand the OKR writing process and how to create Initiatives and Weekly Plans, you might wonder where is the best place to start with your OKRs.
There are two ways how to create OKRs and kick off with them:
- Using OKR spreadsheets
- Using OKR software
OKR spreadsheets are a great way to start if you have a startup business with a few members on board or in case you want to implement OKRs within one business unit. In this case you can develop the right mindset and a habit of OKRs within your team and learn how to write OKRs.
👉 If you need some help with getting started, download our free OKR template and start writing OKRs by filling in the required fields.
👉 Or just get inspiration from the 100+ OKR examples database and tweak them for your own business needs.
In case you’re a growing team or a business owner with more than 10 people on a team, consider using OKR software.
Usually, with more team members using OKR spreadsheets, it’s getting complicated to keep the OKRs in order, mark the progress and make updates to the file. People also tend to get disengaged with the OKR spreadsheet as it’s hard to manage and update progress.
With an OKR software you can:
- have a ready-made template where you can easily insert your Objectives and Key Results;
- tie your Initiatives to the Key Results for a better visibility of how deliverables are connected to the outcomes you want to achieve;
- add a custom measurement unit to any Key Result to measure what really matters for your business.
With an OKR tool you can update your OKR progress with one click. The system will instantly update the status of your OKRs. And if you link Team OKRs to Company Objectives, it will also change the progress of the company goals. This way, it's much easier to visualize how everything fits together.
💡 Start thinking about using OKR tools? Take a look at our rating of the best OKR software and their pricing.
In a nutshell, individual Weekly Plans will contribute to Team Initiatives, and Team Initiatives will impact the progress of Key Results, and the KRs will drive the Objective forward.
It is important to remember that OKR methodology isn't just about writing Objectives, but also about engaging people in the goal-setting process and building a culture of openness and transparency. You should maintain this culture through consistent and regular OKR check-ins that will help you stay on track and make sure you never forget your priorities.
With these OKR examples and tips on how to write OKRs, hopefully you can get over some of your initial fears of OKRs and get started as soon as possible. Of course, using an online tool like Weekdone to implement OKRs can always help you get on the right path.