If you’re looking for a definition of OKR (Objectives and Key Results) and its constituent parts, you’ll find a vast amount of content out there. What’s more, this content is often conflicting, causing a load of confusion. Different authors, different applications, different opinions. In this post, we lay out the absolute basics, without getting into the contested space. We hope (and trust) that most people would agree on these absolute basics (although they might not put their name next to it). To be clear, there are numerous ways to implement and apply OKRs – the authors, applications, and opinions aren’t necessarily wrong, they are just… different.
OKR as a tool for strategy implementation
Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) is a goal management framework that is used to define, track, and execute on your critical strategic goals. This can be juxtaposed against project management, which is the practical plan to execute on your goals – the planning of tasks and day to day activities. Our belief is that goal management is the missing link of successful strategy implementation – it’s the link between your strategic themes and your daily activities. Once a team can agree on this, it’s like a new language.
When OKRs are working well in your company, it’s as if everyone has acquired fluency in a new language.
OKR consists of two components:
- O is for Objective, the inspirational goal you set out to achieve.
- KR is for Key Results, a set of metrics used to gauge whether your goal is achieved.
Here’s a definition for OKR we like, used by Ben Lamorte and Paul Niven in their book:
OKR is a critical thinking framework and ongoing discipline.
It seeks to ensure employees work together, focusing their efforts to make measurable contributions that drive the company forward.
The first sentence describes “the what”, and the reason I believe the OKRs methodology is different. We’ll get into that in the next section.
The second sentence describes “the why”. When implemented successfully, OKRs will:
- Help teams work together and create organisational alignment around strategic objectives.
- Drive focus towards the most important goals; in effect the battles that will ensure you win the war.
- Elevate the conversation to measurable contributions (results and outcomes), and not individual tasks, creating clarity on what we’ll achieve.
With that in mind, let’s go back to the first sentence.
What makes the OKR methodology different?
Let’s go back to the definition:
It’s a critical thinking framework
It takes time and effort to set your goals, to agree on Objectives (what’s the most important thing that will progress you towards your ultimate mission?), and to think through Key Results (how will we measure this, and what’s the impact on the business?). If you’re doing it quickly, you’re probably doing it wrong.
It’s an ongoing discipline
This is critical, and probably the biggest differentiator from some of the other goal management frameworks. There’s a unique regular cadence that the organisation needs to find to drive and adapt the methodology. The framework is highly adaptable to your unique circumstances, but it means you must constantly adapt – this is usually done quarterly. We don’t learn from experience; we learn from reflecting on experience. Making time to reflect on an ongoing basis is critical.