OKR stands for “objectives and key results.” It’s a collaborative goal-setting system that is used by individuals, teams, and organizations to pinpoint measurable goals and track their progress and outcomes in relation to those goals. Though it’s a simple tool, it can be incredibly impactful in terms of helping individuals and teams align with one another and achieve their targets.
OKRs can be used in almost every setting, however, they are most commonly used in a professional or HR environment. It is a term that is frequently used in the lexicon of top-tier management, in important conversations between HR executives, and in the feedback meetings between individuals and their supervisors.
For this reason, it’s key that all HR specialists understand the unique function of the OKR framework, where the concept originated from, and how you can use it to accelerate your organization’s various fractions.
Before we dive into the benefits of OKRs when managing goal-setting strategies, let’s explain where the term ‘OKR’ came from in the first place.
The concept of OKR was popularised by Andrew Grove, a successful businessman and engineer, during his tenure as the CEO of the globally renowned tech powerhouse, Intel. In 1975, Grove taught a course at Intel, and in it, he shared a revolutionary system for goal setting and accountability which he coined as iMBOs.
One of the attendees of this course was John Doerr, a future guru of Kleiner Perkins and Google. Doerr was encapsulated by the deceivingly simple yet effective nature of Grove’s new goal-setting methodology.
Unlike the popular systems at the time, Grove’s system focused on outcomes and not procedure. This was the total anthesis of the mainstream methodologies and to Doerr, it was entirely unconventional and 100% genius.
Doeer was so taken by Grove’s OKRs that he introduced the framework into his own personal working culture and later shared it with fractions at Google, where it quickly became central to the company culture and was renamed OKRs. OKRs are now bread and butter at Google. In fact, the co-founder of Google Larry Page even credited part of the internet phenomenon's global growth and success to Doerrs system of OKRs.
Since then, the OKR system has gone from strength to strength. It didn’t just find favor with the biggest and brightest occupants of Silicon Valley such as the management of Twitter, Uber, Microsoft, and Gitlab, but it entered the offices and strategies of organizations of all sizes worldwide. Grove’s seemingly simple technology has become revolutionary and the acronym OKR is a commonly heard and utilized phrase in finance, HR, and marketing.
Unlike conventional management objectives, OKRs hand the power and agency over to the individual and team. It is not top-down, hierarchial, or linked to compensation. Instead, it revolves around the goals of a single individual/team and operates on the principle of achieving aims and tracking progress. It encourages people to develop initiative in achieving their goals instead of focusing solely on day-to-day tasks and refraining from strategizing on how their every day is shaping their future.
In this way, OKRs can pillar a motivated team’s progression to success and prevent stagnancy. The framework enables people to connect their annual or quarterly objectives to their everyday tasks and ensure that they are contributing to their progression and not just getting lost in the monotony of modern-day working culture. Setting clear objectives and key results gives individuals and organizations structure and prioritizes the activities that truly drive progress.
There are tons of acronyms in the HR lexicon and sometimes it can be easy to forget the meaning behind each one and begin to interchange them. For example, many people frequently struggle to distinguish between OKRs, KRs, and KPIs or feel confused as to which metric they should integrate at different stages of their goal strategy system.
So, before we explain the specific benefits of OKRs, let’s clear up any metric confusion by outlining the differences, similarities, and correct uses of these three metrics.
Though OKRs, KRs, and KPIs are often used in the same environments and team levels, they support entirely different mentalities.
As explained above, OKRs are a holistic framework by which individuals/teams can track and achieve their business goals. In this way, OKRs differ from KRs and KPIs because they don’t refer to a metric in a specific project or task, but rather an entire system that is managed by objectives.
Put simply, OKRs focus on empowering a strategy towards bigger company objectives while KPIs and KRs pinpoint selected indicators of a team’s performance.
The OKR framework is incredibly flexible and can be used in a huge variety of settings. However, this malleable nature of the OKR process means that it is often difficult to concretely conceptualize or implement into your working structure.
To help you understand the structure and correct usage of OKRs, let’s explain what comprises an OKR and run through how you can use them personally or in a business setting.
So, as implied by the name, an OKR has two components.
To help you understand what an effective OKR framework looks like in action, here are some OKR examples.
Objective: Enhance customer satisfaction
Objective: Drive employee satisfaction
Objective: Increase social media presence
If you’re still struggling to structure your goals and key results into OKR, try inputting them into this template below to make it easier:
I will (Objective) as measured by (Key Results).
OKRs are used in companies, personal journals, and businesses around the world. So much so, that there is an entire segment of the tech industry devoted to developing OKR software.
These OKR tools have been designed to streamline even the most ambitious of OKR frameworks. Here are some of our favorite examples:
The flexible, easy-to-understand, and easy-to-measure of the OKR framework makes it one of the most successful and widely-used goal-setting methodologies on the planet. When a framework of good OKRs is implemented, there are countless benefits to this performance management tool.
When outlining the management framework, the father of OKR, John Doeer uses the acronym F.A.C.T.S. to summarise its many associated benefits.
Though deceptively simple, OKRs can be a powerful system. If used correctly they can inspire your organization or your own personal potential to greatness, establish a sense of accountability within yourself and your team, help to align your objectives, and overall, drive you and your team to success.
So if you’re looking for ways to accelerate your personal progression or take your organization to new heights, use this article to implement an effective OKR structure today. Good luck!