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What is an OKR?

Every business has dreams and the OKR framework ensures that you not only have clear goals, but you know how to get there.


OKR meaning

If you and your team are using set goals and to-do lists then you might want to know about OKRs. Developed by Andy Grove, ex-CEO of Intel, the OKR framework allows for goals to be set and then evaluated. OKR stands for “Objectives and Key Results,” i.e., your goal, and the results which serve as steps towards successfully meeting that goal. Your objective is what you want to achieve, and your key result is what you need to do in order to do so.

OKR history

Originally conceived by Grove, he based OKRs on the work of Peter Drucker, now thought of as a key founder of modern management techniques, who created “MBOs” or “Management by Objectives.” OKRs were popularized by venture capitalist John Doerr, also an Intel employee, who coined the term OKR after hearing Grove lecture on them.

After leaving Intel, Doerr introduced the OKR framework to a small start-up called Google, where it served as a vital tool for growing it into one of the world’s most successful companies. Many other hugely successful businesses have since adopted the OKR methodology. Doerr went on to author “Measure What Matters” in which he details the power of the framework.

What’s the difference between OKRs and MBOs?

While OKRs derive from MBOs, the following differences mean that OKRs can affect a team in a completely different way:

  • Check-ins of an OKR are quarterly, not yearly like an MBO
  • MBO goals are for each individual, not for an overall team like OKRs
  • OKRs are always measured in numbers, e.g., by dollar, by percent, etc. MBO scores can take on a variety of forms
  • MBOs directly impact compensation, OKRs do not

You’ve very likely experienced the MBO scenario in your workplace annual review and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Goals are set at the beginning of the year, shared only with yourself and your manager. You work hard to meet those goals, and depending on how well this is achieved, you receive some measure of compensation.

OKRs move the focus away from the individual and from goals adapted to a single person, and take a look at the broader team, planning project goals that create measurable results. In modern offices, MBOs can quickly seem dated, even demotivational. They might even negatively impact a company culture if you’ve always suggested that “the individual is only as strong as their team”—until bonus season, that is.

Continuing this team-orientated theme, OKRs use a top-down structure for cascading management that links the results of the most senior team members with that of the most junior.

What are some OKR examples?

John Doerr offers several examples of OKRs. For an example of top-down objectives he uses the scenario of a soccer team OKR.

Objective: Win the World Cup

  • Key Result 1: Average scored goals rate of 2.0 throughout the tournament
  • Key Result 2: Average conceded goals rate of 0.5 throughout the tournament
  • Key Result 3: Ball possession rate of 75%

With these goals set at the highest level, that means the OKRs of the offensive coach must reflect this in their own OKRs:

Objective: Generate 700-meters-per-game passing attack

  • Key Result 1: Pass completion rate of 85%
  • Key Result 2: Shots on target rate of 80%
  • Key Result 3: Penalty kick conversion rate of 100%

Of course, no one can go into a game, or any aspect of life, expecting 100% success, but the key here isn’t to be rigidly stuck to attaining these results, but in clearly knowing what results you need. Clarity on the team’s goal keeps everyone on track and mutually motivated. After all, not knowing what needs to be done, or being unclear on how to get there can lead to stress, procrastination, and a very unhappy team.

Interestingly, OKRs don’t have to be work-based. The framework is perfectly applicable to personal goals as well. Doerr uses the following:

Objective: Spend quality time with family

  • Key Result 1: Getting home for dinner by 6pm
  • Key Result 2: Turning off the internet to eliminate distractions

What are aspirational OKRs?

Not all OKRs are committed—that means goals you, your team, and your company have agreed to work towards. Some are aspirational, also known as “stretch goals” or “moonshots”—just like the phrase “shoot for the moon.” These goals aren’t meant to be rooted in reality in that you’re not meant to literally achieve it, but they are designed to really push you and your team.

As Larry Page, one of Google’s founders says, “if you set a crazy, ambitious goal and miss it, you’ll still achieve something remarkable.” Don’t set yourself up for failure. Instead, be willing to push your abilities—after all, easily achievable goals are usually likely to have minimal impact.

You can tackle the same concept, but have a committed OKR and an aspirational OKR, so the essential tasks are carried out, but you are always looking at the bigger picture:

Objective: Become a successful freelancer

  • Key Result 1: Research and set up a website by January
  • Key Result 2: Grow a customer base of at least 10 clients by May
  • Key Result 3: See a 10% increase in my current earnings by June

For an aspirational goal, you could alter this to:

Objective: Become #1 on Google rankings for “New York freelancer”

  • Key Result 1: Engage in keyword research and optimization
  • Key Result 2: Perfect SEO techniques and outreach
  • Key Result 3: Appear on the first page of Google by the end of the month

Starting from zero, it’s unlikely you’ll hit the front page in a matter of weeks even if you had a whole team of experts behind you, not least because Google doesn’t always work like that. But the idea here is that you know how to get there, regardless of whether it’s a realistic goal, so any steps you take towards it will result in new knowledge, greater understanding and the tools you need to bring that goal a little bit closer.

Teamwork makes the dream work

So, if you are about to adopt OKRs, you need to make sure your team members are just as committed as you. After all, OKRs should be seen as a company strategy, not as a time management tool for one member of the team alone. Dropbox Paper allows you to create to-do lists and run task management from a single document, accessible by the whole team. Everyone can stay on track with what the goal is, not just for the top level of management but all the way down, so that your objective is seen as a company-wide initiative and not a personal struggle.

Eliminate setbacks like lost files and revisions, Dropbox puts everything in one place, so there’s less admin, less distraction and less stress eating away at your motivation. Having the correct production tools and enabling seamless collaboration is vital to engaging your team and tackling a shared goal. Dropbox ensures no one is left behind.

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