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How to write OKRs – a simple guide

Updated: April 6, 2022

It can be really hard to write great OKRs, but it really shouldn't be that hard. In fact, it should be easy! In this guide I'll share with you how to write clear and impactful OKR. I've even included a few examples to help the creative juices flow. That will help you write a great OKRs, but you'll want to make sure you avoid the number one mistake just about everyone hits. For that, you'll need to read to the end!

So what are Objectives and Key Results? Objectives and Key Results (OKR) is a high impact goal setting and alignment framework. It's used by some of the worlds leading firms, like Google, LinkedIn and whole host of others. This article assumes you know the foundations, so read our introduction to OKRs if you're new to it!

How to write those killer OKRs

Remember, the Objective is what you want to achieve & Key Results are 2-5 success measures. Here's how you tackle your OKR writing. We're going to break this into 4 steps:

  1. Be clear on priorities before you begin
  2. Write your Objective
  3. Write your Key Results
  4. Note down the initiatives and tasks you'll do to deliver on the OKR

Let's start by understanding your priorities!

Before you begin - be clear on priorities

Think about what is the most important thing you need to achieve this quarter. Ask yourself the question "If I were to achieve nothing this quarter, except for one thing, what would that be?". This question forces you to focus on what really matters. We all have loads of priorities, but this is getting down to the core.

There are a few things you'll need to consider to get this right. You'll want to reflect on your strategy, ask your stakeholders what priorities they see or talk to your customers to understand their problems before yblogou can confidently land on what is most important. If you're doing this as an executive team, you may want to run a survey to understand priorities from the team.

The key thing is making sure make sure you're clear on what success looks like and why that's important before you create your OKR. Once you have strategic clarity, it's time to write your Objective!

Write your Objective

Objectives should act as a battle cry to inspire their people and help them connect their work with purpose.

Your Objective should take a valuable strategic slice that's progressing you toward your vision. If you're the executive team, it should be relevant to the majority of the business. This creates a decision making lens to help team members prioritise what they should and shouldn't be doing. The same logic applies if you're doing it for your team, but just scale it down to their circle of influence.

Before writing your Objective, take the priority you identified earlier and check that it aligns to your strategy. Think critically, does this really align to my strategy?

Draft your Objective

The key to writing an impactful Objective is to frame it as if you had achieved it. Not only that, make it clear what was the outcome of achieving this objective. So instead of "Complete the call centre reorganisation", write something like "Nailing our customer experience with our new structure".

My advice is to stick with one Objective. Yes, I'm sure you've ready you can have up to 5, but that's stupid. Imagine you have 5 Objectives each with 5 Key Results. That's 25 data points! No way are your focusing your efforts and making progress if you're doing that. This is often a symptom of trying to turn your OKR into a todo list, rather than outcomes (more on that below!).

Capture why it's important!

Note down why this is important. This is critical as it helps you understand why this is really most important right now when compared to all the other priorities. It also gives you a leg to stand on if you're pressured on why you're working on this OKR. 

What's in a great Objective?

The Objective is the destination, simply answering “What do we want to do?”. Here's a some key ingredients for a great Objective:

  • Inspirational - It excites the team members and gives them a big picture and exciting outcome to strive for.
  • Manageable outcomes - Make sure that it is in-fact achievable within the quarter! It should stretch the team and demand some different thinking, but it shouldn't be impossible. You should be able to read it and know if you've achieved it.
  • Provides focus - It should create a lens for the business / team to know what is important / not important.
  • Action oriented - It should enable people to create their own action plans on how to achieve it.
  • Change, not maintain - We want to be using OKRs to change the business for the better. It should never be about keeping up a minimum level of performance.
  • Time bound - Don't make it a motherhood statement or something perpetual. You should be able to nail it in the quarter.

Write your Key Results

Now you've written your Objective, it's time to create your Key Results. These Key Results are how you measure your success of achieving your Objective. Did you achieve the Objective or not? They also act as a measure of progress, but not in terms of work being completed. It should be a metric that proves the work you're doing is having an impact on the outcome you're trying to achieve. So for example, rather than number of improvements implemented, we'll want to set a target and measure the impact of those improvements made.

What your key results as the outcome you're achieving and the metrics. Make it simple for people to understand what the measure is. The best way to do this is use simple metrics and write both the current value and target value in the Key Result e.g. ‘Improve 7 day retention from [current value] to [target value] by the end of the quarter’

Aim to have between 2 to 5 Key Results for your Objective. 

What's in a great Key Result?

Your Key Results simply answer the question of “How do we know we've been successful?”. Here's a some key ingredients of Great Key Results:

  • Results based - Does it measure an outcome has actually been achieved? Key Results should never simply list the work to be done.
  • Aligned - if achieved, would the objective be achieved? Are they collectively exhaustive to validate success of the Objective?
  • Directly measurable - Can we easily measure the metric and see the impact of our work? Is it relatively simple to measure?
  • Indicates progress - Does it actually show I'm making progress on the OKR? Do the numbers move as a result of your work or are they highly variable and therefore cannot be easily tied back.
  • Challenging - On average we're aiming for a 70% achievement rate - this challenges our thinking of what's possible and creates a feedback loop of just how far we can stretch ourselves.
  • Accountability clarity - Does the team have influence over the Key Results and can the team be accountable for delivering on it? Even if that with support of others - or are they totally reliant another team (in which case they're setting someone else's OKR!) 
  • Leading indicator - Are you using a leading indicator that you can influence within the quarter? If for example you have a sales cycle of 3 months, then a sales target is a real lagging indicator which you cannot influence within that quarter.

Now that you have your complete OKR, you better have an idea of how you're going to achieve it. That's were we need to capture your initiatives!

Capture your initiatives

Now you have your OKR, it's important to capture how you're going to deliver on this OKR. This is your to do list. It may be projects, actions, tasks or whatever else you call it. The bonus of doing this is it avoids the temptation of putting your initiatives into the OKR itself. 

It’s ok to be unsure how you’ll achieve the Key Result. A good OKR needs experimentation to be confident on how you're progressing it.

Tips for writing a great OKR

  1. 1
    Golden rule: Key Results must be metrics - not todo items (more on this later)
  2. 2
    Create clarity with the current measure and the target measure (“from X% to Y%”)
  3. 3
    Always try to have Key Results with leading indicators which show progress
  4. 4
    Turn Milestone / Task Key Results into a measure by understanding what does success look like
  5. 5
    Capture why your OKR is important - this will keep you focused on the outcome and help other understand!
  6. 6
    You can have committed or stretch Key Results, we suggest making yours stretch with 70%!
  7. 7
    Aim for one objective with 3-5 Key Results

Great OKR examples

If you're looking for more inspiration, check out our complete list of The Best OKR Examples. Here's a few examples to get you started!

Product OKR Example

Objective: Have our customers fall back in love with our products

  1. Key Result 1 - Deliver an incredible experience to increase satisfaction from 40 to 80
  2. Key Result 2 - Deliver an incredible fist time user experience to increase initial satisfaction from 10 to 80
  3. Key Result 3 - Make the experience sticky to increase customers who return twice in a week from 10% to 40%
  4. Key Result 4 - Help our customers share the love by increasing referral rate from 25% to 50%

HR OKR Example

Objective: Create high impact leaders across the business

  1. Key Result 1 - Leaders believe they have the tools and practices needed to effectively lead from 50% to 100%
  2. Key Result 2 - Team members believe managers help set performance goals from a median of 2 to 4
  3. Key Result 3 - Team members believe their leaders communicate an inspiring vision from 52% currently to 75%

Sales OKR Example

Objective: Have our customers fall back in love with our offering

  1. Key Result 1 - Increase customer number of customers who return twice in a week from 10% to 40%
  2. Key Result 2 - Customers referral rate from 25% to 60%
  3. Key Result 3 - 50% increase in customer satisfaction
  4. Key Result 4 - Increase first-month customer satisfaction from 3 to 4.

Avoid this number 1 mistake!

If you look at most of the examples on the web, even by the so called OKR professionals, you'll see one common mistake. What is it? Writing OKRs as a glorified to do list!

This is where people write project or deliverables as Key Results. Eg "Launch Version 1 of the product". If you need an OKR to do this, something serious has gone wrong! OKR should never be a todo list!

It shows a fundamental misunderstanding of OKR. The ultimate aim of OKR is to create outcomes. If we're focusing on what we're doing rather than what we're trying to achieve, we're destined to a life of busy work. It's like driving a car without watching the road. You can keep yourself busy faffing with the knobs, pumping the accelerator and playing with the radio, but you have no idea where you're heading. Probably no where good in this case!

What do you do instead? 

If you have a Key Result which looks like this, think about what outcome do you hope to achieve by doing this? How will you measure its success? For the example above, maybe it's about generating interest as measured by the size of waitlist. Maybe it's about building a number of active users. 

This might be a little deep, but it really is just about imagining you're at the end of the quarter. Think about it. You've had an epic quarter and achieved your goal. How do you know? What is different aside from the task being done? That is how you change your todo list to something meaningful!

What to do once you have your OKR?

The number one failure we see with OKR is not embedding it in your operating rhythm. Yes, you can write a terrible OKR, but as long as you're checking in on it weekly, you'll be able to course correct. So it's time to explore how to embed OKR in your team's weekly operating rhythm