Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Goal-setting methods abound, but there’s only one approach that has consistently helped our clients excel at setting—and achieving—their goals: OKRs.
More than any other goal-setting system, OKRs have a rich, proven history of accelerating growth for many of the world’s best-known companies. Businesses that implement OKRs experience improved transparency and accountability at every level.
Whole-company alignment, measurable efficiency, and accelerated growth are just a few of the transformative effects we’ve witnessed in organizations that embrace OKRs.
Here, we’ll show you:
How to set OKRs for your own business
The benefits of OKRs
Examples of OKRs from small and medium-sized businesses just like yours
The (highly manageable) drawbacks of OKRs
What Are OKRs?
OKRs are a goal-setting approach that helps businesses identify and accomplish their top priorities. The term OKRs stands for “Objectives and Key Results,” and it’s this blend of Objectives and Key Results that gives OKRs their secret sauce.
An Objective is a bold goal that states what you want to accomplish. Unlike other goal-setting frameworks, Objectives can be broad. They aren’t always quantifiable with hard data, but the beauty is that they don’t have to be. That’s why you have Key Results.
Key Results demonstrate how you will accomplish your Objectives. Key Results are time-constrained, measurable milestones that lead your team to achieve overarching goals.
When you roll out OKRs in your company, you effectively un-silo your most audacious goals. Objectives, even the most aspirational ones, become attainable targets. You can clearly define what success looks like. Every team member knows what they can do to support the company’s vision. OKRs answer the question, “What do we do next?” with clarity and enable meaningful improvement at every level of your company.
Anatomy of an OKR
OKRs have a specific format: outline each OKR with a single Objective and 3-5 Key Results, like this:
Key Result #1
Key Result #2
Key Result #3
The way you read an OKR is like this: “I will [Objective] as measured by [Key Results].”
Here’s an example. Suppose your Objective is to learn about OKRs. That Objective is broad, which is perfectly fine. You’ll need to set specific Key Results that help define when you’ve completed the Objective. You might decide that you need to read John Doerr’s book, interview 3 business owners using OKRs, and get your team a training session with an OKRs facilitator.
Your OKR about OKRs would look like this:
Learn about OKRs
Read Measure What Matters
Interview 3 business owners using OKRs to hear about their experiences
Hire an OKRs facilitator to conduct a training session on OKRs with leadership team
(By the way: Crews & co. offers complimentary OKRS training sessions for qualified businesses. Complete this application if you’re interested!)
A brief history of OKRs
Known as the “father of management science,” Intel CEO Andy Grove first developed what would become the OKRs methodology, leveraging his results-driven approach to grow the company’s revenues from $1.9 billion to $26 billion.
It was John Doerr, an early Intel employee, who eventually refined Grove’s tactics, naming the goal-setting approach “Objectives and Key Results” in his best-selling book, Measure What Matters.
Doerr won an early victory by pitching OKRs to Google—back when the company was in its infancy. Since then, OKRS have spread to influential businesses like Uber, Amazon, Spotify, Facebook, Dell, Microsoft, and Adobe.
But OKRs aren’t just for corporate giants. Thousands of small and medium-size businesses (SMBs) use OKRs as well. The system works with organizations of any size.
OKRs play directly into the need to not only set goals but also achieve them—efficiently and effectively. Entrepreneurs, owners, and executives who implement OKRs experience these high-impact advantages:
Focus. OKRs providetransparency into the company’s direction and goals by clearly stating where you want to go and how you intend to get there.
Alignment. OKRs align teams and divisions by directing resources to top priorities and eliminating less critical tasks.
Autonomy. OKRs offer autonomy to employees as they set their own Key Results and generate their own Scorecards. Team members are empowered to determine how they’ll contribute to the Objective and how their contributions will be measured.
Guidance. OKRs clarify which tasks are required and how various employees should strive to contribute.
Accountability. OKRs should be tracked weekly and reported on quarterly to ensure that progress is continuing. The structure of OKRs also requires transparency: everyone in the company can see who is working on what, and whether they are on-track or off-track.
Purpose. OKRs provide a clear sense of purpose to each team member, revealing how each individual’s role contributes to the big picture. And by regularly recognizing and celebrating impactful wins, OKRs are a natural morale booster!
How to Set OKRs
Even the smartest SMART goals are pointless if they don’t actively help you build the business you want. While OKRs do have SMART components, they are intentionally designed to help your company to think bigger than other goal-setting methods.
For this reason, it’s important to go into OKRs with the right mindset. OKRs should stretch your team just enough: they should be ambitious but not unattainable. As a rule of thumb, you want to complete 80% of your OKRs in a 90-day period, or complete 80% of any one OKR. Achieving 80% of a stretch goal is often far more effective than completing 100% of a safe goal.
To ensure that your team is willing to set ambitious OKRs, detach OKR performance from compensation. Of course, if a team member consistently misses their OKRs, that probably indicates a performance issue. But if a team member is stretching themselves and doesn’t quite achieve 100% of their OKR, you want to applaud that effort rather than punish it.
Setting effective Objectives
By focusing your OKRs on what’s truly relevant to your big-picture vision for your business, you can get really good at getting it done.
We’ve already discussed how Objectives identify what you want to achieve—and we’ve noted that Objectives may be more qualitative than quantitative. To ensure you’re calling out effective Objectives, run your goal through this simple checklist:
☐ Is your Objective a meaningful priority with a clear end goal?
☐ Does your Objective drive bold change and elevate your business to the next level?
☐ Will your Objective inspire and empower your team?
Setting effective Key Results
Because Key Results should explain how you’ll track your progress and achieve the Objective, you should limit them to 3-5 specific, measurable benchmarks that allow contributors to easily track their progress.
Think of the Key Results as a roadmap that leads your company from where it is now to the Objective. To ensure your Key Results will be effective, evaluate them against this checklist:
☐ Do the Key Results clearly contribute to accomplishing your Objective?
☐ Is each Key Result specific and time-delineated?
☐ Are the Key Results ambitious yet realistic?
☐ Is every Key Result easily measurable and conclusive?
Examples of OKRs in Action
Crews & co. consultants have countless OKR success stories from working with hundreds of SMBs. But to begin, we’ll keep things simple. To demonstrate how OKRs help organizations surge toward their potential at every level, let’s start with one of John Doerr’s examples of the OKR process.
Sitting at the top of a football team’s hierarchy, General Manager “George” has a high-level Objective to make money for the team’s owners.
George’s Key Results outline the pathway to success with two specific milestones:
Win Super Bowl
Fill stands to 88% capacity
If George accomplishes these two Key Results, he will have achieved his Objective of making money for the team’s owners. Although George is ultimately accountable for getting these Key Results done, he may not be the person to actually execute them. Instead, he delegates to his direct reports. The GM’s Key Results now become Objectives for the next layer of management.
Head Coach “Carl” takes on “Win Super Bowl” as his Objective and sets his own Key Results:
200-yard passing attack
Become #3 in defensive stats
25-yard punt return average
Again, Carl’s Key Results are ultimately his accountability. But he doesn’t have to complete the work himself. His Key Results become Objectives for the Defense, Offense, and Special Teams managers. Each manager defines a complementary set of Key Results, resulting in the following OKR structure:
Defense Objective: Become #3 in defense
Defense Key Result: Achieve less than 100 yards passing
Special Teams Objective: Average a 25-yard punt return
Special Teams Key Result: Train blockers
Now let’s return to GM George’s second Key Result “Fill stands to 88% capacity.”
Public Relations Manager “Michelle” takes on this Key Result as her Objective, subsequently creating three of her own Key Results:
Hire 2 charismatic players
Get media coverage
Highlight key players
PR Michelle’s Key Results become Objectives for the News Staff, Scouts, and Publicity Agent, each of whom identifies complementary Key Results of their own:
News Staff Objective: Highlight key players
News Staff Key Result: Publish three Sunday feature articles
Scouts’ Objective: Hire charismatic players
Scouts’ Key Result: Visit colleges
Publicity Agent’s Objective: Get media coverage
As you see, OKRs create alignment throughout the organization, from top to bottom.
Marketing OKR example
In this example, the Chief Marketing Officer’s Objective is to “increase our company’s visibility to our target customers.” This OKR is subjective, but we’ll define success based on the Key Results. Here’s what that looks like:
Increase our company’s visibility to target customers
Run three webinars for trade organizations popular among our customers
Add 50 new target customers to our email list
Connect with 100 new target customers on LinkedIn
Share relevant content on LinkedIn 2x per week
In this case, the CMO would likely assign the Key Results to the team’s Marketing Coordinator, who would turn the Key Results into her own Objectives. The Marketing Coordinator would then be responsible for executing these initiatives.
SaaS company OKR example
COO Larry has set himself a goal to “gather customer feedback on product changes.” Again, the measurable Key Results will help define success. The final OKR for Larry looks like this:
Gather customer feedback on product changes
Conduct 12 in-depth interviews with existing customers
Listen in on 36 sales calls
Gather 1,000 survey responses on the company’s customer satisfaction survey
Larry may execute some of these Key Results himself. Or he may assign them as Objectives to a direct report such as the Customer Success Manager.
OKRs example: different ownership for Key Results
In some cases, an Objective and overall OKR is owned by one person, but certain Key Results are explicitly owned by others. Here’s an example from the Crews & co. senior leadership team. Jen, who leads Operations, owns the overall Objective, which is to “improve the Growth Method for clients and consultants.”
What does success look like? The team sets 5 Key Results for this Objective:
Create ready-to-use leadership manuals
Perform gap analysis and fill any gaps in the Growth Method
Deliver printed guidebooks to all consultants
Create two-page outlines for each session day
Clean pitch deck video
This OKR is cross-functional, and leaders from multiple departments must work together to achieve it. In this case, individual Key Results are assigned to different senior leaders, who may then delegate some of the work to their own direct reports. The final result looks like this.
Improve the Growth Method for clients and consultants (Jen, Operations)
Perform gap analysis and fill any gaps in the Growth Method (Ryan, Head of Training)
Deliver printed guidebooks to all consultants (Jen, Operations)
Create two-page outlines for each session day (Ryan, Head of Training)
Clean pitch deck video (Brendan, CRO)
The Drawbacks of OKRs
Though there are many benefits of OKRs, the method does present challenges.
Companies may struggle with the switch to Objectives—they’re used to setting SMART goals and have a hard time with the fact that some Objectives are difficult to quantify.
Additionally, leaders and employees may not embrace the high level of transparency the methodology requires. Greater transparency can create discomfort when someone isn’t achieving their goals. No one likes to be embarrassed in front of their colleagues! However, this pressure can also motivate team members at every level of the company to do their best work.
In larger organizations, the sheer volume of Key Results creates a heavy lift for managers to track. For this reason, many companies implement a SaaS platform for tracking OKRs across teams. OKRs software solutions should enable company-wide transparency, provide real-time updates, and be easy to use.
Ultimately, the drawbacks of OKRs are, in our opinion, relatively minor—especially when compared to the risks of not setting or accomplishing your goals.
OKRs: Your Focused Strategy for Accelerated Growth
While the OKRs methodology is deeply nuanced, it is also highly customizable. There are countless ways to fine-tune your company’s approach to OKRs and tailor the goal-setting system for your industry.
What matters most is just getting started. You can begin defining Objectives and Key Results immediately—you’ll see the impact nearly as quickly!