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What are OKRs? A guide to objectives and key results

Julia Martins contributor headshotJulia Martins
April 22nd, 2024
10 min read
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Summary

OKRs stand for objectives and key results, a goal-setting framework that can help your team set and track measurable goals. Originally pioneered by John Doerr, this framework pairs the company-level objectives you want to achieve with the key results you’ll use to measure progress—so your goals are tied to your team’s day-to-day work. In this article, we explain how the OKR process works and share examples to get you started setting OKRs for your company, team, or personal life.

If you regularly set team or company goals, you’ve likely heard the term OKRs thrown around. OKRs, or “objectives and key results,” are a goal setting methodology that can help teams set measurable goals. While most companies set goals, only 16% of knowledge workers say their company is effective at setting and communicating company goals. To increase employee engagement in goal setting and help your teams set and achieve ambitious goals, try setting OKRs.

What is an OKR?

An OKR is a goal-setting framework that helps organizations define and track ambitious goals. OKR stands for "objectives and key results," and the framework consists of two main components: 

  • Objectives are clear, aspirational goals that define what you want to achieve—increase brand awareness, create the lowest carbon footprint in your industry, that sort of thing. 

  • Key results are specific, measurable outcomes that indicate progress towards achieving the objective—drive one million web visitors, ensure one-quarter of your product’s material is compostable, and so on.

OKRs are designed to help organizations focus on what matters most and align their teams around common goals. By setting challenging yet achievable objectives and defining clear, quantifiable key results, organizations can track their progress, hold themselves accountable, and make data-driven decisions about where to invest their time and resources. 

OKRs follow a simple but immensely flexible template that bends and bows to fit nearly every purpose:

  • I will [objective] as measured by [key result].

OKRs are typically set and reviewed on a quarterly basis, with regular check-ins throughout the quarter to ensure teams stay on track and can adjust their quarterly OKRs as needed.

History of Objectives and Key Results (OKRs)

In the 1970s, Andy Grove worked at Intel to develop the OKR methodology. John Doerr, who worked for Grove at Intel, introduced OKRs to Google's founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, in 1999. As Doerr explains in his book Measure What Matters:

“Andy had created this system for goal setting that was deceptively simple, but also the polar opposite of the conventional management by objectives (MBO) systems, which tend to be top-down, hierarchical, annual, and linked to compensation.” 

Grove's revolutionary idea was that teams perform better by focusing on outcomes rather than procedures. Instead of telling employees precisely what to do, he would set them an objective and let them figure out how to achieve it. Grove originally called his approach "Intel Management by Objectives," but later simplified it to just "Objectives and Key Results"—better known today as OKRs.

Setting effective OKRs

Because of how flexible the OKR framework is, you can set and phrase OKRs in a variety of ways. Like any goal, OKRs should be falsifiable and measurable. You should think of OKRs as the pillar of your strategy for the next period of time. However, to set good OKRs, you also need to connect them to your day-to-day work. Here are some best practices to keep in mind:

  • Limit the number of objectives. Aim for no more than 3-5 objectives per level (company, team, individual) so you can focus on what matters most when implementing OKRs across the entire organization.

  • Make key results measurable. Key results should have clear metrics to track progress, allowing you to measure what matters and achieve measurable outcomes. Use a mix of quantitative and qualitative KRs to ensure a balanced approach to performance management.

  • Assign key result owners. For each key result, designate a single owner responsible for tracking and updating progress. This aspirational approach to individual OKRs promotes accountability and ownership at all levels of the organization.

  • Check in regularly. Schedule frequent (weekly or bi-weekly) check-ins to track progress, address obstacles, and keep milestones and objectives top of mind. Regular check-ins are key for the successful rollout and adoption of an OKR management framework.

  • Connect OKRs to daily work. Use OKR software that integrates with your team's daily workflow so goals stay visible and actionable. Companies like Microsoft, LinkedIn, and Spotify have successfully implemented OKRs to track progress, align teams, and drive measurable results. By connecting OKRs to daily work, you can ensure that your strategic planning efforts translate into tangible milestones and achievements.

Even though most companies set goals, research has shown that only 26% of employees have a clear understanding of how their individual work contributes to company goals. That’s because most teams set goals at the beginning of a year or quarter, then never revisit them again. But when employees have clarity on the relationship between their work and their company-level objectives, their motivation doubles. By connecting individual OKRs to your entire organization’s goals, your employees have a context for why their work matters.

Create an OKR template

How to write OKRs

Now that you understand the key principles of setting effective OKRs, let's dive into the specifics of how to write good OKRs. Whether you're writing OKRs at the company level, team level, or individual level, the process is similar.

Follow these steps to write clear, compelling OKRs:

Step 1: Start with your objectives

To write OKRs, start by defining your objectives. Start with the word "objective," then state your goal in a clear, succinct manner. Use action-oriented, aspirational language that inspires and motivates, and focus on the measurable outcomes you want to achieve rather than the activities or tasks involved. Aim for 3-5 objectives per level (company, team, individual).

Example:

  • "Objective: Become the market leader in cloud-based project management software."

Step 2: Define 3-5 key results for each objective

Underneath each objective, list your key results with the phrase "key results." Key results should be specific, measurable, and time-bound, and they should use a mix of quantitative and qualitative metrics. Each key result should have a clear target for measuring success and should be assigned to a single owner to ensure accountability.

Example:

  • Key Result 1: Increase market share from 15% to 30% by the end of the fiscal year.

  • Key Result 2: Achieve a Net Promoter Score of 60+ by the end of Q3.

  • Key Result 3: Launch three new product features per quarter based on user feedback and usage data.

  • Key Result 4: Increase the free-to-paid conversion rate from 5% to 15% by the end of Q4.

Step 3: Review and refine your OKRs

Once you've drafted your OKRs, review and refine them to ensure they're ambitious but achievable. Pressure test your key results to make sure they are truly measurable and have clear targets. Get feedback from key stakeholders and team members, and revise your OKRs based on their input and changing priorities.

Step 4: Communicate and track progress

Finally, communicate your OKRs to all relevant teams and individuals, and ensure everyone understands how their work contributes to the objectives. Use an OKR tool or spreadsheet to track progress and maintain visibility, and schedule regular check-ins to review progress, address obstacles, and update targets as needed. Celebrate successes and learn from failures along the way.

By following these guidelines and best practices, you can write effective OKRs that help you achieve your most important business goals and drive measurable results for your organization. Whether you're a startup or an established company, implementing the OKR methodology can help you take your performance to the next level and achieve ambitious goals.

Read: Asana tips: 3 ways to set achievable goals

OKR examples

Now that you understand the key principles of setting OKRs and how to write them, let's explore some real-world examples. The following OKR examples showcase how the framework can be applied across different levels of an organization, from company-wide objectives to team-specific goals.

Company OKRs

OKRs are effective at guiding large, long-term goals. Check out a couple of company-wide OKR examples.

Allbirds

Example Allbirds Objective: Create the lowest carbon footprint in our industry.

  • Key Result: Supply chain and shipping infrastructure are 100% zero-waste.

  • Key Result: Pay 100% carbon offset for calculated carbon dioxide emissions.

  • Key Result: 25% of material is compostable.

  • Key Result: 75% of material is biodegradable.

Zume Pizza

Example Zume Pizza Objective: Delight customers. Ensure that our customers are so happy with our service and product that they have no choice but to order more pizza and to rave about the experience with their friends.

  • Key Result: Net Promoter Score (NPS) of 42 or better.

  • Key Result: Order Rating of 4.6/5.0 or better.

  • Key Result: 75% of customers prefer Zume to the competitor in a blind taste test.

Team OKRs

When you step down a level, from the C-suite to functional teams, OKRs are equally effective. Just as they can direct our strategic thinking, they can guide our functional work, too. Here are a few team OKR examples.

Create an OKR template

Marketing

Objective: Increase brand awareness

  • Key Result: Drive 1M web visitors

  • Key Result: Increase social media following by 10x

  • Key Result: Recruit and onboard 1,000 community members

Product

Objective: Rollout major product initiative by end of quarter

  • Key Result: Recommendation score of 8 or above

  • Key Result: 40% of MAU users use new feature

  • Key Result: Increase sign-up-to-conversion rate from 15% to 25%

HR

Objective: Drive employee impact and engagement

  • Key Result: Increase employee satisfaction by 20%

  • Key Result: Achieve 90% employee participation in performance reviews

  • Key Result: Double positive manager feedback

Sales

Objective: Increase recurring revenue

  • Key Result: Reach $2M in MRR

  • Key Result: Increase annual renewals by 25%

  • Key Result: Reduce churn by 10%

Personal OKRs

OKRs aren’t necessarily limited to the workplace, either. When asked about how he improved his personal life, John Doerr revealed he used his trusty system to maximize the time he spent with his family.

Objective: Have more quality family time, as measured by:

  • Key Result: Getting home for dinner by 6 pm, 20 nights a month.

  • Key Result: Being present by turning off the internet router to eliminate distractions.

Benefits of OKRs

While there are various goal-management frameworks your team can benefit from, OKRs help you align on flexible goals that are falsifiable, time-bound, and easily measurable. One of the biggest advantages to OKRs is that you can map multiple KRs to each objective. That helps teams:

Quickly set actionable goals

OKRs have a built-in format that makes it easy for teams to get started on setting and refining their OKRs. If you’re new to OKRs, start with Andy Grove’s distilled methodology:

  • I will [objective] as measured by [key result].

Instead of spending a lot of time thinking about how to phrase your goals, your team can now jump right into it.

Read: Write better SMART goals with these tips and examples

Easily set stretch goals

To challenge yourself and your team, consider making at least one of your KRs a stretch goal. Stretch goals are deliberately challenging goals that you’re not 100% confident you can hit—and that’s ok! In fact, at Asana, we aim to hit about 70% of our goals. That tells us we’re setting challenging enough goals, which helps us calibrate better goals for the next quarter.

Read: How to set Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs) to do the impossible

Boost cross-functional collaboration

Oftentimes, your objectives will encompass initiatives from more than one department. Take the Allbirds example from earlier. Their objective is to Create the lowest carbon footprint in our industry. To do so, their product, shipping, operations, and design teams need to work together. These teams would likely have individual KRs contributing to that central objective.

Read: 10 easy steps to boost team collaboration

Increase employee engagement

Because there can be several KRs for each objective, many companies choose to take a hybrid approach when it comes to setting OKRs: company leadership and executives set the objectives, and then individual teams or employees set the key results that contribute to those objectives.

This hybrid top-down/bottom-up approach helps you include and engage your employees in the goal-setting process. Employees will understand exactly how their KR contributes to the company’s top-level objective, and that makes it easier for that KR to remain top of mind during the OKR cycle.

Connect daily work to team and company objectives

The biggest benefit of OKRs comes when you can connect your daily work to your team’s strategic objectives. OKRs already begin to do that by connecting the objective to the key results that contribute to it. To get the most out of OKRs, take that benefit a step further: use an OKR tool that connects your daily work and regular projects to your company and business goals.

That’s why we’ve developed Goals in Asana. Instead of locking your goals away in a spreadsheet or PowerPoint, Goals in Asana make it easy to set goals and measure progress in the same place you track everyday work.

Execution is everything

Thomas Edison once quipped that “vision without execution is hallucination.” It’s an idea that deeply inspired Doerr and the OKR methodology: Good ideas with poor execution will forever remain just that, ideas.

Doerr says the biggest lever in execution is goal setting—and, by extension, OKRs. It focuses our attention, establishes accountability, and highlights the activities that really drive progress.

“When done right, goal setting is a very powerful tool,” Doerr told Betterworks. “Every team member in the company can link their goals to the corporate goals, knowing that their work is having a direct impact on the success of the company.”

Create an OKR template

FAQ: Objectives and key results (OKR)

What is the difference between an OKR and a KPI?

KPIs, which stand for Key Performance Indicators, are a way for teams to track performance within projects and initiatives. OKRs, on the other hand, are a framework for setting and achieving goals. Because of the relationship between objectives and key results, OKRs are a better way to holistically think about your goals and how they relate to your work.

That isn’t to say your team can’t use KPIs. In fact, some KPIs make great KRs. Here’s how they differ and how your team can benefit from both:

  • KRs are the metrics by which you’ll measure the progress of your OKR. KRs can be quantitative (e.g. Increase web traffic to 2M users per month) or qualitative (e.g. Assess and document users’ pain points). In the latter example, “assess and document” can be measured in a number of ways: with polls, NPS surveys, direct feedback, etc.

  • KPIs are quantifiable ways to measure your initiative against results. If you have an incredibly quantitative KR (e.g. Increase headcount by 15 people in Q3), you could use the KPI framework to support that initiative, as long as you connected the initiative to your company objectives.

If both of these acronyms are new to you, stick to OKRs. By empowering your team with a holistic goal-setting framework, you can connect your individual work to your company’s big-picture goals to drive employee motivation and deliver better outcomes.

How many OKRs should I set?

When setting OKRs, consider the organization's level and the complexity of your goals. Generally, it's advisable to set between 3-5 quarterly objectives each quarter, with 3-5 key results per objective. This approach helps keep the focus on the most critical priorities and ensures that the goals are manageable within the timeframe. Setting too many OKRs can spread efforts too thin, hindering significant progress, whereas too few may lack sufficient direction and motivation.

How do you implement OKRs?

To implement OKRs in your organization, start by setting clear, ambitious objectives at the company, team, and individual levels. For each objective, define 3–5 key results that are specific, measurable, and time-bound. Communicate the OKRs to all relevant stakeholders and ensure everyone understands how their work contributes to the objectives. Use regular check-ins to track progress, address obstacles, and update targets as needed. Finally, evaluate performance at the end of each OKR cycle, celebrate successes, and identify areas for improvement.

What is OKR software?

OKR software is a tool that helps organizations implement and manage their OKR process more effectively. OKR software typically includes features such as goal-setting templates, progress tracking dashboards, collaboration tools, and analytics and reporting capabilities. By using OKR software, organizations can streamline their goal-setting process, improve visibility and accountability, and ensure everyone stays aligned and focused on achieving their objectives. Asana is among the most popular OKR software options.

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