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Companies that set and achieve their most ambitious goals have mastered the goal-setting methodology used by Google, Amazon, Spotify, Adobe, and countless others. We’re talking about Objectives and Key Results (OKRs)—the scalable system that empowers organizations to align their focus, prioritize their resources, and continually advance toward a unified vision.
Here, we’ll show you, step-by-step, how to set quarterly OKRs that facilitate the realization of your Annual Objectives, 3 Year Objectives, and, ultimately, your North Star or 10-year goal.
But first, let’s quickly recap what OKRs are and how they work.
OKRs Made Easy
A vision is just a dream if you don’t have a plan to achieve it. You can think of OKRs as the planning framework that identifies specific goals and makes them attainable, all in service of helping you achieve your vision. The OKRs framework pairs each Objective with 3-5 Key Results, like this:
An Objective is an aspirational goal that broadly defines what you want to achieve. Objectives should:
☐ Be meaningful priorities with clear end goals
☐ Drive bold change and propel your business to the next level
☐ Inspire and empower your team
Examples of Objectives could include broad goals like these:
• Increase our brand recognition
• Expand nationwide
• Improve product
A Key Result is a time-delineated, quantifiable milestone that outlines how you will attain a given Objective. Key Results should:
☐ Clearly contribute to accomplishing an Objective
☐ Be specific and time-constrained
☐ Be ambitious yet realistic
☐ Be measurable and conclusive
Examples of Objectives could include broad goals like these:
• Increase YOY sales by 5%
• Hire 2 new consultants
• Create 3 in-app banners that promote underused features
Prepare to Set Quarterly OKRs
The aligned nature of the OKRs methodology takes the guesswork out of quarterly planning, with longer-term Objectives cascading down to inform shorter-term Objectives. Most organizations will begin by establishing their first set of 3 Year Objectives, which should point toward their North Star (if one exists.) Next, a set of Annual OKRs supports the 3 Year Objectives. Finally, you’ll set quarterly OKRs, which lead toward your Annual Objectives.
Review the company’s Annual OKRs
Leadership sets Annual OKRs at the start of each year and should review them every quarter before setting the upcoming quarterly OKRs. Mark off any Annual Objectives and/or specific Key Results that have been completed. Then, evaluate which Annual Objectives and/or Key Results should be adopted as Objectives for the current quarter.
You can expect to develop a list that looks something like these Annual OKRs examples—we’ll talk more about assigning owners shortly:
The central question is, “What should we work on this quarter to help us fulfill our Annual OKRs?” The quarterly OKRs you establish will be due in approximately 90 days, on the date of your next quarterly meeting.
Hold a Leadership-level Strategic Planning Session
Company OKRs are set at the leadership level, and departmental OKRs are set at the department level. Simple enough, right? While both types of OKRs derive from the company’s longer-term goals, company Objectives further guide the organization’s priorities, and departmental Objectives are set to reinforce those broader priorities at the departmental level.
In both cases, the quarterly OKRs are set during a strategic planning session, which we call Quarterly Planning. Let’s assume that in this case, the leadership team meets first.
Homework. Prior to Quarterly Planning, each attendee should spend some time reviewing the company goals and developing a personal list of 3-5 proposed quarterly Objectives that they believe best support those goals.
Step 1: Share individual recommendations
A meeting facilitator should initiate the process of setting quarterly OKRs by inviting everyone in the room, one at a time, to share their recommendations for the quarter’s top 3-5 priorities—the Objectives to achieve within the next 90 days. Create a list of all the recommendations that the attendees can see.
Step 2: Keep, kill, combine
Use the “keep, kill, combine” method to streamline your team's list of priorities. Start by finding similar ideas and combining them into single Objectives. Once you've consolidated the list, review it collectively to determine:
• Which ideas are truly top company priorities?
• Which ideas are better categorized as secondary Individual Objectives?
• Which ideas make more sense as measurable Key Results?
The team may agree to kill some ideas that simply don’t align with the company trajectory. Other ideas you may choose to keep for later, noting that you can tackle them in a future quarter.
The “keep, kill, combine” process enables you to focus on a handful of optimally impactful goals, making your strategy sharper and more actionable. When complete, you should have a finely honed list of no more than 3-5 company quarterly Objectives.
Less is more. As your organization grows more sophisticated, you may be surprised to discover that you have fewer and fewer company OKRs.
Step 3: Prioritize the Objectives
Placing the Objectives in order of priority is a critical step that helps you properly assign company resources, from team members to tools to funds.
Objective #1. Almost without fail, Crews & co. guides our Growth Method clients to set the same top Objective: Hit Your Numbers. This Objective usually refers to key financial targets such as revenue or profitability. Alternatively, this Objective can be customized to include other metrics like retention rate or client spend.
Under each Objective, define 3-5 Key Results for measuring success. These Key Results are the team’s priorities for the next 90 days and will be tracked each week during the leadership team’s On Track Meeting (OTM).
Step 4: Assign one Owner to each Objective and Key Result
Each Objective and Key Result should have an assigned owner. While one person may own an overall Objective, its Key Results may be cross-functional, involving team members from different departments.
For instance, if the Objective is to "succeed at trade shows," the Chief Revenue Officer might own the Objective, while Marketing handles preparing materials, Business Development coordinates logistics, and Engineering tackles show-specific technology.
“Committed” vs. “Aspirational” OKRs. You’ve likely noticed the (C) beside the Key Results for “Succeed at Trade Shows.” This C stands for Committed, which means the Key Results must be 100% complete at the end of the quarter. In this example, the company has already committed to several trade shows throughout the coming year, so the team will need to make this OKR a top priority if they hope to achieve the Objective.
Aspirational OKRs are more common. By design, OKRs are intended to be highly ambitious, even if this means they aren’t always 100% attainable. The aspirational nature of OKRs doesn’t promote laziness, however; in fact, it typically does the exact opposite!
Step 5: Review and set Individual Objectives
Now that you have your company OKRs established, you can shift the focus to the Individual Objectives. Some Individual Objectives may have already been identified during the meeting’s initial brainstorming; others will emerge only after the company OKRs are in place.
While you’re creating company OKRs, you’ll likely come up with some Objectives that should be handled at the individual level (in leadership) or are tied to departmental priorities. A departmental leader would take an Individual Objective, and can then enlist their team members to help achieve that goal. Attendees may also suggest tasks for their colleagues that will impact department work and contribute to the company's aims.
Whatever the situation, Individual Objectives should never overshadow the company’s primary goals. If someone is already responsible for multiple company OKRs, they should forgo setting or accepting any Individual Objectives.
Anyone who does take on an Individual Objective is responsible for setting their own Key Results so the Objective can be tracked and eventually scored. That process usually happens outside of the quarterly planning meeting.
Step 6: Assess the viability of each OKR
Before everyone high-fives and calls quarterly OKR-setting a success, the facilitator should challenge the team to assess the viability of every Objective and Key Result. Ambitious goals are great; impossible goals are not.
Questions like these will help your team refine your OKRs and identify potential obstacles to success:
• Where are the weak points in this plan?
• How might we fail to achieve this goal?
• Can we reasonably expect to accomplish these OKRs in a single quarter?
• Could we remove one of these OKRs and still have a productive quarter?
Let the answers to these questions guide your final list of quarterly OKRs.
You may find that if you completed just one or two OKRs in the quarter, you would call the next 90 days a success. Push yourself and your team to pare down your OKRs when possible so that you can focus all of your attention on the most important initiatives.
The Nuances of Setting Department-level OKRs
Just as with the leadership-level session, department-level meeting attendees should do their homework in advance, reviewing the company’s Annual Objectives and preparing to recommend 3-5 departmental priorities. The meeting facilitator invites input from each attendee and lists their recommendations for collective consideration and a round of “kill, keep, combine.”
What’s different about department-level OKRs planning?
While setting departmental OKRs echoes the company-level process, the departmental manager or facilitator should pay close attention to individual workloads and bandwidth. Department-level team members tend to have more day-to-day responsibilities and less time for project work. Unrealistic expectations of your department team members can quickly derail the company’s progress in these ways:
• Team members sacrifice important daily responsibilities to complete OKRs
• Team members push aside their OKRs and complete them poorly or fail to complete them at all
• Team members accomplish their entire workload yet burn themselves out
To prevent these issues, department managers should invest extra time into discussing the viability of the department’s OKRs. Where the leadership team likely feels confident realistically assessing their OKRs, departmental employees may hesitate to express their concerns. The facilitator should emphasize the importance of honestly evaluating any department-level OKRs and identifying barriers to success.
If the team does identify a problem area—be it an unrealistic goal or an unmanageable workload—this is an opportunity to think strategically. Are there any daily tasks that can be reprioritized or eliminated? Can any ongoing responsibilities get delegated to others with lighter workloads? Department heads should also flag any capacity concerns for discussion and follow-up.
Lastly, if any goal seems unnecessary or distracting, it’s better to kill it. OKRs should guide the department toward meaningful, achievable progress, not drive them to frustration and burnout.
Dream Big; Plan Meticulously
By systematically identifying what really matters—from your audacious 10-year North Star to your nitty-gritty quarterly targets—you maintain a unified vision throughout every level of your organization. Whether you're in the C-suite or leading a department, OKRs ensure that each individual knows their role and how their work contributes to the big picture.
Engage in mindful, regular check-ins, and be prepared to pivot when circumstances demand a change in direction. After all, the beauty of OKRs lies not only in setting them but also in their flexibility. So go ahead: dream big—but plan meticulously.
The clock is ticking on your next 90 days. Make them count!