I love winning.
It doesn’t matter what’s involved or what the prize is, I’ll do what I can to achieve my goal of clinching that ‘winner’ title.
When I was 6, my primary school held an egg and spoon race as part of its sports day activities. The prize was a yardstick of chocolate. Let’s just say that, by lunchtime, there were tears and tantrums elsewhere while my face was smeared with chocolate.
To this day, I’m still (perhaps unhealthily) incentivized by goals. Particularly in the workplace. I’m not alone in this though, as numerous studies show that goal-setting improves employee performance and engagement.
Do you relish winning, too?
And do you want the next quarter to be your team’s best quarter ever?
Then you need to know about OKRs (objectives and key results). It’s basically an adult version of the egg and spoon race.
That’s why, in this short, informative Process Street post, I’ll define OKRs, describe their business benefits, give advice on how to write solid OKRs, and also provide OKR examples from the likes of Google.
Just make your way through the following sections to learn all about OKRs:
- What is an OKR?
- The business benefits of the OKR methodology
- How to write inspiring, useful OKRs
- 3 OKR examples — including ones Google use
- Moving forward as an OKR-aligned team
Now, let’s make this quarter more than OK.
Let’s make it internally record-breaking, thanks to OKRs! 📈
What is an OKR?
“OKR” stands for objectives and key results. It’s a goal-setting method where individuals or teams set ambitious goals to be achieved within a certain time frame — usually a business quarter. Whether the concrete objective has been achieved or not is be measured by the key results.
For some, OKR, as an acronym and a goal-setting method, is completely new. But for others, it’s a tried-and-tested, successful system that’s been around for donkey’s years.
Back in 1975, John Doerr — an investor and venture capitalist who later became an appointed member of Barack Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board — worked as a salesperson at Intel. Andy Grove, who shortly after became Intel’s CEO, held an internal training session that Doerr attended. Grove went over “iMBOs”, which stood for Intel Management by Objectives. It was an early form of OKRs, where employee performance was assessed against the objectives set.
Fast forward a few years — 24, to be precise — and John Doerr found himself playing ping-pong with the founders of a small startup called Google (the venture capital firm Doerr was working for at the time was one of Google’s early investors). Doerr then gave a PowerPoint presentation on OKRs — a slightly adapted version of Grove’s iMBOs — to the likes of Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Susan Wojcicki, and Salar Kamangar.
Google’s founders loved the OKR approach, so they ran with it. And it’s safe to say that it didn’t harm them — in fact, it could be what led to them being the massive, known-around-the-world company they are today.
Larry Page, the co-founder of Google who was there during that initial ping-pong-slash-business-meeting, later said:
“OKRs have helped lead us to 10× growth, many times over. They’ve helped make our crazily bold mission of ‘organizing the world’s information’ perhaps even achievable. They’ve kept me and the rest of the company on time and on track when it mattered the most.” – Larry Page, Measure What Matters
That’s quite a testimonial.
Seeing as Adobe, Amazon, LinkedIn, Spotify, Twitter, and Zynga all use the OKR approach too, there must be something that it does right… right?
The business benefits of the OKR methodology
According to Doerr, there are 5 prime OKR benefits that, together, spell out the acronym “F.A.C.T.S.”
While it’s Doerr, the godfather of OKRs, proclaiming these benefits, I’d say that it’s completely right to do so. We use OKRs internally at Process Street (more on that a little later), and I can vouch for Doerr’s 5 prime OKR benefits. Don’t worry, Doerr. I’ve got your back.
So, let’s take an in-depth look at them:
- Focus. 👁
- Alignment. 🧠
- Commitment. 🔒
- Tracking. 🔍
- Stretching. ⚡️
First off is focus. In the contemporary world of business, it’s easy (read: incredibly easy) for things to be unfocused. One thing needs to be done, then another and, oh — don’t forget that other thing, too! But by establishing concrete objectives with OKRs, everyone involved will have a clear focus, a clear goal, and a clear target.
With focus, alignment happens. From the VP to the intern, all team members will prioritize certain tasks, actions, and processes to ensure that the objectives are met. Everything else that’s not related to achieving the objectives can be put on the back burner or forgotten about completely. It’s meeting the OKR that’s important.
Then there’s commitment. Commitment is doing everything within your own power to ensure the objectives are met. It’s ensuring enough resources are put into achieving that goal; it’s adjusting daily schedules appropriately; it’s reprioritizing pivotal tasks over not-so-important tasks; it’s hustling. And there’s no better way of getting employees truly committed to a goal and showing that hustle than with OKRs.
By setting OKRs, teams track essential data and metrics in a way they’ve never done before. You know how when you’re expecting a significant email to arrive, and you’re refreshing the page over and over? The same thing happens when you’ve got a team working towards OKRs. You really, really want to meet that goal, and you’ll be tempted to check progress via key results every hour. Suffice to say, your prowess at tracking where your team’s at will go up a notch.
Don’t worry, we’re not talking about physically stretching here; we’re talking about stretching what we thought was possible. OKRs are made to be ambitious, pushing teams to their limits (in a healthy way!) and discovering people’s true potential in the process. After all, it’s by constantly stretching ourselves that we’re able to do better, be better, and ultimately achieve more.
They’re the 5 prime OKR benefits according to Doerr. (And me.)
However, I’d go as far as saying that there are plenty more benefits where those came from, like increased productivity, enhanced team unity, greater accountability, and boosted engagement.
Considering that the OKR method is fairly simple in nature — you have an objective, then you define a handful of key results — it seems the sheer number of business benefits that can be reaped is too good to be true.
But it’s no witchcraft. It’s a testament to how great the OKR method is for teams.
How to write inspiring, useful OKRs
You understand what OKRs and the truck-load of benefits they bring. Now it’s time to understand how to write stellar and practical OKRs yourself.
Writing OKRs guideline #1: Use the OKR formula
You don’t need an advanced maths degree to use the OKR formula. It’s as easy as P̶i̶ pie.
This is the super simple formula in question:
I will [objective] as measured by [key results].
The objective is the ambitious, concrete goal you’re setting yourself. For the Process Street marketing team’s ’20 Q4 OKR, we decided our objective would be to grow organic free trials. It’s direct, to-the-point, and something that’s doable, but also required hustle to beat previous targets — which is everything an OKR objective should be.
The key results are the measurable milestones that can be used to assess whether the objective was achieved or not. So, for our organic free trial growth Q4 objective, the key results were to publish and polish 30 landing pages, and rank 20 of these landing pages on Google’s front page for its core keyword.
You’ll want to have 2-5 key results per objective. The reason why you don’t want to go above 5 key results is that you want the key results to be super focused. Adding more than necessary is only overloading and complicating matters. And OKR isn’t about complication. It’s about focus and clarity.
Speaking of which…
Writing OKRs guideline #2: Ensure the objective isn’t vague
With our ’20 Q4 objective to grow organic free trials, we clearly stated what, exactly, our goal was — for users to click on our content, and then have the content persuade them to click on the free trial signup button.
However, we could’ve easily slipped into vagueness with our objective.
“Achieve organic growth” would’ve been too vague, too hazy. “Achieve growth” would’ve been even worse. And “Grow” would’ve put the nail in the coffin.
When writing your OKRs, make sure it’s clear what the goal is. If you have to explain what the objective is after it’s been written, it probably isn’t a very good OKR objective.
Writing OKRs guideline #3: Shoot high, but don’t be unrealistic
To go back to the Process Street example for the third and final time, growing organic free trials was going to take some effort to beat our previous records, especially as we weren’t running any marketing promotions with the likes of AppSumo, who we’ve worked and written for before. But we also knew that it was possible. We’d just have to hustle a little harder than usual, which meant we needed to create landing pages and get them ranking to exceed the organic free trial numbers of earlier years.
The point I’m making here is the objective was achievable. It wasn’t a far-flung hope that would never materialize. We could do it.
Your OKR objectives need to be achievable while still being ambitious, too. Otherwise, there’s going to be a whole lot of disappointment when time is up. Plus, you’ll be working employees into the ground, chasing something that has no chance of happening.
Writing OKRs guideline #4: Keep key results specific
Just as you don’t want the objective to be vague, you don’t want the key results to be vague, either. Especially seeing as the key results need to be measurable.
Let’s say you have an objective of increasing MRR by 5% in Q1. The key results, then, should be something like “reduce churn by 5%”, or “increase the number of subscribers on the Enterprise plan by X amount”. The numbers and percentages here are crucial. Where possible, do similar.
Writing OKRs guideline #5: Make sure the objective is motivational!
OKRs are something of a secret weapon when it comes to team engagement and productivity. But that’s only if the overall objective is one that is motivational and rallies people.
If the above steps have been followed, the objective should be inherently motivational. It’s achievable but ambitious, clear, and requires all-hands-on-deck. But if it’s clear from the get-go that the objective can’t be met, there’s nothing more demoralizing.
To see all the above steps being put into action, let’s take a look at some examples, shall we?
3 OKR examples — including ones Google use
While the OKR methodology isn’t confusing by any means, it’s always a good shout to take a look at some examples of something before you try your own hand at it. After all, it gives you a sense of what the final product should look like!
That’s why, below, there are three solid OKR examples covering different departments.
OKR examples: OKRs for Google’s North Europe sales team
Starting us off is an example from the bigwigs themselves, Google.
The bad news, though, was that most sales staff weren’t trusting machine-generated opportunities as much as Google would’ve liked.
So, to change this behavior — and to bolster crucial sales figures in the process — an OKR was set. The objective was to get the sales teams to adopt machine-recommended opportunities as part of their core operating model. The key result was increasing the review rate of the machine-recommended opportunities from X to Y.
What makes this OKR particularly interesting is that it’s people-focused; it’s about changing human behavior. Considering the team size, it wouldn’t make sense for the OKR to have a timeframe of one quarter — that’d be far too short for so many people. That’s why it was a two-year OKR.
Luckily, those two years weren’t wasted, as Sameer Rane says:
“By setting and tracking this OKR over a 24m+ period, the sales leadership was able to drive a sustainable behavior change among the sales teams to the extent that the machine-recommended opportunities now form an integral component of the sales pipeline. The strongest proof point for this change is the fact that this operating model has become an integral component of the behavior of the sales teams and we don’t need to set a specific OKR for it.
The largest business benefit from this change has been that the sales teams can focus now on driving higher-value deals by relying on machine learning to identify scalable opportunities.” – Sameer Rane, How Google Uses Sales OKRs to Drive Sustainable Results
OKR examples: Piktochart’s OKRs for marketing teams
Keeping with the Google theme, let’s take a look at an example from Agata Krzysztofik. Agata was an ex-Google account strategist on the ads team, but has since transitioned to the Piktochart team.
Agata has extensive experience with writing OKRs, as Google asks fresh employees to write individual OKRs during their first month — individual OKRs that everybody else in the company can see.
While this example is technically made up, it’s a solid illustration of how to write a good team OKR. And this time, it’s for a marketing use case.
The objective is to increase the number of marketing-qualified leads (MQLs) by 2x quarter-over-quarter. The key results are to generate 500 MQLs from 4 webinars delivered by the end of Q4, launch exit-intent popups on the home page and pricing page for first-time visitors who look like they’re about to leave the site, and have 2 lead generation inbound campaigns launched by mid-Q4.
This is an ambitious but completely doable OKR for a marketing team. You could’ve done something similar in the past, even. But now that you know about OKRs, you can up the ante and push your team to new, dizzying heights!
OKR examples: Upraise’s OKRs for customer success teams
The team behind Upraise, a suite of people management apps for Jira, gathered hundreds of real-world OKR examples. But departments like marketing and sales shouldn’t have all the fun — customer success should do, too!
Here’s an OKR example that any customer success team can immediately use. It’s simple, to-the-point, and easy to get started with.
The objective is to improve the support team’s performance. The key results are to have 2 training sessions conducted per quarter to optimize performance, and have 95% of the team maintaining a personal score/rating of more than 8/10.
There you have it.
A small handful of OKR examples from those in the know. Now that you’ve read through them all, you should have all the information you need to write stellar OKRs for your team!
Moving forward as an OKR-aligned team
Not to mention increased productivity, unity, accountability, and engagement.
By making it this far through my post, you’ll secure all the above benefits when you write and achieve your OKRs.
My final tip before closing out is to make sure to celebrate once OKRs have been met. Give your team a budget to dine out, surprise them with a little time off, or buy them something useful — a subscription to HBR, or perhaps an extra monitor for when they’re working from home. Meeting an ambitious OKR is a cause for celebration, and it’s a chance to recognize success before setting the next OKR. 🎉
Here’s to you, your team, and your business being winners.
Does your team use OKRs? If so, what’s been your experience? Do you have any additional OKR tips and tricks for the Process Street community? Write down your thoughts in the comment section below. 👇