A guide to deciding which OKRs to prioritize and how to write them effectively
We would like to introduce you to Koan’s OKR Examples Worksheet, a great tool to use as you’re preparing for an OKR planning cycle. But before we dig into the worksheet, we want to provide a refresher of the goal-setting framework itself. Objectives and Key Results include:
Objectives that you're trying to accomplish. You want your Objectives to be qualitative and inspiring. You also want to aim for just one to three objectives per team. More than that, and you risk diluting your priorities.
Key Results that measure whether you've accomplished your Objectives. Key Results are measurable, verifiable and make it clear whether you’ve done what you set out to accomplish. You want to push yourself to avoid "yes/no" as your measurement and identify a number to measure. Aim for three to five Key Results per Objective.
The simple template for writing OKRs:
We will __(Objective)__ as measured by __(these Key Results)__.
Flexibility is an important part of the OKR framework, but the lack of prescription leaves room to create less-than-inspiring goals. Here’s an example.
Bad OKR example:
Objective: Rollout the new employee benefits package (an action item, not an outcome)
Key Result: Complete rollout by June 1 (due date, not an outcome)
Key Result: Train employees on new benefits platform (not measurable)
Key Result: Update company portal with new benefits information (an action item, not an outcome)
A better goal would focus on what we’re trying to achieve, plus the specific criteria for success.
Key Result: 85%+ Employee enrollment in new benefits package
Key Result: Increase employee satisfaction score from 6.5 to 8.5
Key Result: Reduce our undesired churn rate from 4.5% to 3%
Pro Tips for Crafting OKRs
As you craft your own team’s OKRs, consider the following tips:
Start by asking your team (and peers and boss): "What are the three most important things for us to accomplish in the next three months? Why is this important?"
Put draft objectives in front of your team and ask them to write a better version.
Brainstorm key results with the team and let your team members identify which key results they want to lead.
Recognize that not everything should be an OKR. Some work is to keep the lights on, or business as usual. Reserve OKRs for the efforts that move the business forward.
The OKR process works best when it draws on expertise at every level of the organization and each team sets their own.
The Exec team will establish company goals, and your department heads should establish their OKRs. Try not to “cascade” OKRs all the way down the org chart. Instead, align your OKRs with a bottom-up process. Publish OKRs publicly. Transparency of OKRs will help drive alignment.
Don't link OKRs to performance management, doing so stifles the innovation needed to push your business forward.
How to Avoid Common Pitfalls when Crafting OKRs
To avoid common pitfalls when crafting OKRS, ask yourself the following questions:
Are there too many objectives? Or too few?
Do they represent tasks rather than outcomes?
Are the targets realistic?
Are they ambitious enough?
Do we have the resources we need to deliver?
The more you and your team challenge your OKRs, the more effective they will be.
To begin, what does our overarching approach to laying out an OKR Worksheet look like?
First, ask yourself what “We will…” do. What’s the objective? What are you hoping to accomplish?
Then ask yourself, “As measured by…” What are your key results and how will you know whether you accomplished this objective?
Next identify a “Due Date.” Doing so holds you accountable to a deadline you're working towards.
Follow this by adding a “Lead,” because you always need a champion to drive the OKR process, and “Contributors,” because we believe that it’s teams, not individuals, that help you achieve your strategic goals.
Finally, we encourage you to focus on metrics, both your “Starting Metrics,” so you know where you are, and your “Target Metrics,” so you know where you want to be.
In terms of your Target Metrics, push yourself to acknowledge what’s truly achievable while still daring to think big. You can always course-correct, but without a measurable end point that pushes you to go farther, deeper, and better, how will you know what you’re capable of achieving?
Company and Department Examples
It’s important to differentiate between OKRs set for the company and OKRs set for each of your departments. You also want to recognize the importance of communication and asynchronous (async) feedback loops, which are top-down, bottom-up and horizontal across departments. Ultimately, the goal is alignment—everyone working on the right stuff
It’s also important to set clear expectations on when and how feedback is given. You also want to be transparent and make sure you have the best possible goals in place by prioritizing three types of async feedback loops:
Bottom-up Feedback - Get feedback from your manager;
Horizontal Feedback - Get feedback from peer teams and look for opportunities to combine efforts; this will ensure goals are aligned as a company; and
Resource Planning - Find cross-team dependencies and ensure adequate resources, because if you’re depending on another team to contribute to your priority, this will ensure everyone is in agreement
Having shared that, we can focus on how we’ve illustrated these different types of OKRs in the worksheet.
Here are some example Company level Objectives:
Objective: Build a great corporate culture (delight our employees)
Successfully launch Koan to provide transparency to company goals by having 70%+ users submit reflections within 3 weeks
Achieve a weekly Employee Satisfaction Score of >8
Celebrate at least 3 “small wins” through"shout-outs" in every All Hands meeting
CEO and SVPs complete monthly all-hands Town Hall and open Q&A meeting
We’ve also crafted departmental Objectives, examples for all of which you can also find in the Examples Worksheet.
For example, with Marketing, the Objectives and Key results are pretty straightforward and fairly easy to measure:
Objective: Boost customer acquisition via our website
Generate $25M in new opportunities through inbound calls-to-action
Decrease tip to end funnel drop off (churn) rate from 63% to 50%
Implement our personalization engine to increase conversion from visitor to lead from 4% to 6%
Whereas with Product Management there isatemptation to have Key Results that ‘deliver this feature,’ and the challenge is how to measure this Objective more effectively. So for example, we suggest the following:
Objective: Successfully Launch the New Product
Validate new product designs by conducting 30 customer feedback interviews,
Complete 2 training sessions on the new product for Marketing and Sales teams
When you download the Examples Worksheet, you will also find examples for Engineering, HR, Sales, Customer Success and Finance. Similar to Product Management, not all of the identified examples are straightforward. Take Sales. There are other things you can measure beyond quotas. But you’re going to have to push yourself to identify them.
And this is why attention to OKR planning cycles and listening to teams is so important when crafting OKRs: this work demands both our focus and a range of diverse thinkers to be successful.
The golden rule of writing Objectives is that any reasonable person should be able to understand the Objective’s aim and motivation at a glance. And that a Key Result can be thought of as a KPI (Key Performance Indicator) that measures the progress of the Objective.
Deploying and managing the OKR process can be challenging, especially if you’re using shared documents and an ad-hoc process that doesn’t bake-in best practices. Using a purpose-built solution, such as Koan, helps you deploy the OKR methodology at scale, with the appropriate guardrails and reporting that makes the information you’re gathering actionable.