How to write OKRs (with examples)

How to write OKRs (with examples)

A pretty frequent query we have from clients is:

How do I write effective Objectives and Key Results?

Getting your head around the different elements can be tricky at first, and with such a huge range of guidance and styles out there, it can be hard to know whether you’re getting it right.

In this article, we’ll look at why writing effective OKRs is so important, how to do it (with a range of good and bad examples) and some common pitfalls to avoid. If you’re completely new to OKRs, it might be worth reading our What are OKRs? article first, or you may like to read about Why OKRs are useful.

OKRs shouldn't be a leap of faith

A man leaping across large boulders in the desert

OKRs remain central to the management style and culture of companies such as Google, Spotify and LinkedIn and have been a crucial factor in their huge success. Their stories show us that when adopted and executed correctly, OKRs are a powerful way to boost productivity, foster collaboration and innovation and ultimately increase the rate a company can grow and disrupt.

But writing OKRs can be deceptively time-consuming. To be effective they need to be aligned, well-constructed and focused, and teams need to be trained and processes followed to make them consistent across the board. Because if your OKRs are confusing and uncoordinated, the people trying to execute them will find it hard to know what to get done, or how to do it.

Start with your longterm strategy

OKRs ultimately exist to achieve your longterm plans. By defining these team or company strategies and aligning your OKRs to them, it's clear to everyone why you're doing a particular objective and what the longterm outcome will be. So, before you start work on writing OKRs, it’s essential the company’s strategy is defined. A strategy typically consists of a 1-10 year vision for the business covering different areas, for example, revenue, culture, or product.

As well as defining your strategy, asking these questions upfront may provide some useful insight and inform your process:

Have OKRs been attempted before?

We sometimes see companies start out adopting OKRs, fail (or feel like they’ve failed) and abandon them. If this has happened, it can be really valuable to have a conversation with a person involved in that attempt – find out how they managed OKRs, what went wrong, and use this to inform your implementation.

Is there any useful insight to hand?

Some companies find it challenging to set their OKRs because they don’t have obvious sources of information available to base them on. For example, if they haven’t set targets before it, coming up with achievable metrics in their KRs can feel like a finger in the air. Often, it’s not being sure which areas of growth they should be concentrating on.  Things like KPIs, reports, or simply talking to the workforce may help you find some of these numbers and identify where the opportunities for growth are.


Tips for writing OKRs and Initiatives

Two men sat at a desk with laptops drawing on a piece of paper

Objectives

What we aspire to do

Objectives are short, aspirational statements of intent to change and improve something. It breaks down the wider vision or strategy into smaller chunks that are achievable in a timeframe.

Objectives should:
  • Be inspiring
  • Be concise
  • Be time-bound
  • Be memorable
  • Be impactful
  • Be aligned with the wider strategy
Objectives should not:
  • Be easily achievable
  • Be one-off activities or projects
  • Include jargon
  • Be never-ending

Key Results

What success would look like

Key Results or ‘KRs’ help you track and measure whether you’ve met your objectives. They are always outcomes defined by a number, for example, 30%, 30 points, or £30,000. Key Results don’t need to be written in inspiring language like Objectives, but they need to be specific and make the Objective tangible.

Key Results should:

  • Be metrics
  • Be specific
  • Be quantifiable
  • Be challenging
  • Be tangible

Key Results should not:

  • Keep you in your comfort zone
  • Maintain the status quo

Initiatives

What we can do to get us there

If you know exactly how you’ll see progress in your Key Results, then think of Initiatives as large tasks. If things aren’t quite so clear, then it might help you to think of Initiatives as experiments – however small – to help achieve the KR. We’re really passionate about Initiatives because they often stimulate new ways of thinking about work.

Initiatives should:

  • Be positioned as hypotheses
  • Be considered experiments
  • Provide valuable learnings whether the experiment succeeds or fails
  • Be linked to a Key Result or Objective so that you can see what effect the Initiative had

Initiatives should not:

  • Be a to-do list
  • Continue indefinitely
  • A list of backlog items

You can find more information about What are OKRs in our post about the subject.


OKR examples

Scenario 1: You want to lose weight

A group of joggers running through the park

✅ A well written OKR:

Objective: Get fit, so that I have more energy
Key Results:
  1. Resting heart rate of 40 BPM
  2. Lose 10 pounds in weight
  3. Sleep 8 hours a night
Initiatives:
  1. Try the ‘Couch to 5K Plan’
  2. Read ‘Eat, Drink, Run’
  3. Try a vegan diet
Why this is good:
  • It tells you why you want to get fit
  • All of the Key Results are measurable
  • They all relate to the Objective

A poorly written OKR:

Objective: Lose weight
Key Results:
  1. Eat more healthily
  2. Do more exercise
  3. Drink less alcohol
Initiatives:
  1. Go for runs a few times a week
  2. Don’t get takeaways
  3. Go to sleep earlier
Why this is not good:
  • It doesn't remind you why you're doing it
  • The measurement for the Key Results isn't mentioned
  • You can't tell what success looks like

Scenario 2: You want to improve customer service at your hotel

A hotel pool at sunset

✅ A well written OKR:

Objective: Create a loyal tribe of delighted customers in 2020
Key Results:
  1. Achieve an average customer rating on the website of 4 stars by end Q1
  2. Encourage 500 customers into the tribe
  3. Tribe customers average Net Promoter Score is more than 8
Why this is good:
  • It's time-bound and clear what you want to achieve
  • The Key Results show what success looks like
  • They also provide more detail without being prescriptive

A poorly written OKR:

Objective: Always improve our customer service
Key Results:
  1. Do some customer surveys to get a better average customer rating on the website
  2. Encourage call centre agents to ask customers to review us
  3. Redesign our app
Why this is not good:
  • The Objective is never ending
  • The Key Results aren't measurable
  • Some of them are more like Objectives in their own right
  • And some are more like Initiatives (small projects/experiments)

Scenario 3: You want your new app to be a success

A mobile phone with a picture of shoes on it

✅ A well written OKR:

Objective: Successfully launch an innovative app that works seamlessly for users
Key Results:
  1. Successfully launch into Apple and Google Appstores
  2. Achieve 10,000 signups within 6 months
  3. Achieve a sign-up to paid ratio of 25%
Why this is good:
  • It's ambitious but achievable
  • The Key Results are easily measurable
  • They also ensure the app is designed with these things in mind from the start

A poorly written OKR:

Objective: Get 50% more app downloads
Key Results:
  1. A Webby award
  2. Carry out competitor research to understand the latest trends
  3. Daily Scrum meetings
Why this is not good:
  • The Objective is a Key Result
  • The Key Results aren't measurable
  • Some of them are just things you might be doing anyway
  • Some of them don't clearly contribute to the Objective at all

OKR do's and don'ts

A person writing on some printed papers

Don't do this when writing OKRs

Don’t create a laundry list of tasks to be done

OKRs drive change because they are linked to the wider strategy and are measurable. This means they will always challenge the status quo and success can be monitored. A list of tasks, on the other hand, inevitably leads to a series of outputs (rather than an outcome) which may or may not lead to growth. Either way, it won’t be easy to tell as they aren’t measurable.

Don’t make your OKRs overly ambitious

OKRs should be inspiring, but realistically achievable in the timeframe. For example, a new brand of sunglasses setting out to: ‘achieve £500K sales in Q1’ is unlikely to be achieved. (However, achieving it by Q3 could be a great aspirational OKR.)

Don’t make your OKRs too complicated

OKRs should be written in plain English, be concise and jargon-free. This reduces the risk of ambiguity and means they can be understood by anyone in the organisation.

Don’t confuse Initiatives and Key Results

Key Results measure an outcome. Initiatives are experiments that help you achieve the KR, or the ‘work being done on the ground’. It sounds simple, but when an Initiative includes a number – which they often do – for example: ‘Send out 12 customer surveys’, against the KR of: ‘Achieve NPS score of 8’, the Initiative can sometimes find themselves wrongly categorised as Key Results.

Don’t confuse OKRs and KPIs

KPIs are metrics used to monitor something. So they represent only the KR part of an OKR. Another key difference is that an OKR should be used for changes that you want to happen, whereas a KPI is used to monitor how things actually are in a continuous way. E.g. Net Promoter Score is a KPI as it’s just something that’s measured. An OKR might be to improve customer satisfaction and the KR for it might measure a change in it.

Try to do this when writing OKRs

Do separate aspirational and committed OKRs

OKRs marked as committed should be aimed at around 100% success within the timeframe. If it’s marked as aspirational it should be aimed at around 70%. This clarifies how much you’re likely to achieve and removes ambiguity around progress. If they’re labelled incorrectly, the OKR may not be prioritised, or morale could be affected if it is not achieved.

Do make sure you include a way of measuring your Key Results

Being able to track your progress, and measure your success in meeting the objective is essential. That’s why KRs should include a numerical measure.

Do aim for quality over quantity

You don’t have to create 50 new objectives every quarter. It’s better to take some time to work out which areas you want to innovate and drive change and focus on them. On top of the volume of OKRs, only the essential people involved should have to check-in, own, contribute and mark progress, although all should be able to view them.


Final thoughts

Spending a bit of time upfront understanding how to write OKRs, (and making sure everyone else responsible for writing them does too) means your OKRs are far more likely to succeed. Make sure your strategy and planning is in place first, and start small – perhaps with just the Senior Leadership Team to see how it goes. Then you can learn from the experience before rolling it out more widely.

Wherever you start, be sure to understand the context properly, set the stage for everyone involved and don’t be afraid to refine as you go.

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