Reaching your Goals: Objectives and Key Results (OKRs)

Goal setting is nothing new. Simple, yet effective, but often difficult to implement. In the organisational context, reaching alignment on strategic objectives (and crucially remaining aligned) is particularly challenging. Moreover, maintaining a clear sense of direction that supports a companies’ strategy requires clear planning and consistent measurement

Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) is a goal setting framework devised by Andy Grove in his book High output Management. OKRs were popularized by Google’s adoption of the framework after its introduction to them by John Doerr (who worked under Andy Grove during the 1970s) in 1999. It is still in use at Google today and has since been adopted by many companies. Google provides an overview of how it uses OKRs on its rework site.

At its core, OKRs provide a means with which to structure goals, while providing best practices on how to manage and maintain them. The objectives provide direction, outlining what is to be accomplished. Objectives should be:

  • significant;
  • concrete;
  • action-orientated; and
  • inspiring.

The key results outline how things should be done. Key results are measurable and must provide a simple yes or no answer when evaluated. Key results should be:

  • specific and timebound;
  • aggressive yet realistic;
  • measurable and verfiable.

John Doerr sets out his approach to goal setting in Measure What Matters: OKRs the simple idea that drives 10x growth. He splits his account into two parts: OKRs in action and the new world of work, interspersed with his own recounts and commentary from entrepreneurs who have successfully implemented the approach.

Perhaps one of the most interesting insights from Doerr’s account revolves around the idea of transparency and cascading OKRs. The notion of how an entire organisation can be aligned around a small number of clearly defined objectives. Indeed, Doerr outlines an interesting explanation by its creator Andy Grove using an American Football team, showing how lower level objectives feed into higher level objectives as key results. Perdoo, a Berlin-based company providing software for managing OKRs, provide an alternative formulation of the football team example here, which incorporates their notion of initiatives into OKRs.

OKRs are far from new, but represent an interesting framework, that when used correctly, can turn simple objectives into quantifiable results that has seen some of Silicon Valley’s most successful companies achieve hyper growth. As John Doerr notes in his excellent Ted Talk, “It’s all about excellent execution” [1].

  2. Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash


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