How to Write OKRs: A Guide to Effective OKR Structuring

Learn how to optimize Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), so that you can emphasize a collaborative and inclusive approach to setting and achieving team goals.
Charlotte Barber, BCs, PGC, BABCP®

  • OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) are a goal-setting framework that helps teams and organizations define and achieve clear, measurable outcomes.

  • OKRs consist of ambitious objectives backed by two to four measurable key results, aiming to provide direction, set priorities, and enhance transparency.

  • Effective OKR writing involves crafting motivational and memorable objectives, quantifiable key results, and avoiding common pitfalls such as excessive prioritization, vague wording, or setting overly ambitious targets, to foster organizational success and clarity.

OKRs are a collective goal-setting tool that empowers teams and organizations to achieve their objectives. How? By seeing clear, definable, and measurable outcomes. If you don’t know, the acronym stands for Objectives and Key Results. The concept sprang from the mind of Andy Grove at Intel and has since grown in popularity thanks to companies like Google.  

The OKR framework is extremely versatile, allowing it to be universally adopted across various teams within a company. In this way, it can actually help organizations set a cohesive standard for their teams.  

The problem is that OKRs are only as effective as the person writing them. In fact, the quality of your OKRs directly influences your long-term goal attainment. So, in order to set you up for success, we’re going to discuss some methods for writing effective OKRs, even if you’ve never done it before. 

What Makes for a Good OKR?

Effective OKRs offer a roadmap to success. They not only provide you with a reliable sense of direction, but they also set priorities and help clarify the roles of the participants. More importantly, they maximize transparency by ensuring everyone knows what everyone else is working on.  

Properly structured OKRs pave a clear path to their realization, instilling confidence in both the journey and the destination. Conversely, poorly articulated OKRs can negate your efforts, leading to wasted time on unimportant activities.

A Note on OKR Structure

An effective OKR structure consists of a clearly defined, ambitious objective aimed directly at a specific goal. This objective should then be backed up by between two and four measurable key results. This structure fosters a sense of purpose and ensures a focused team effort toward the objective.

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Writing Objectives

Objectives should be motivational, memorable, and qualitative in nature. They represent your goals, which means they should properly articulate your vision and ambition. When formulating objectives, consider their emotional impact. Remember, the ideal objective is one that rallies the team with a united sense of purpose.

Generally, objectives are set monthly or quarterly, with a recommendation of one to three per team. You by no means have to stick by this rule of thumb. However, you should take care not to overload a team’s priorities. Of course, you’ll also want to keep it short, sweet, and effective.  

The OKR Formula:  

We will (objective) as measured by (key results)

Objectives need to be... 
  •     Memorable  
  •     Clearly Defined
  •     Motivational  
  •     Ambitious

Writing Key Results 

Key results are quantitative markers for tracking progress toward an objective. When establishing key results within OKRs, define them using concrete metrics. Many teams find it effective to use numbers, as this makes it much easier to track their progress toward the goal.  

Key results should emphasize the desired outcome rather than the process. This allows for some degree of flexibility in how it is achieved.  

While the suggested number of key results per objective ranges, you can your own OKRs according to your specific needs. Remember, it's a learning process!

The OKR Formula:  

We will (objective) as measured by (key results)

Key Results need to be... 

  •     Quantifiable  
  •     Concrete  
  •     Outcome-focused

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Common OKR Mistakes to Avoid

Speaking of a learning process, it’s perfectly normal to make mistakes when you first start working with OKRs. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know how to avoid them and (most importantly) not repeat them.
Here are some common mistakes people often make when writing OKRs:

  • Excessive Prioritization: Burdening your team with too many goals can create uncertainty and obscure the main focus areas.

  • Overzealous Targets: Establishing overly challenging or unrealistic goals can result in team disillusionment, frustration, and potential burnout.

  • Emphasizing Tasks Over Results: Concentrating more on completing tasks rather than achieving outcomes can foster a box-ticking mindset instead of promoting genuine advancement.

  • Vague Wording: Employing unclear or indistinct language in your OKRs can cause confusion and misalignment within the team.

  • Insufficient Challenge: Conversely, setting goals that are too easily attainable might lead to a sense of complacency and hinder significant progress.

  • Inflexible Objectives: Failing to allow your OKRs the flexibility to evolve with changing scenarios can result in your team pursuing goals that are no longer relevant or effective.

Steering clear of these errors can enhance the effectiveness of your OKRs. Remember, good OKRs go beyond what the teams achieve – they can affect the entire organization! 

Follow These Five Steps to Optimize Your OKRs 

Crafting OKRs ought to be a collective endeavour involving the entire team. Our guide aims to equip you and your team with the essentials for formulating impactful OKRs, allowing you to maximize both clarity and success.  

This process involves five key stages:  

Step 1: First, Discuss Your Goal  

Begin your OKR journey by gathering your team and discussing the top three objectives for the upcoming quarter. For instance, you might ask, "What are our main targets for the next three months?" After that, you need to collectively delve into the reasons behind these goals. Asking as many questions as possible helps the team better understand each objective's purpose. In practice, this can foster a more profound commitment to the OKRs.

Take an objective like "Launch a new Android Application. It's a solid goal, yet it lacks emotional resonance. By asking, "Why is this significant?" you might uncover the deeper reasons behind the goal. This could reshape the objective to something more compelling, like "Revitalize customer engagement with a top-tier Android App.”  

Step 2: Draft and Circulate Goals

After initially formulating your OKRs, circulate a draft among your team for early feedback. This process is often more productive than starting from scratch. Encourage your team to offer variations or improvements to these draft objectives, as this both promotes their involvement and helps to integrate their perspectives into the process.  

Step 3: Have a Team Brainstorm Session  

Involve your team in determining key results. Hosting a brainstorming session not only provokes a sense of ownership but also encourages accountability and investment in the OKRs they help create.

Step 4: Collaboratively Discuss Key Results

Use tools like sticky notes or a virtual whiteboard for each objective's key results for a collaborative session. Team members should propose and discuss various metrics, fine-tuning them to the appropriate level of challenge for the team.

Step 5: Adopt a Bottom-Up Approach for OKRs

Resist the urge to impose OKRs in a top-down manner. This can stifle creativity and reduce productive risk-taking. Instead, opt for a bottom-up approach where teams at all levels develop their own OKRs, which are then aligned with the company's broader vision. That said, it’s acceptable for some OKRs not to perfectly align with company-wide objectives, as this can encourage diverse perspectives and innovation.

Ultimately, you want to create an OKR writing process where teams feel empowered to create their OKRs and then challenge teams across the business to ensure they’re focused on the right priorities at the right time. This process encourages creative thinking and informed risk-taking, pushing your business forward.
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Objective & Key Results F.A.Q.

What are OKRs?

OKRs stand for Objectives and Key Results, a framework used by teams and organizations to set and achieve goals through clear, measurable outcomes. It's designed to provide direction, set priorities, and maximize transparency within teams.

Who created the OKR framework?

The OKR framework was developed by Andy Grove at Intel and later gained popularity through its adoption by companies like Google.

What makes a good OKR?

A good OKR consists of a clear, ambitious objective that is qualitative and motivational, coupled with two to four measurable key results that provide a roadmap to achieving the objective.

How should objectives be written in OKRs?

Objectives in OKRs should be motivational, memorable, clearly defined, and ambitious. They should articulate the team's vision and ambition, aiming to rally the team around a united sense of purpose.

What are key results and how should they be written?

Key results are quantitative markers that track progress toward an objective. They should be quantifiable, concrete, and outcome-focused, defined using concrete metrics to track progress effectively.

What common mistakes should be avoided when writing OKRs?

Common mistakes include excessive prioritization, setting overly ambitious or unrealistic goals, focusing on tasks over results, using vague wording, setting easily attainable goals, and failing to allow flexibility for objectives to evolve.

How can you optimize the OKR writing process?

Optimizing the OKR writing process involves a collective effort that includes discussing goals, drafting and circulating goals for feedback, brainstorming sessions for key results, discussing key results collaboratively, and adopting a bottom-up approach in setting OKRs to foster creativity and alignment with the company’s broader vision.

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