Simple way to set goals that makes difference – OKRs

There are many frameworks to set goals, and I decided to learn about most of them and try them out in private and personal life. In this series of articles I will write about the most popular goal setting frameworks as a basic overview, their positive and negative sides and with emphasis on practicality and universal use. I will test them out in the wild and see what would be the experience with them. There are many frameworks, like OKRs, SMART, HARD, CLEAR, WOOP, SWOT, PEST, SOAR, Hoshin Kanri, OGSM, Balanced scorecard, NCTs, Scaling Up, BHAG, CFRS and I will pick which sounds to me the best according to the mentioned attributes. 

I think most people (at least in corporate jobs) already had some contact with goal settings. Yearly/quarterly goal setting is usually the one of the must-be activities. Often it is just a formality, but I invite to you use goal setting to your advantage. Why are goals a good idea?:

    • Transparency – you will know where you are and what you need to and if you are getting where you want to be
    • Alignment – everyone pushes in the same direction in a team, others can understand your motivation and help you
    • Focus – you can be more mindful and understand what is most important for you, your team or the organization
    • Accountability – you can show your results and be accountable before you, your team or organization
    • Empowerment – you can get the support you need if others understand what we want
    • Engagement – you or your team members can be engaged by the with purpose which are expressed in the goals
    • Commitment – if you formulated, agreed and understand what you want, there is a higher chance you and your team members will be motivated to strive for the goals

Be very careful to revisit the goals regularly. I’ve seen too many “set it and forget it” goals. It was effort that was almost totally in vain. 

Adaptive goal setting – don’t over plan

One of the basic facts of life is that circumstances are always changing, and you need to be agile enough to react. To be agile you don’t plan too much ahead as the situation can change rapidly, and then you did all your planning (almost) in vain. In personal life and also in professional setting, the situation you are in can change from day to day. That’s why you don’t do a detailed plan too long in to the future, but you try to balance out the planning to have it just in time. One of the basic principles of Lean is that you try to defer decisions as late as possible. Why? As mentioned, the situation can change: a new opportunity can come, your priorities can change, crisis hits in etc… To avoid premature planning, you can plan in iterations, keeping before your eyes your priorities and a vision. You need to find out what is the ideal time interval to plan ahead. The planning and executing phases can alternate. In ideal case, you invest just enough time to have a good enough plan. A great example we have in the PMP materials: 

Ergo don’t put too much in to planning efforts otherwise the efforts can be in vain. Search for balance, so your plans are barely enough. I can’t tell you how often I found myself in the situation when after some change the whole planning effort went down the river. The collary risk of doing too much planning up front shows it really nicely: 

Now, let me start with the one of the most widely known goal framework the OKRs. 

Objectives and Key results

OKRs is a goal-setting framework used by organizations and individuals to align their efforts and measure progress towards specific and measurable outcomes. It is used today by giants like Google, Amazon, Netflix and other. John Doerr popularized this approach and introduced it at Google in 1999 as an alternative to traditional management practices. There was no goal framework in place when John joined Google, so he proposed OKRs and it was accepted. OKRs became a part of the culture of Google to this day. John Doer wrote a book where he describes his journey and the practical use of OKRs: “Measure What Matters”.

The framework is really easy to understand, but it takes time to master. Typically, it consists of two parts: Objectives and, Key Results, hence the name OKR:

  • Objective – The objectives are pointing toward a general heading for the future. They are high level goals which an individual, team or organization want to achieve. You ask: Where do I/we want to be at the end of the year/quarter/month? What do we want to achieve long term?
  • Key Result – Is a measure of progress that proves progress toward a specific objective. You ask: How will we measure progress? (traction)

There are various ways how to put down OKRs, but this is a standard formula:  I/we will _______ (Objective), as measured by _______ (Key Results). You can see the clear connection between an objective and a key result. Each objective needs to have a key result, so you can know if you are heading to a right direction. Some sources also mention Projects or Initiatives, which describes specific work that needs to be done to achieve the key result. 



Objectives express your intent, ambition, and aspiration. The objective must be heart-felt something that evokes emotion. This requires introspection and thought. You can use the 5Ws and ask 5 times why do you really want to achieve this goal. It has to express where you or your team really want to get.
They should be aspirational, describing the ideal future. If, so it can inspire and motivate you, your team or your organisation. This can give the sense of meaning and purpose for you, the team or the whole organisation. You should aim for not more than 5 goals. I would rather choose a smaller timer period for the goal not to have more then 5. If there are more it can be messy and confusing and the aim is to have clarity. The best, would be to start with 3 goals and 1 Key result per goal:
Objective 1
Key result 1
Objective 2
Key result 2
Objective 3
Key result 3

Key Results

When you have your objectives you can start to think what would be the key results. They should be as evidence that shows if you managed to reach the objective or not. Very important is that they should be measurable. There should be no doubt if you reached them. With measureable KRs you can know and communicate how successful are you on your journey. Ideally, they are numeric. Naturally aim to measure outputs, not outcomes! Sometimes KRs are misinterpreted and they are understood as a milestone toward the goal. They are not that, they are the most important metric that shows if you reached your objective. KRs are not a to-do list. Under a KR can be Initiatives, Projects etc… that would be the to-do list. This is for me probably the most difficult part. Really not to think about what to do, but what would be the evidence that shows that you met the goal.

As John Doer says, “Measure what matters!”. Aim on the paretos 20% that make the goal come to reality. You don’t need to have 15 KRs per goal, but just few that really shows your success of making the goal come to reality. In other words not all KRs have the same influence on that if you really achieve your goals, some have higher impact, some lower. Use here the Pareto Principle 80/20 and aim for the “crucial minority”. The Pareto Principle states that 80% of consequences come from 20% of the causes. As the saying goes: “Don’t count peanuts!”

Looking back and scoring

At the end of a given period, you should look back and evaluate if you are meeting the goals and to what measure. I’ve seen to many times the “Set it and forget it.”. If you do so, nobody will take you seriously.
You should have hard data to support the evaluation on which the KRs should be based. For this you can use a numeric style, say 0 is nothing was achieved and 1 is everything achieved (or just use 0%-100%). In some cases it is not always possible to have a numeric representation. Sometimes it’s also not needed for this case you can simplify and use traffic light approach: green-yellow-red. You could go even simpler to a simple “yes” or “no” approach. Did you meet it? Or did you not? Have we released the MVP/MMP or not? Usually a more detailed approach is preferred, but I can imagine that in case there are more granular and simple goals, it could work.
The general advice is, that the best is to set 60% – 70% as a realistic goal, the rest is a stretch. If you consistently reach 100% of your goals, then they are not challenging enough. Goals should motivate you and your team to stretch. A 100% score should be really a victory. Success shouldn’t be given. As the general advice regarding goals says “red is beautiful”. Setting too low goals would not benefit you or your organization. 

Types of OKRs

There many types of OKRs, but let me mention 2 basic groups and one special:

  • grouped by reach/aspiration
    • moonshots
    • roofshots
  • grouped by level
    • personal
    • team
    • organisational/strategic
  • Special: learning OKRs

By reach

OKRs can be various based on your situation. It can be an aim for the moon or just the roof.

Moonshots or aspirational OKRs. You could have missed the original plan, but maybe you gone far ahead of what you would if you had planned for a conservative goal. Let’s say I’ve planned to read 50 books, but I managed to read just 40, but it’s still more if I would planned just for 25. In other words, they are flexible or stretch goals, they force you to think bigger and be free from the usual rails of thinking what is normal. Aspirational goals can give you engagement, challenge and thus, motivation.

Roofshots or also called committed goals are goals that you really need to fulfill. Roofshots are what you could attain, and success would mean you reached 100%.

I’m trying to combine both types, so we can feel some motivation when we fulfill an objective and at the same time be challenged to achieve more by another goal. 

By organisational level