Why your Key Result can’t become someone else’s Objective

Why your Key Result can’t become someone else’s Objective

Recommended reading: 10 features you should check before buying OKR Software

Key Results will let you know if you’re getting there

Key Results kill 2 birds with 1 stone: 

  • Specify what an Objective means

Qualitative Objectives can be a bit ambiguous, so you need Key Results to quantify the Objective and make it specific. Imagine your Objective is to Become one of the fastest-growing companies in your industry. You could measure this in terms of revenue, number of customers, number of employees, or multiple indicators at once. Whatever you mean by “fastest-growing,” the Key Results will make it clear.

  • Measure progress toward the Objective

Key Results are, as Andy Grove, the father of OKR, says: “meant to pace a person—to put a stopwatch in his own hand so he can gauge his own performance.” In other words: the Key Results define whether the Objective has been achieved.

In order to quantify an Objective, or measure progress toward it, a Key Result must contain a metric (see also The anatomy of a Key Result). As Doerr’s OKR formula goes: “I will (Objective) as measured by (Key Results).”

The word measure is encapsulated in the term metric. The word “metric” is derived from the Greek word métron (μέτρον), which means “measure” or “something used to measure”. Simply put, the metric is what makes the Key Result “measurable.”

Virtually everyone, including John Doerr, seems to agree that a Key Result must always contain a metric. Phew!

The metric defines a Key Result’s progress

When a Key Result contains a metric, you don’t get to define progress for the Key Result yourself anymore — you rely on hard facts. Only the (current value of your) metric can and will define progress for your Key Result. It’s the only fact you need!

Let’s say you have an Objective to Improve customer happiness. A Key Result could then be to Increase NPS from 30 to 50. In this case, NPS (Net Promoter Score) is your metric, and you’d have to look at your current NPS score to see what the correct value is for your Key Result.

There are many things that you can do to increase NPS. You could squash bugs in your product, hire extra support agents to bring down your response time, improve your product or service in response to customer feedback, and so on. But doing these things won’t automatically mean NPS will go up. NPS will only go up if more of your users give you a high NPS score and become promoters.

The problem with Key Results turning into Objectives

Everyone agrees that Key Results drive progress for an Objective. 

But now if I assign my Key Result, for example, Increase NPS from 30 to 50 to you and want it to become an Objective, your Objective now is: Increase NPS from 30 to 50. It contains a metric (NPS) and will automatically be measurable. As we know it, that’s incorrect.

If you decide to create Key Results for this Objective, these Key Results can’t really drive progress for the Objective. When an Objective or Key Result (or any other goal for that matter) contains a metric, it’s the metric itself that will define its progress. 

On the other hand, you may now be tempted to create output, activity-based Key Results for your Objective. And this goes against the fundamentals of OKR, making it an almost futile exercise.  

So at this point, we’re stuck. But don’t sweat it, there is a solution.

The solution

Don’t expect Key Results to turn into Objectives when assigned to someone else. In fact, don’t create Key Results at all. Instead, create sub-Objectives (or aligned Objectives) and assign these to the corresponding team and/or person. You can then create Key Results for these sub-Objectives.

This is especially helpful for annual Company Objectives. Because these are often more thematic, it can be difficult to define Key Results for them. Instead of basing their competition on Key Results, you can instead look at the overall progress of all its aligned Objectives.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What does OKR software refer to?

OKR software refers to specialized software tools and platforms designed to facilitate the implementation, management, tracking, and analysis of the OKR (Objectives and Key Results) framework within organizations. OKR software provides a digital solution for setting and aligning goals, tracking progress, and fostering collaboration across teams and departments.

Which is considered the best OKR software?

The “best” OKR software can vary depending on your organization’s specific needs, goals, size, and preferences. There are several well-regarded OKR software options available, each with its own strengths and features. It’s important to evaluate these platforms based on your organization’s requirements. Here are a few popular OKR software tools that are often considered among the best: Asana, WorkBoard, Perdoo, 15Five, Weekdone, Koan, Gtmhub, Betterworks and Atiim.

How do I select suitable OKR software?

Selecting suitable OKR software requires careful consideration of your organization’s needs, goals, and operational processes. Choose the right OKR software based on the Organization’s Needs, Key Features, Budget, Available Options, Demos, Trials, User-Friendliness, Integration Capabilities, Scalability, Customization Options, Support, Training, Team Consultation, References, Trial Period, Long-Term Value, Data Security and Privacy.

Should OKRs be measurable?

Yes, one of the fundamental principles of the OKR (Objectives and Key Results) framework is that Key Results should be measurable. The concept of measurability is crucial for creating clear and actionable goals that can be tracked, evaluated, and adjusted as needed. Measurable Key Results provide a tangible way to determine progress and success.

Is it essential for everyone to have OKRs?

While the Objectives and Key Results (OKR) framework can provide numerous benefits to organizations, it’s not always necessary for every individual or team to have formal OKRs. The decision to implement OKRs should be based on the organization’s goals, structure, culture, and the specific challenges it aims to address.

What is the ideal duration for setting OKRs?

The ideal duration for setting OKRs depends on various factors, including your organization’s goals, industry, project timelines, and the pace of change within your industry. There is no one-size-fits-all answer, but here are some common timeframes to consider:

  • Quarterly OKRs: Many organizations follow a quarterly OKR cycle, setting objectives and key results every three months. This shorter timeframe allows for more frequent adjustments and adaptations to changing circumstances. Quarterly cycles are especially useful in fast-paced industries and for teams working on projects with relatively short timelines. 
  • Annual OKRs: Some organizations prefer to set OKRs on an annual basis, aligning their objectives and key results with their fiscal year. This approach provides a longer planning horizon and can work well for industries with longer project timelines or less frequent changes. 
  • Biannual OKRs: For organizations that fall between the two extremes, a biannual OKR cycle (every six months) can strike a balance between flexibility and longer-term planning. 
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