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February 16, 2016

OKRs: Good Enough for Google, Good Enough for You

Nick Bandy

Article Cliff Notes

Goals + Metrics = OKRs

OKRs start at a company level and are supported by individual objectives.

OKRs aren’t a to-do list. Put some thought into them.

OKR stands for Objective and Key Result.

And don’t worry, they aren’t as boring as they sound.

In practice, OKRs are one of the most efficient and effective ways to actually accomplish company goals instead of just trying to accomplish them.

Goals, Simplified

The problem with setting goals is that we feel good just by setting them.

Yeah, we’d feel even better if we could actually hit those goals, but often the planning stage takes up so much of our energy that shit just doesn’t get done.

The other problem with goal-setting—especially in business—is that our goals tend to be either too lofty or too damn easy.

Yet another issue (there are a lot of problems) is that the act of writing down milestones usually doesn’t include a plan for achieving those milestones, leaving us spinning our tires as the month comes to a close and we still have a dozen major projects sitting on the back burner.

OKRs solve all of those problems. Well, in theory. You have to put in some elbow grease, too.

OKRs were created by Intel, and later found their way into Google’s repertoire. Today, tons of major companies use them. We use them.

And so should you.

ABCs of OKRs

At its core, an OKR is an objective meant to be achieved over a specific period of time, almost always by a company or team.

An OKR is not “remember to buy milk today.” That’s a to-do, and you’re going to forget to buy that milk just like you’re going to forget to update your content plan or check your analytics later.

OKRs start with a clear vision of future success (the objective), and include ways to measure that success (the key results).

Goals are pure fantasy unless you have a specific plan to achieve them.

— Stephen Covey

Ah, that’s the kicker. We have to measure our success, and we do that by putting a number on it.

Consider the goal “Prospect for new leads.” Without a number attached to it, we could find “success” by reaching out to 5 people.

Or even 1 person. Done. We prospected.

Is that good enough? Consider the goal “Prospect for 30 new leads, because that’s what I need to keep my business growing.”

Now we’re getting somewhere. All of a sudden doing something isn’t good enough anymore—but doing a certain amount of something is exactly what the doctor ordered.

So what does an OKR actually look like?

Example OKRs

Suppose we’re a marketing company and we want to set OKRs this quarter. Our goals probably include making more money for one of our clients (and ourselves), getting more organized, maybe expanding our social media presence. Therefore, we’d have something like…

Objective: Increase Conversion Rate for X Client

  • Decrease bounce rate by 25%
  • Increase time spent on site by 5 minutes
  • Increase email clickthrough rate by 20%

Objective: Get More Organized

  • Implement project management software and have all employees onboard
  • Move 100% of paper documents online

Objective: Expand Our Social Media Presence

  • Gain 1000 new Twitter followers
  • Average 100 likes on every Facebook share

And these OKRs would have a time limit in place, typically a business quarter.

You probably already have objectives in mind. They’re the thoughts floating around in your head every time you think of ways to make your company grow.

The key results are the hard part—you need to dig deep and think of your key results ahead of time, otherwise you meet your objectives haphazardly and aimlessly, which almost always means you could have done better.

Goals allow you to control the direction of change in your favor.

— Brian Tracy

In short, it’s essential to measure your success based on how well and how often you meet your OKRs, not on intangible generalizations.

Also, bear this in mind:

You aren’t always going to reach your key results.

In fact, Google strives for a completion rate of about 70% for their OKRs.

The reason is simple—always meeting your objectives means your goals are too easy and not having a profound effect on your company’s growth.

Meanwhile, never hitting your goals is demoralizing and defeats the purpose of setting them.

OKRs for Everyone!

The real magic happens when you take those company OKRs and break them down to team and individual levels. Each and every person in your business has to contribute their own personal OKRs, which hopefully align with your company objectives.

OKRs make goal-setting and organization incredibly easy across all levels of your business—each person has a clear idea of exactly what they can do to achieve success each quarter, rather than depending on vague definitions passed down from the top in a game of telephone.

Keep your company and individual OKRs simple but very, very specific. Make sure they’re actually measurable, and make sure they’re designed so that everyone from the top to the bottom of your company has a role to play. Make sure your goals are difficult but achievable.

And above all else, don’t treat OKRs as something you just jot down and forget like a to-do list. If you decide to implement OKRs in your business, you have to actually do them—make an effort to set relevant goals and work your ass off to succeed.

Be like Google, not your to-don’t list.

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