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OKRs: What They Are, How to Use Them, & How to Set Them

Studies have shown that committing to a goal can help improve employee performance. But more specifically, research reveals that setting challenging and specific goals can further enhance employee engagement in attaining those goals. Google often uses “Objectives and Key Results” (OKRs) to try to set ambitious goals and track progress.

OKRs at a glance:

  • Objectives are ambitious and may feel somewhat uncomfortable
  • Key results are measurable and should be easy to grade with a number (Google uses a scale of 0 – 1.0)
  • OKRs are public so that everyone in the organization can see what others are working on
  • The “sweet spot” for an OKR grade is 60% – 70%; if someone consistently fully attains their objectives, their OKRs aren’t ambitious enough and they need to think bigger
  • Low grades should be viewed as data to help refine the next OKRs
  • OKRs are not synonymous with employee evaluations
  • OKRs are not a shared to-do list

In practice, using OKRs is different from other goal-setting techniques because of the aim to set very ambitious goals. When used this way, OKRs can enable teams to focus on the big bets and accomplish more than the team thought was possible, even if they don’t fully attain the stated goal. OKRs can help teams and individuals get outside of their comfort zones, prioritize work, and learn from both success and failure.

What is an Objective?

The Objective––which is what the ‘O’ in OKR stands for––represents a high-level goal that the company is aiming to achieve in the future. The Objectives help to provide a clear understanding of the direction the company wants to go in and provides a source of inspiration for future actions. In short, the Objective is the end goal (until the next goal is announced).

How to Structure Effective OKRs

In order to have effective OKR frameworks for your company, it’s important that the OKRs are strategically structured to promote continuous (and rapid) progress. Here’s a quick rundown of how you should structure your OKRs. This is a fairly standard method of structuring them, but you can make slight tweaks if need be.


In most cases, you should list anywhere between 3 to 5 high-level goals (objectives) for the company, team, or employee. A great OKR strategy will set goals at all levels of the organization, from macro to micro.

Following the principle of setting SMART goals, objectives should be

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Ambitious
  • Realistic
  • Time-oriented

Goals should be very ambitious in nature (60% chance of success), giving the company, team, or employee big goals to strive for.

Key Results

For each of the 3-5 high-level goals set, aim to define anywhere between 3 to 5 measurable key results.  Again, key results are like milestone achievements that show progress toward the ultimate goal, or Objective.

In most cases, key results are represented in numerical value i.e easily measurable. However, they are also sometimes indications of something being done or not done, which could also be represented in numbers (a binary 0 or 1).

The Benefits of OKRs

There are quite a few great benefits of OKRs that make them extremely popular in the business world:

Agile Goal Setting

Rather than setting lengthy year-long goals, OKRs offer much shorter goal cycles so that changes in direction and growth can be made as the business adapts to changes.

Multilevel Alignment

OKRs apply to all levels of the company, from employees to management staff to key organizational leaders. They help to keep individual performance aligned with the high-level objectives for the company.


Unlike other goal-setting methods, OKRs are very easy to implement in a business environment. They’re rather straightforward and allow staff to reduce the amount of time invested in setting goals on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Basically, management and employees can spend more time achieving goals versus defining them.

Intentional Focus

Rather than having a long list of goals for the company, OKRs restrict goal setting to 3-5 objectives. This helps to keep the company focused on the actions and goals that will have the greatest impact on growth and success.


Because all levels of an organization work toward the same ultimate goals on the OKR framework, there is a much-appreciated level of transparency that is fostered. Each employee knows what others are doing at any given time.

Potential for Unexpected Success

As mentioned earlier, OKRs are set to be extremely ambitious and motivational in nature. Because of this, individuals within the organization will be working diligently to contribute toward those goals. In many cases, companies utilizing OKRs see unexpected yet very welcomed results that are even better than they set out to achieve.

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