I first heard about objectives and key results (OKRs) in 2008.
I had just joined Google as an Account Strategist on the Ads team. It was my first serious job after graduation.
I learned some theory about key performance indicators (KPIs) when studying economics, but the concept of an OKR, and how to write OKRs, was entirely new to me.
While I was still in the beginning months of my new role, I can still remember when my manager first asked me to draft personal key results and write OKRs.
Each employee would add them under their profile in Moma (Google’s intranet).
This way, individual goals would become visible to anyone and any team member at the company, then put into an OKR framework aligning with company objectives to measure success.
As I learned, later on, transparency is a vital aspect of the OKR framework (more on that further in the post).
But I didn’t know about any of this back then, and was initially a bit jolted.
“Everyone will see and know what I’m working on?”
I can’t forget how insecure it made me feel.
Years later, I realized that I wasn’t anxious about others seeing my OKRs or planned key results to deliver. In reality, I just didn’t know how to write OKRs, and I didn’t want it to become obvious to my marketing team.
And although, after years of writing OKRs, so much so that I can now call myself an OKRs pro, I know that the struggle is still real for many individual contributors and leaders to set objectives and key results.
Whether you are working in Marketing, HR, Sales, Customer Support, Product or Finance, there’s a good chance that you might not know how to write OKRs, and then use these to consistently and efficiently track progress.
Therefore, within this article I’m sharing with you the following:
- A proven formula for writing good OKRs
- The best practices for defining and putting down in writing quarterly OKRs
- OKR examples for Marketing, Sales, Finance, Human Resources, Customer Support, Product, Healthcare
- Ready-to-use OKR templates
Once you are ready to plan your company OKRs or prepare a progress report, remember that you can do it for free using Piktochart.
I recommend you read as much or all of this post so you can fully learn how to write great OKRs. But if you don’t have time to read the whole post, feel free to jump directly to the section you are most interested in.
What is an OKR and why did the OKR framework become so popular?
According to the Deloitte Review from 2015, “No single factor has more impact on employee engagement than clearly defined goals that are written down and shared freely”.
Moreover, as published by the American Psychological Association, 90% of the field studies confirm that challenging goals boost performance and productivity.
No wonder some of the world’s top-performing companies such as Google, Netflix, Twitter, and Dropbox use and set company and team-level OKRs. Good OKRs have been continuously helping these successful businesses in achieving moonshot-style goals.
But what are OKRs? How many key results need to be tracked? And how did this methodology become so popular in recent years?
OKR stands for Objectives and Key Results. It’s a collaborative goal-setting framework for companies, teams, and individuals to set challenging, ambitious goals with measurable key results.
OKRs work the same when used by a team, leadership team, a department within the company or the whole organization. They can also work for personal goals and for individuals to get things done at organizations (with their own objectives using their own OKRs) where company goals or set OKRs aren’t used or tracked officially.
OKRs were introduced by Andy Groove who was using them at Intel more than 40 years ago. They started gaining popularity thanks to John Doerr, who helped Google to implement the framework in 1999. But they first became well-known and widely adopted after John Doerr published his 2017 book “Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs”.
As described by John Doerr in his book, OKRs help to:
- Plan what individuals within the company are going to produce.
- Measure progress of individuals and teams by comparing against a plan.
- Coordinate priorities and milestones between people and teams.
- Improve focus on the most important goals; reduce distractions by urgent but less important goals.
- Bring transparency to the company.
- Make achieving ambitious goals possible by breaking them down.
On the whatmatter.com website, you can learn more about how OKRs have helped companies with driving innovation, making their “big hairy audacious goal” (BHAG) possible, and growing a global culture of collaboration.
Check out this Ted Talk with John Doerr where he talks about “why the secret to success is setting the right goals”.
Writing objectives for a good OKR
Now that we know what OKRs are, let’s move to the most essential part.
How do I write a good OKR? what writing objectives should I consider to align with the key results needed?
It won’t be as complex as you might think if you follow this simple formula:
OKR = (Objective = “What”) + 3 x (Key Results = ”Hows”)
It means that you first define an objective. It is simply a description of “what” is intended to be achieved — an expression of your goal.
When writing your objective, make sure that it meets the following requirements:
- It’s ambitious and inspirational
- It’s concrete
- It’s action-oriented
- It’s not fuzzy
At the end of the quarter, it should be obvious to anyone whether an objective or key result has been achieved.
Key results should express measurable milestones that describe “how” the objective can be achieved. Cross-check them against these criteria to make sure they are defined correctly:
- Describe outcomes and not activities. A simple check is to see if your KRs include words like “consult”, “help”, “analyze”, or “participate”. If yes, then they describe activities. Instead, explain the end-user impact of these activities.
- Are time-bound, aggressive yet realistic.
- Are measurable. You either hit a key result, or you don’t. There is no room for doubt. It has to be possible to grade the key result once the target period for achievement has passed.
I usually also recommend not creating too many OKRs when you write key results. This helps with prioritization and staying focused on the most critical deliverables. A good practice is trying to limit your key results to just three per objective.
Before and after: turning so-so OKRs into good OKRs
Let’s now look at how to write effective OKRs and how the above-discussed formula works in practice. Hopefully, this should make it a bit clearer.
Since I work in marketing, we will assume that I want to grow organic traffic to piktochart.com. Here is my initial OKR:
O: Improve organic traffic to piktochart.com
- KR 1: Publish more blog posts tailored for SEO on a regular basis
- KR 2: Analyze the traffic to existing content to see how it could be optimized
- KR 3: Improve website load-time
This OKR is ok-ish, but it’s missing a few elements that could make it really good.
First of all, the objective is not concrete enough, and it’s not inspirational. What will a satisfactory “improvement” look like and how will it be measured?
The supporting key results aren’t clearly describing outcomes, and aren’t time-bound or measurable.
Would the analysis of the traffic to existing content be enough to drive improvements? How can “more” and “on a regular basis” from KR 1 be appropriately quantified and measured?
Taking this under consideration, here is how we could improve this OKR:
O: Drive 5M visitors from organic traffic to piktochart.com in Q4 2023
- KR 1: Publish at least 2 blog posts/week tailored for SEO in Q4
- KR 2: Optimize 10 blog posts with lower traffic for SEO by the end of Q4
- KR 3: Reduce website load-time by 50% as measured with Google PageSpeed Insights
We have made the objective more concrete. We know exactly how much more traffic we are planning to drive and by when we want to achieve it. We have also formulated the key results as measurable milestones which accurately describe the “how”. At the end of the quarter, it will be easy to assess if the OKR has been achieved or not.
OKR examples by organizational function
If you aren’t working in marketing, the previously described OKR might not be that relevant to you. That’s why I have prepared several OKR examples and split them into various organizational functions.
Marketing OKR Example
O: Increase the number of marketing-qualified leads (MQLs) by 2x quarter-over-quarter
- K1: Generate 500 MQLs from 4 webinars delivered by the end of Q4
- K2: Launch exit-intent popups on the home page and pricing page for first-time visitors who look like they’re about to leave the site.
- K3: 2 lead generation inbound campaigns launched by mid-Q4
Sales OKR Example
O: Reach 3M in Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR) by the end of Q4 2023
- KR 1: Increase average subscription size to at least $150 per month
- KR 2: Reduce monthly churn from 3% to 1% by the end of Q4 2023
- KR 3: Increase the share of annual subscriptions vs monthly subscriptions to 70%
Finance OKR Example
O: Increase company’s profitability by 30% year-over-year
- KR 1: Launch PayPal and Google Wallet as new payment methods by the end of Q4 2023
- KR 2: Increase average subscription size to at least $150 per month
- KR 3: Increase gross profit margin from 23% to 54 %
Human Resources OKR Example
O: Improve internal employee net promoter score by 5 points
- KR 1: Launch a new internal career growth portal
- KR 2: Interview 20 employees on their needs for improving our work culture and benefits
- KR 3: Develop and present an action plan with 5 improvements for increasing employee satisfaction in 2024
Customer Support OKR Example
O: Assess overall customer satisfaction by the end of Q4 2023
- KR 1: Get 1,000 responses to the annual CSAT survey
- KR 2: Conduct 5 interviews per week with customers and deliver a feedback summary document by the end of Q4 2023
- KR 3: Develop and present an action plan with 10 improvements for increasing customer satisfaction by 20% in 2024
Product OKR Example
O: Increase user activation rate by 20% by the end of Q4 2023
- KR 1: 100% launched and live onboarding flow optimizations reducing onboarding from 5 to 2 steps
- KR 2: Launch personalized product walk-through mapped to user goals
- KR 3: Launch top 3 most-rated feature requests from the user feedback
Healthcare OKR Example
O: Increase flu vaccines rate among patients older than 60 by 50% year-over-year
- KR 1: Design, publish, and distribute flu vaccine informational fliers
- KR 2: Produce and launch a flu awareness video on the website
- KR 3: Train 100% of staff on flu risks and vaccines and make sure they discuss it during meetings with senior patients
Weekdone, an internal comms service for teams, has a database where you can find many examples of OKRs split by departments and company levels. It should provide you with additional inspiration.
Reporting on progress using effective OKR templates
Now that you have drafted and polished your OKRs, it’s time to make sure that you can effectively use them.
OKRs are pointless unless you regularly check on them. That’s why keeping visual track of your progress and providing an update on the actual achievement of the OKR at least once, towards the end of the quarter, is very important.
At Piktochart, I give an update about the marketing’s team OKRs each month. I present the progress towards quarterly KRs achievement, showcase OKR-related initiatives, and discuss where we stand in terms of our OKR grading.
Since I have worked with this framework for a long time, I have collaborated with our Design team at Piktochart on the development of OKR Templates.
These templates will help you keep everyone informed on your progress and will make it easier for your stakeholders to understand where you are with your OKRs.
You can then access them by clicking on the images below:
I hope that these tips and best practices will support you in becoming an OKR ninja.
OKRs are a great framework to outline objectives and key results that add gamification to your day-to-day work.
These key results can be both fun as well as motivational. Most of all, great OKRs empower people to dream big. And big dreams are what move us forward and achieve key results.
If you’d like to learn more about OKRs, I spoke in a webinar to uncover more about how to effectively use, plan, and set OKRs to achieve your team goals, company goals, or wider organizational goals.
Show your progress with professional visuals.
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