Setting objectives and key results

Objectives and Key Results (OKR) is a collaborative, longer-term, goal-setting framework used by teams to align and engage around a set of measurable objectives which can be tracked over an allotted span of time.

Crucially, OKRs are a framework that helps a business to set goals. They must be able to measure achievement so that businesses can set ambitious goals and focus on achieving their outcomes over a period of time to stay on track in fast-paced, competitive environments.

This means that teams should be using precise metrics to track whether a goal has been achieved: each objective could have between 3 and 5 key, specific, quantifiable results each. Once OKRs have been established, they are commonly scored between 0 and 1.0 or 0 to 100%.

Missed results would score below 0.3 or 30%, 0.3 to 0.7 or 30% to 70% would be deemed as progress but still lower than the target. 1.0 or 100% indicates that the target had been hit, and the goal achieved, but anything above 0.7 or 70% could be deemed a success. Averaging the score for all KRs gives an overall score for that specific objective.

Not to be confused with OKRs, key performance indicators (KPIs) are less goal-orientated in terms of the business and more success-orientated reporting measures of employees’ positive results in the workplace.

Setting ambitious OKRs – usually around 3-5 objectives – that align with a business’ initiatives and goals, are quantifiable, time lined, and can be objectively scored. Checking progress throughout the designated time period avoids vagueness and drift and ensures clarity and accountability. Larger companies should aim for no more than 5 OKRs and smaller companies or teams should aim for 3.

OKRs can also help if an issue arises that falls outside the scope of a project. They can be used to help to decide whether to add, prioritise, or disregard.

It’s important to remember that OKRs are not a list of tasks to be completed, they are flexible tools that can be adapted to the fluid priorities of a business. However, establishing easily achievable OKRs diminishes their value. Challenging OKRs, which are not a foregone conclusion, are more likely to reflect the appropriate challenge necessary to fulfil the business’ objectives and retain focus on priorities.

Evaluation of each set of OKRs is key. Whether they could be measured, were compromised, remained on track, were achieved, or could have been more ambitious should inform their application in the next review of the business’ strategy and concomitant OKRs.

Although relaxed, easily achieved goals lack ambition and challenge, and uncomfortable yet ambitious goals are far more purposeful and worthwhile, it’s important to remember that OKRs are a framework, a collaborative team tool, not a negative method of monitoring individual performances to inform career prospects.