What Are OKRs? How Do They Benefit Your Team & Business?

OKR text (Objectives, Key and Results) wooden cube blocks on blue background

Many of the most successful brands in the world – Google, Adobe, Microsoft, LinkedIn, Amazon, and more – use OKRs to bridge the gap between reality and ambition, empowering their teams to achieve exceptional results.

More than 80% of surveyed companies agree that OKRs have a positive impact on their organization. Plus, employees working with team OKRs have a better understanding of the company’s vision (72%) than those without OKRs (50%).

The OKR framework has proven time and time again to promote growth and success, drastically improving the performance of teams as well as project delivery.

Things to know about OKRs:

  1. What are OKRs?
  2. History of OKRs
  3. OKRs vs KPIs
  4. 7 Ways OKRs Benefit Your Team and Drive Value
  5. Writing Effective OKRs
  6. Common OKR Mistakes to Avoid
  7. Using OKRs for Short-Term Projects

What are OKRs?

OKRs stands for Objectives and Key Results. An OKR is a rigorous goal setting and tracking framework used by teams to collaborate to measure and achieve outcomes. It consists of two components:

  • Objectives: Inspiring, qualitative and time-bound (often quarterly) goals for organizations, teams, or individuals to execute. Answers the question, “What do we aim to accomplish?”
  • Key Results: Specific, measurable metrics to assess the progress toward and achievement of the Objectives. Answers the question, “How will we know we have achieved the objective?”

History of OKRs

The OKR was developed by former Intel CEO Andy Grove in the 1970s, who took the idea of MBOs (management by objectives), introduced by Peter Drucker, and enhanced it with the concept of key results.

John Doerr joined Intel in 1974 and learned the OKR framework directly from Andy Grove. When Doerr left to join Kleiner Perkins in 1980, he brought his knowledge of OKRs to Silicon Valley.

While investing in and advising companies like Google, Amazon, Intuit, and Twitter in his, Doerr introduced their leadership teams to the OKR structure. “As a board member or an investor, I strongly urge – but don’t require – people to use it,” Doerr shared with Harvard Business Review.

The OKR framework has continued to grow in popularity and is now used by countless organizations across the globe.

OKRs vs KPIs

Both OKRs and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) are goal-setting methods; however, the two serve different purposes.

  • KPIs are typically narrower in scope, focusing on tracking and measuring an individual or team’s performance against predefined metrics. These metrics are often associated with financial targets or operational efficiency objectives.
  • OKRs focus on setting ambitious goals and achieving remarkable outcomes. OKRs inspire individuals and teams to push their limits, breaking the status quo and striving beyond conventional boundaries. Although KPIs are essential for day-to-day operations, OKRs offer your organization’s teams the opportunity and structure to achieve transformative, unprecedented growth.

7 Ways OKRs Benefit Your Team and Drive Value

Implementing OKRs can offer numerous benefits to your team’s project delivery efforts, including:

  1. Improved Focus: OKRs provide teams with clear, specific objectives to strive for, as well as the structure to measure and achieve meaningful results. This shifts the focus from day-to-day tasks to impactful outcomes, enables your team to improve coordination and increase efficiency, and aligns their efforts toward the Key Results.
  2. Increased Motivation: OKRs provide individuals and teams with meaningful and ambitious goals, fostering a sense of empowerment and inspiration. This ultimately leads to greater levels of productivity and motivation.
  3. Improved Agility and Flexibility: OKRs encourage teams to regularly check in and assess progress towards goals, making any necessary adjustments. This promotes an agile mindset and also enables teams to adapt swiftly to unexpected challenges, new opportunities, and shifting market dynamics.
  4. Improved Accountability: OKRs are structured to empower individuals and teams to take full ownership of their objectives, key results, and the impact they can have on the team and organization as a whole.
  5. Greater Transparency: OKRs provide an established, visible framework for tracking and measuring progress toward goals.
  6. Improved Knowledge-Sharing: The structure established to support OKR achievement involves regular check-ins and discussions. This provides team members with the opportunity to share insights, learnings, and best practices, allowing other members to identify successful strategies and apply them to other projects.
  7. Continuous Improvement: Because OKRs are typically set for a specific timeframe, like a quarter, they promote a cycle of continuous improvement. The end of each period allows teams an opportunity to reflect on performance, learn from failures and successes, and strategically refine their approach for the following iteration.

Writing Effective OKRs

Creating effective OKRs that will achieve your ambitious goals requires a strategic approach. Some key elements to consider are:

  • Clarity: Objectives should be easy to understand and communicate a clear end goal. Key Results should be specific, measurable, and timely, and leave no room for ambiguity.
  • Ambition: OKRs are intended to inspire a growth mindset. These aren’t your average goals; instead, they should push boundaries, drive innovation, and inspire your teams to achieve the extraordinary.
  • Alignment: OKRs should align with the organization’s broader vision, mission, and strategic priorities. Well-crafted OKRs ensure coherence throughout an organization.
  • Relevance: OKRs should be meaningful and clearly relevant to the individual or team responsible for their achievement.

Common OKR Mistakes to Avoid

In contrast to the recipes for success, identified above, common pitfalls to avoid are:

  • Lack of Measurement: In order to effectively assess your team’s achievement of OKRs and reduce any subjectivity and ambiguity, the key results must be specific, measurable, and quantifiable.
  • Overly Ambitious: OKRs are intended to be ambitious and push boundaries; however, setting objectives at an unattainable level will likely demotivate and frustrate teams. When defining objectives, it’s important to find a balance between ambition and achievability.
  • Isolated Goals: Individuals and teams are most likely to achieve their OKRs when they are integrated into a strategic performance management system. This involves regular feedback, check-ins, coaching, and recognition to ensure support.
  • Focus on Outputs over Outcomes: OKRs ask your team to keep the bigger picture in mind, focusing on “What do I want to achieve?” instead of “What do I need to do?” Teams that focus on outputs miss the mark and often struggle to achieve the outcome they established in their Key Results.
  • Ineffective Prioritization: OKRs are about focusing on your team’s most important and urgent objectives.

Using OKRs for Short-Term Projects

Although OKRs are typically used for long-term plans on a quarterly or annual basis, the framework can also prove beneficial for short-term projects. The benefits that OKRs present – including increased motivation and focus, improved accountability, increased transparency, and improved agility – are just as effective in short-term projects as they are in long-term plans.

When the framework is implemented successfully, using OKRs in short-term projects allows your team to align around a wider company vision and understand the impact of their work in a broader context.

Drive Growth and Success with OKRs

At AIM Consulting, we have deep expertise in seamlessly integrating OKRs and empowering teams to achieve remarkable outcomes far beyond the status quo.

We leverage proven change management techniques and Agile delivery expertise to manage complex and expansive projects, increase team collaborations, and set in place an effective OKR framework that will propel your team’s project delivery success.

We ensure widespread understanding and successful implementation of OKRs in your organization. Through hosting Lunch & Learns about OKRs to introduce topics, implementing an OKR framework for your team or entire organization, selecting OKR tools and integrating company processes into them, and leading OKR workshops to help your team or organization set OKRs – our experts will partner with you every step of the way.

Need Help Realizing the Benefits of OKRs?

We help your teams strategically and successfully adopt the OKR framework, improving focus, increasing transparency, and accomplishing exceptional outcomes.