The Difference Between Committed and Aspirational OKRs

Understanding the difference between aspirational and committed goals will help you explain the OKRs better to your company, and use the methodology to motivate the team and nurture results-driven culture.

If you are just starting with OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) and this seems a bit much, you can take a step back and learn the basics of OKR methodology

Let’s start by defining what the committed and aspirational goals are.

Committed goals (definition)

Committed goals are the ones that your team knows how to achieve so they fully commit to attaining 100% on the progress bar.

Aspirational goals (definition)

Aspirational goals are more visionary, innovative, and experimental – they are often set to prove a hypothesis or go after a completely new opportunity. Aspirational goals might not get achieved 100% but they are important for growth and ongoing improvement.

This article will go over the differences between committed and aspirational OKRs and provide examples of each. We will also give you some insight into which will work best for you and your team.

Committed OKRs

A committed OKR should be achieved by 100%.

Committed Objectives normally represent straightforward focus areas and unopposed priorities, and the team should have a clear idea of how to drive the Key Results throughout the quarter. Committed Key Results are often considered roof shot goals where 100% progress is expected.

A committed OKR does not involve additional risk-taking, and to achieve a committed OKR, a team might stick to what they know well, and not go too far out of their comfort zone.

Very often the purpose of committed OKRs is motivational – all teams need to experience small wins, and constantly going after Objectives that might not be achieved may create unnecessary tension within the team.

Even though committed OKRs are often focused on attainable improvement priorities (“sure” wins), they still need to be written according to the principles of the OKR methodology.

This means that even a committed Objective should never be a numeric target (a business metric to achieve) like the number of client meetings or monthly calls.

An Objective should be a directional statement focused on a problem that needs to be solved. It should also provide some understanding of why this focus area is important.

The purpose of an Objective should always be clear. Why does it matter right now? How does it help the company?

So an Objective cannot be just a team’s functional job description or one area of responsibility like “increase website traffic” (what kind of traffic and why is this important right now?), or “promote the brand” (promote how and to whom?). It should be a clear problem to solve (for example, “Improve the main webpage to turn it into a lead-generating machine”).

OKRs should always be about continuous improvement and growth. And while committed Key Results might be 100% achievable, they still need to drive some positive change and have an impact on the business. OKRs should be pushing the company to be better.

You can take a look at these OKR examples for product teams, sales teams, marketing, business development, HR, etc. to get ideas and inspiration for writing good OKRs.

Committed Key Results versus Key Performance Indicators

Even though Key Performace Indicators (business metrics) and OKRs aren’t the same things, the lagging or insufficient progress of your KPIs may give you a general idea of what your OKRs should focus on.

Your OKRs should not repeat your KPI targets because what is the value of saying “go achieve 20% revenue growth” without providing a clear direction for achieving it?

OKRs should answer the question “how are we going to get there” (“there” being the target you want to attain) or “what is the problem we need to fix first”.

So if your KPI target / business metric (like the number of meetings or new deals closed) hasn’t been met and it’s starting to cause a problem, you probably need to drive some improvements to restore its historical level.

Let’s say one of the KPIs in your company is Net Promote Score (NPS) and it has a regular target of 50.

This is something that you are monitoring on an ongoing basis but you can normally hit the target by just doing your day-to-day job well.

If the target is met consistently, it doesn’t require any extra attention, hence, no OKR.

Now let’s say you are starting to see a drop below your usual target.

To address this issue, you would set an Objective to improve the NPS.

NPS will now be your team’s central focus. And the first KR might be to increase NPS from 40 to 50 (to bring your KPI back on track).

As you can see this KR represents the needed change in the Key Performance Indicator and it is a specific focus area for this quarter.

Progress on this KR will tell you whether your effort is paying off and you are achieving the main outcome you desire.

But a KR like this might not really help you focus. Yes, you do need to increase your NPS but why did it drop in the first place? There might be a whole network of related issues.

A KR that is repeating your KPI target does not direct your attention to specific things that need to change – smaller factors or related metrics that you need to drive to influence NPS.

These “other factors” could be measurable outcomes (aka good Key Results) that the team can impact and achieve within 90 days.

So the question is how you are going to improve the NPS? Do you need to drive some measurable changes in your customers’ behavior (like the number of engaged sessions)? Or do you need to reduce the time it takes to respond to customers’ questions? Or maybe the outcomes you should drive are related to the usability of the new features you added?

Answering these questions will help you focus your attention on achievable outcomes that your team can actually work towards. Phrasing your KRs in this way will help you focus.

Once the KPI performance is back on track, you can focus on a different improvement area and write OKRs to drive a different kind of change.

So if you get your score back to 50, NPS will become just a regular Key Performance Indicator to keep an eye on.

However, if you couldn’t achieve this improvement, it becomes clear that you need to try different tactics or even dig deeper to find the root cause of this issue. It means writing a new OKR.

You might have many different KPIs (health metrics) that show you how your company or team is doing but you should write only up to three OKRs for a quarter to make sure your effort is focused on the most important improvement areas.

Learn more about the difference between OKRs and KPIs.

Committed OKR Example

Even a committed OKR that you can achieve with absolute certainty needs to be about change or improvement.

And your team needs to brainstorm various ways to achieve an OKR.

If during the quarter it turns out that an Objective is being achieved with minimum effort and no problem-solving discussions, then this Objective might be absolutely useless.

Why would you be spending time writing Objectives that don’t make any difference in the business?

Committed OKRs may focus on internal workflows and research. For example, let’s imagine you have internal communication processes in place but the information frequently goes missing or moves too slowly, and people are frustrated.

That’s a sign that you need to rethink your internal communication process and improve the workflow. You could set a committed OKR like this:

  • O: Improve internal communication process
    • KR1: 80% of employees have answered the communication survey
    • KR2: Analyze results and choose top 5 improvement areas to execute
    • KR3: Interview 40 employees; 35 of them should confirm that they have seen an improvement

This OKR is clearly achievable and won’t require extraordinary risk-taking. But it is still focused on necessary changes that would improve the company.

You should not have the same OKRs each quarter. The improvement focus might be the same but the Key Results need to change.

And even if your most important focus area stayed the same, it would be best if you also change the wording of the Objective to make it more inspiring and spark new discussions.

Warning: if you keep having the same OKR quarter after a quarter, you are probably just monitoring KPIs and not setting any real Objectives.

Aspirational OKRs

If a committed OKR is 100% achievable and under control, Aspirational OKRs are focused on innovative approaches that you haven’t tried before, and achieving them will involve considerable experimentation.

Aspirational Objectives should inspire continuous problem-solving discussions and have a clear connection to the company’s strategic goals.

Aspirational Key Results should be set with ambitious target values. This is not to say that these outcomes should be completely out of reach. There is no point in focusing your energy on something that is completely impossible. It might be scary and breath-taking but not entirely impossible.

Achieving aspirational OKRs brings huge success, but the risk of failure is high as well.

Even 66-70% progress achievement is a huge success. Just like the famous saying goes, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars”.

But you have to be careful. While aspirational OKRs are ambitious, it’s important that people take them seriously and aim for the highest progress possible. If 66% becomes the new 100% in people’s minds, nobody will push hard enough.

Aspirational Key Results

Aspirational Key Results are also called moonshots. Like the term implies, it’s about aiming high. Key Results can be considered committed or aspirational based on how ambitious the target value is.

For example, a sales team committed OKR might be:

  • O: Expand to the German market
    • KR1: Close first 5 enterprise customers
    • KR2: Achieve meeting-to-close rate of 5%
    • KR3: Reach average deal size of $100

To make it aspirational, we could make it look like this:

  • O: Become the number one service provider in German-speaking countries
    • KR1: Get 10 big customers to change over to our product over competitors
    • KR2: Achieve meeting-to-close rate of 20%
    • KR3: Reach average deal size of $1000

The difference between the two examples is that the committed one is more realistic and completion of the Key Results is necessary to call the venture a success.

The aspirational example is aiming high, their goal is not just to successfully enter the market but also to start taking over the market. That one is a lot harder, a lot more ambitious, and will definitely require out-of-the-box thinking. 

As succeeding with aspirational OKRs might be very challenging, team or company-wide agreement and cultural readiness are very important.

The company has to be open to testing new ideas, failing, trying again, and learning from the process. Also, before setting aspirational OKRs, you should evaluate your resources. There’s no point in setting ambitious OKRs if you don’t have the time or manpower to work on them properly.  

How to write aspirational OKRs for Product Teams

Let’s imagine you are a Software as a Service (SaaS) company and you have a digital product with many cool features.

Feature X isn’t performing well and you can see that something needs to change.

Only 10% of the users actually use the feature and you get many complaints about it.

You have tried doing some small changes, but the maximum usage is still at 12%. So you want to improve the feature to add more value for the users. If potential customers see this value, it could actually bring in more revenue as well. 

With this in mind, your product team sets an Objective “Improve feature X” and one of the moonshot Key Results is “to increase the feature X usage from 10% to 35%”.

As 12% has been the highest before, 35% is a really high bar! The product team doesn’t even know if it’s doable but they are ready to put in the effort and try to achieve it.

Even getting the usage up to 15% would be a great success, but hitting the 35% would mean that the product has become a lot more valuable. This would have a noticeable impact on the company’s revenue! 

How to decide between committed and aspirational OKRs 

If you are just starting out with OKRs, it would be best to write committed Key Results.

The incredible feeling that people experience when achieving a goal will motivate your team and help to adopt the methodology. Committed OKRs make it easier to form a new habit for people in the company.

Becoming a result-driven company takes time, discipline, and changes in how people and management are thinking. So at first, your focus should be on learning the methodology and setting up the necessary process around it. 

You can read more about the best practice weekly OKR process.

If you start with too many aspirational OKRs then people would feel easily overwhelmed. Learning a new methodology and going after extremely ambitious Key Results is simply too much to handle.

Once your company is more used to the OKR methodology, you can start setting some aspirational OKRs.

Check out this OKR implementation guide.

Keep in mind that both the whole OKR or just one Key Result under an Objective can be aspirational. That means you either have a whole goal with all the results aiming high or you have a goal where some results are committed and easier to achieve and some are aiming higher.

The exact number of the aspirational OKRs you should have depends on your company’s resources but remember, you shouldn’t have too many Objectives or there is a huge chance of losing focus altogether.

It is also important is to have regular OKR check-ins and reviews to collect feedback and lessons learned to use when setting Objectives for the next quarter.

Aspirational doesn’t mean impossible

Your success with aspirational OKRs depends on your resources and the quality of teamwork.

So if it feels like your team is even slightly disorganized or misaligned in their understanding of priorities, take a step back, and focus on establishing a proper communication process.

Luckily, we prepared a very specific list of recommendations (dos and don’ts) for OKR implementation and you can use this knowledge to develop a strong OKR skillset in your team. You can also look into the most common OKR mistakes to make sure you avoid them in your company.

To make the process of OKR implementation smooth and straightforward, you should consider adopting a dedicated OKR software like Weekdone.

Weekdone is free for 3 users so you can start testing it right away, and with 4+ users you get a 14-days free trial.