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A 5-Minute OKR Makeover

As a global OKRs coach with over twenty years in the strategy execution trenches, I’ve now reviewed thousands of goals, OKRs, Scorecard measures, KPIs, WIGs, and many other execution-related acronyms. What I’ve learned, at the risk of stating the obvious, is that for many people goal setting is not a skill that comes naturally. Most people, after initial attempts at creating an OKR, recognize this deficiency in a hurry. In fact, the most frequent comment we hear from practitioners of OKRs around the globe is, “This isn’t as easy as it seems!” True, it’s not easy, but it’s not impossible either. Outlined below are three tips that will quickly transform the effectiveness of any OKR.

First, ensure you’ve included business impact as part of your objective. At our firm, OKRsTraining.com we strongly encourage (emphasis on strongly) clients to use a simple formula when creating an objective: What you want to do + why you want to do it (the intended business impact). That second portion is vital to a useful objective because it clearly demonstrates to everyone the overall impact you’re striving for, thereby enhancing transparency. It also helps with the creation of key results, because once you identify the business impact of the objective you then have to measure its successful achievement.

Second, be specific — especially with your Key Results. The research on goal setting is clear on this point — the more specific you make a goal (and a key result is a form of goal) the more likely you are to achieve it. Why? Because when you’re specific you know exactly what success looks like and are able to direct your actions to drive a winning outcome. When, in contrast, you fill your key results with vague and nebulous language, it’s often unclear what victory looks like, and you’re unsure as to where to begin. I could fill pages with words to avoid, but here’s a phrase I’m particularly allergic to when it comes to key results: Work with. As in “Work with… fill in some group… then fill in some vague project or issue.” Work with is the antithesis of a declarative statement. Don’t settle for sloppy language — be specific!

Third, remember the “Key” in Key Result. For the vast majority of objectives, a decent rule of thumb is that you should be able to tell the story of your success in three to five key results. If you list eight, ten, or more key results you’ve taken an abrupt wrong turn into “Taskville.” In that scenario, chances are you’ve noted every conceivable action, milestone, or activity necessary to achieve the objective. There is a place for tasks in the OKR world (I’ll save that for a separate post), but when creating Key Results, focus on those that quantitatively demonstrate the achievement of the objective. If it doesn’t have a number you have to critically determine whether it is in fact a “Key” result.

As you’re working through your performance management practices for the remainder of 2021, consider the above tips to get the most out of your OKR strategy.