Objective and Key Results

How to Define Your Objectives in OKR

04 Feb, 2019

How to Define Your Objectives in OKR

Improve Your Leadership Skills by Using OKR.

If you're not assessing, then you're guessing. That's why OKR is such a valuable tool. Here's how to define your objectives in OKR (plus some examples).

One of the keys to making progress is to know where you want to go. You need a clear vision of what you want to accomplish and the steps you'll take along the way.
You need to set clear goals. OKR is a powerful tool that allows you to set clear directives for your business. If you want to take your business to the next level, read on to learn more about defining OKR objectives.


The Value Of Objectives

There are similar goals for every business. Everyone wants to be the best at customer service and deliver profits to shareholders. These goals sound great in meetings until someone delves deeper into them.


How do you define great customer service? What metrics do you plan to use? Do you use customer surveys, and if so, how do you weigh low scores against bad?


Make your objective specific so that you can figure out how you'll reach it and when you've done it. Be transparent about your goals so that your team can keep track of what's going on. Let's look at some things that will help you set your objectives.


The Characteristics Of An OKR Objective

There are three primary characteristics that your objectives should have when using OKR. First, they should inspire. You want your objectives to inspire your team so that they are more likely to follow through with their work. You want your employees ready to go on Monday so that they can meet the objective.


Second, you want a goal that's actionable. Make sure to set goals that a team can reach within the amount of time given. Impossible goals lower morale. This brings us to the third, and perhaps most important, characteristic. You need to set an aggressive objective. Setting an objective that's easy to achieve leads to boredom and causes employees to put off their work. You're also not going to accomplish much with easy objectives.


Your company is like a set of muscles. You can either use them for menial tasks and watch them weaken or you can push them and see them grow. The best way to develop your team is through aggressive goal setting, evaluation, and accountability.


It's important to remember that aggressive and impossible are two different things, though. You don't want to set goals that are impossible to reach because the failure will lower the morale of your team.


Set goals that are reachable but that's going to force your team to push themselves harder. If they fall short, they've still made it farther than they would have if the goal was weak.

Setting Goals That Aren't Within Reach

There are some goals that you'll want to reach for that aren't within reach right now. These are long-term common objectives that every company has.


While you don't want employees bogged down with impossible standards, you want to push them. The best way to do so is with transparency. Tell them what your long-term goals are, even if they aren't quite reachable right now.


Explain to them that the goals you're setting now will help you reach those goals, but that they'll have to push themselves. Use an example that everyone knows, like the challenge by President Kennedy to get America to the moon.


When President Kennedy announced that NASA would make it to the moon on May 25th, 1961, many observers scoffed at the idea. They called him an idealistic young man with no understanding of science. Many of his critics openly laughed at his brazen attitude.


President Kennedy had a plan though. He knew that at that point, they couldn't make it. He knew that NASA didn't have the means or technology to get to the moon then. He also knew that by working on mini-goals with an ultimate mission, they could do it.


Nasa began their mission by assessing where they were and the problems that would get in their way. They then developed their plans and set objectives to get rid of those problems.


If the goal was "get to the moon" it wouldn't have happened by the end of the decade. Three things made the goal happen. First, the transparency of the goal and how specific it was. Second, the ability to see problems and develop objectives based on the grand plan to get there guided Nasa. The bravery of the first people to go into space also played a major role in meeting Kennedy's goal.


The same applies to your team. Set out of reach goals with the caveat that goals within reach will help your team get where they want to be.


How Ambitious Should You Be?

Everyone talks about ambition when discussion OKR, and for good reason.

Without ambition, you can't set the types of objectives that will push your team to great things. You won't follow through on your objectives when things get tough, and you won't push through failure when it happens (and it will).


However, when it comes to setting objectives, it's important to remember that ambition is not words on a page. Setting ambitious goals and being ambitious are two different things. What's the point of setting ambitious goals if you don't have the ambition to do the work?


OKR will give you a clear path towards reaching your goals, but you have to put in the work. The difference between ambitious goals and having ambition leads to a natural question though. How do you measure ambition? How can you tell if you and your team have the drive to push through and reach your objectives?


An ambitious employee will always look for more to do. Instead of finishing up their work and coasting for the rest of the day, they'll ask you where you need them. Their goal is to make your job easier, whether you ask them too or not.


To set effective objectives that push your team, you need ambitious people. These employees will work towards reaching key results and your objectives. They'll always ask "why can't we aim a little higher?"


Make sure you involve them in your objective setting process.


How Many Objectives Should You Set?

The question relies on many different factors. How big is your company? Are you an older company or well established? Do you have the time to track progress or do you have others you trust to do it?


For a larger company with multiple departments, it's best to set a goal for each. Your marketing department, sales, HR, and others should all work towards a goal.


You could use OKR to set a company-wide objective and then apply goals to each dept. that will help you reach it. For example, if your company's goal is to increase sales by 10%, tell the sales dept. how many more sales you'll need.


Talk to HR and ask them to come up with a training program for new employees that will help increase their productivity. Your marketing department can work towards expanding your social media outreach or developing a PPC strategy to help you reach your larger goal.  


You need to set goals that you and your team can measure. You have to define the terms of success at the outset so that your team knows what it's working towards. To do this, you'll use key results, an essential aspect of setting objectives.


Key Results

Key results (the KR in OKR) are what companies use to gauge the success of their goal. These vary depending on the company, their goals, and the industry they do business in.


You might have seen the customer surveys at the bottom of your Walgreens receipt. These surveys are one of the companies key results. They want to achieve a certain score to show stockholders how successful they are at keeping customers happy. With the amount of competition they face, repeat customers are an essential part of their success. These surveys let them know if customers will come back to them.


Receiving an average of 4 out of 5 on these surveys is a key result to Walgreen's goals of delivering excellent customer service.


Your key results will vary depending on the type of business you run. Subscription services such as Netflix or Xbox Gold measure repurchase rate. If customers stop renewing their service, they know that it's time to take stock and find out what the problem is. You need organic key results for a healthy OKR. These results should come from your natural day-to-day behavior.


How Often Should You Change Objectives

The timeline you set for your objectives will change depending on your business, but generally, there are three types of goals:


  • Continuous
  • Long-Term
  • Short-Term


These objectives tend to intertwine. Continuous goals are essential to your company. These are the goals found in your mission statement. For example, delivering industry-leading customer service is a goal that you'll always work on. There's never a time when this goal is complete.


Long-term goals tend to last for a calendar year or longer. These goals should work towards your continuous objectives. Short-term objectives help you reach your long-term goals. Most companies break these down into monthly or quarterly benchmarks.


For the objective stated above, delivering industry-leading customer service, first, you'll have to develop your key results. From there, you can determine what goals you'll place in each of the three categories.


Do some research for your industry and figure out what a typical score for other companies are. How will you do better?

Tying Short, Long-Term, and Continuous Objectives Together

Perhaps one of your continuous goals is an 80% customer reorder rate. To do this, you'll need to meet a series of objectives in the short and long-term. First, you'll need to create an ideal customer profile. Determine who orders your product and their demographics.


Next, you'll need to develop an advertising strategy that effectively reaches your ideal customer. Do you need to run a traditional print-media campaign? For a younger audience, would an influencer and video-based campaign suit your needs?


Implementing your campaign can be a long-term goal. Your short-term goals can help you develop your advertising methods. Finding influencers and convincing them to spread the word about your campaign can be step one. Next, record video ads to post on YouTube and TV if your budget allows.


Another goal can be to set up an SEO campaign to make sure customers can find you online. Having a website does you no good if you're buried on page eight of search engine results.  Once you're advertising, you'll have to measure customer satisfaction. You can do this a few ways. An active social media presence allows you to get real-time feedback on your products and respond to problems.


You can also go the trusted survey route. Offer a discount on future orders if your customers take the time to give you feedback. This allows you to determine if your products are meeting the customers' expectations. If not, you can adjust your objectives to fix the problems.


All these goals work towards your continuous and long-term goals. You can't have one without the other two. It's suggested that you start with the bigger goals and break them down into smaller, manageable objectives to meet.

Powerful Objectives Require Powerful Tools

Fast-moving companies need software that can keep up with their needs. They need software that encourages collaboration and accountability.


Heartpace allows you to link organizational, department, and individual objectives into one. You're able to see where everyone is with their goal and how it ties into the big picture. You're also able to update your key results, allowing your entire team to celebrate wins and work towards their goal. These tools allow you to set ambitious goals that excite your team.


If you would like to try OKR software for your company, check out our free 20-day trial here.


Henrik Dannert

Henrik Dannert


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