Beginner’s guide to writing effective OKRs

Beginner’s guide to writing effective OKRs

One of the major challenges while adopting any management framework is to figure out how to get started. Objectives & Key Results (OKRs), the agile goal setting framework is not an exception to this rule. We have already written a few articles around best practices in OKRs (listed at the end of this post), in this one we will provide a checklist. It can be used as a quick reference to write effective Objectives as well as Key Results.

Why should you care?

A common question that pops up in everyone’s mind – does it really matter how the OKRs are written? After all, isn’t OKRs a goal management approach just like any other goal setting methodology?
The answer lies in the fact that OKRs are not just goals for individuals but they are connections between the strategy & execution. OKRs are nothing short of a communication channel for conveying strategy. And we all know how good strategies end up in a trash can because they weren’t executed properly. Writing good OKRs is a prerequisite to executing the strategy successfully.

In addition, putting in sufficient efforts for collaboratively writing the OKRs can reveal new & innovative ways goals can be achieved.

There are two major components of the OKR designing process. One focuses on how the objectives should be written & the other one concentrates on key results.

Writing an Objective

Objectives are the qualitative goals. They are usually broad in their outlook & inspiring in nature. First & foremost, the objective should help in achieving the company goals & should be aligned with the corporate strategy.

More importantly, finalising objectives can be a tough task. People who have experienced OKR setup process before, will know how tempting it is to set myriad objectives at every possible level. Use the five why analysis to figure out if the 3-5 objectives that are being chosen are really the critical ones.

In a nutshell, you are spot on if you can answer following questions affirmatively with respect to the objective.

  • Is the objective broad in outlook?
  • Is the objective inspiring?
  • Does the objective help in achieving the company goals?
  • Does the objective align with corporate strategy?
  • Is the objective indispensable?
  • Is the objective timeboxed?

Writing a Key Result

The way key results are defined, is the soul of the entire OKR philosophy. Key results are essentially measurable indicators of success of the parent objective. Key results, unequivocally tell you how much of the objective is achieved. Some literature calls them the sub-objectives or even at times they are (wrongly) called as KPIs.
If they cannot be objectively measured, they are not KRs. Numbers form an integral part of the key result. Do note that key results are results & not activities/tasks. Again, the key lies in limiting the number of KRs in the 3-5 range, against every objective.

Ask these questions to ensure your KRs are being set up the right way.

  • Does the Key Result adhere to SMART? (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, Time bound)
  • Is the KR a result and not just another task/activity?
  • Does the KR help in achieving the objective it belongs to?
  • Is there a timeline identified for the KR?
  • Does the KR belong to either a stretch or an operational goal category?
  • Is the KR important enough to appear in the top 5 KRs for the objective?

Template & Examples

Although there is no one size fits all template that works for all possible use cases, there is a generally acceptable way of phrasing OKRs. You have defined the OKRs correctly if they can fit the below ‘template’.

 

We plan to succeed in ______________________ , as measured by ___________, ____________ and ____________. We plan to achieve this by _________

 

1st blank is a placeholder for the objective & rest of the blanks (2-4) are going to hold related key results. The last blank adds a deadline to the entire OKR structure.

Let us look at a few examples to illustrate this further.

Example 1:

Objective

Increase in employee engagement

Key Results

Decrease attrition rate from 7% to 3%

Increase eNPS from 78% to 90%

At least 3 engagement activities are executed within each department.

 

Example 2:

Objective

Raise funds to fuel our growth in APAC

Key Results

4 growth centres with maximum anticipated ROI are identified

Pitch to at least 25 institutional investors

A non-binding term sheet is finalised

 

Here is some additional reading for you to get started on OKRs: