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Goals & OKRs

OKR vs KPI: Key Differences & Best Practices

Leapsome Team
OKR vs KPI: Key Differences & Best Practices
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If you’re part of a fast-growing organization, you likely use key performance indicators (KPIs) to see how departments and teams are progressing with their projects and goals. You might also monitor KPIs to track shifting metrics like profit margins, turnover rates, and customer retention rates. 

On top of that, you’ve probably also been tasked with implementing objectives and key results (OKRs), as the OKR framework has proven to be a powerful tool for companies that want to set and reach ambitious business targets. 

Still, as projects ramp up and team workloads fill to capacity, tracking so many metrics can become overwhelming. It might prompt leadership to ask: Are both goal-setting processes necessary? When your company has ambitious operational objectives and growth goals to achieve, which framework should you prioritize? Is it really a matter of OKR vs. KPI? 

It may seem advisable to choose one approach over the other, but that might put your company in the same camp as the 42% of organizations whose employees rate their goal-setting processes as “bad.”*

The truth is that OKRs and KPIs are both helpful goal-setting strategies. To educate your team in using them effectively, you need to know how each approach works, how they differ, and how you can use them to inform each other. You should also research examples and best practices for implementing OKRs and KPIs and increasing company-wide alignment.

That’s why in this guide, we explore:

  • How OKRs vs KPIs work, with examples
  • The key difference between KPIs and OKRs
  • Best practices for working with OKRs versus KPIs 
  • Common mistakes to avoid

We also provide you with an at-a-glance infographic you can share with your team to explain the difference between these two metrics.

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‍*Leapsome State of People Enablement, 2023

What is a KPI?

A KPI is a basic success metric that helps individuals, teams, and companies track progress toward a distinct result. When setting specific goals, key performance indicators are an effective method for creating a set of detailed outputs to focus on. The great thing about KPIs vs OKRs is that they help people track essential metrics more efficiently and can work for any organization or department — whether it’s sales, marketing, operations, HR, or IT. 

However, it’s worth noting that KPIs can show how you’re performing at a specific time but don’t provide much information regarding your progress; you need to put them in the proper context to drive the desired outcomes. 

Let’s look at an example of a KPI to better understand what they are and how they function.

KPI example

Let’s say your CEO asks your Head of People Ops, “How often and how quickly are employees leaving our company?” Your Head of People Ops can easily find this figure because it’s one of the metrics they consistently track: your company’s employee turnover rate, which is currently 19%. They decide to set a KPI target of 12% aimed at reducing churn.

In this example, the employee turnover rate is the KPI. It’s one among many KPIs your people ops team tracks, alongside key performance indicators like absenteeism rates, the number of overtime hours worked, and employee satisfaction.

What is an OKR?

A screenshot showing Leapsome Goals AI-generated OKRs.
Leapsome Goals makes setting customizable OKRs faster with AI — all it takes is one prompt and two clicks to generate trackable goals

An OKR is a goal-setting strategy with two fundamental components: objectives and key results. While an objective is a goal that a company, team, or individual wants to achieve within a defined period, key results are the quantitative metrics that show when you’ve completed the objective. For every objective, you should have three to five key results.

You may have heard that you should shoot for ambitious objectives — and that’s true. However, it’s even more essential to make your objectives easy to understand, motivating, and aligned with your company’s mission and strategic goals for the future. Similarly, key results should be measurable and time-bound. That way, it’s easier to create OKRs that cascade from the top of the company down — also called cascading goals — and develop initiatives, on team and individual levels, that will push the OKRs over the finish line.

Key result vs. KPI

Be careful not to confuse key results with KPIs, as they serve different purposes. A KPI is a basic achievement metric, and you might incorporate them into key results to make them more measurable and outcome-driven. For instance, if you want to improve your eNPS score, your KPI could be your eNPS, and your full key result might be to increase your average eNPS from 20 to 30. 

Now, let’s look at the example below to get a better picture of what OKRs are and how they work.

OKR example

In this OKR example, you’re the Head of Sales, and one of your department initiatives is to convert more prospects into leads. So, you make “increasing the number of qualified leads” your objective, and your leadership team collaborates to come up with three key results:

Objective | We optimize our sales process within the next two quarters to reduce the time from sales inquiry to qualified lead. 

  • Key result 1 | We reduced the number of steps in the demo request process by 30%.
  • Key result 2 | We created a system that empowers the sales team to run demos with 15 new leads every week.
  • Key result 3 | Sales team members answer 70% of sales inquiries within 12 hours.
OKR and KPI frameworks must first be understood by every responsible and accountable team member at some level before they can be implemented effectively. Once a team, department, or company are all on the same page in terms of what OKRs and KPIs are (and have had a chance to discuss and collaborate), there’s a shared fate and purpose in place that lets those teams all operate together effectively.”

— Erik Harbison, President and Co-Founder of The Marketing Help

OKR vs KPI: Key differences

A graphic table showing the most important differences between Key Performance Indicators and Objectives and Key Results.

We’ve explained the difference between OKRs and KPIs in theory, but what is the difference between OKRs and KPIs when using them in practice? When thinking about KPI vs OKR, it’s not a matter of reaching for one or the other —  they can complement each other. 

Knowing the differences between OKRs vs KPIs ensures that you use both effectively as part of a holistic goal-setting strategy. 

Let’s unpack the idea of “KPI vs OKR” to illustrate what we mean:

  • KPIs are raw performance metrics that tell you how your business performs, while an OKR is a framework for goal setting — When building your OKRs, you’ll determine what KPIs you’ll need to track your progress toward your objective. 
  • OKRs are always future-oriented, while KPIs tell you how you’re doing at present and in the past — That’s why relying on KPIs alone to measure your business performance won’t help you move the needle forward over time.
  • KPIs don’t change; OKRs do (and regularly) — You may change what KPIs you rely on as your goals shift over time, but the KPIs themselves remain constant.
  • KPIs are standard benchmarks that departments and organizations use within industries. Your OKRs should be unique to your company and mission — You may draw goal-setting inspiration from your competitors or industry peers, but your key results should reflect the specific outcomes your company needs to realize.
  • KPIs communicate an opportunity or issue, while OKRs provide a framework to address them — If your employee absenteeism rate is high, it may be time to create an objective focused on increasing employee engagement.
A photo of four employees working together in front of a desk with a laptop.

Should you have OKRs & KPIs?

You should have both KPIs and OKRs, but you don’t always have to use them simultaneously. Companies work with KPIs on an ongoing basis to track how they’re doing — it’s like routine maintenance. However, you can also put your KPIs to work by using them to build OKRs and track your progress, as in the following example:

Objective | We reduce recruitment costs by improving employee satisfaction and retention by the end of Q4.  

  • Key result 1 | We reduce employee turnover from 25% to 17%.
  • Key result 2 | We get an 80% response rate to engagement surveys and improve survey scores by 15%.
  • Key result 3 | We increase our employee Net Promoter (eNPS) score from 10 to 20
  • Key result 4 | We fill 70% of leadership openings with internal candidates. 

In this instance, your KPIs are turnover rate, eNPS score, and survey response rate. As you amp up your engagement initiatives, you’ll track how these KPIs change over time to monitor progress. This is how, ultimately, the KPI and OKR system makes for a more outcome-driven framework. 

You can also use KPIs and OKRs in a performance management context to see how your team members perform. If your company requires employees to set individual OKRs, managers can discuss their current KPIs with them and understand their progress toward personal goals.

OKR & KPI best practices

A screenshot illustrating what personal OKRs look like within Leapsome Goals.
Employees can set and track personal OKRs and get asynchronous feedback from managers with Leapsome Goals

Knowing how KPIs and OKRs work is the first best practice for creating effective, sustainable goals. Now, let’s explore other suggestions for what to do (and what not to do) when setting and tracking KPIs and OKRs.

OKR best practices

  • Give your employees time to learn, absorb, and workshop their OKRs before they set them Sometimes, OKRs take a couple of tries to get right. Work with your staff members to experiment and play around with some ideas before officially establishing their OKRs. 
  • Make your objectives ambitious, but your key results specific and attainable — Your key results are the action steps allowing you to reach your goals. If you make them too hard to reach, you’ll be less likely to achieve your objectives.
  • Register your OKRs with a system everyone can access — The goal isn’t to micromanage your people but to facilitate collaboration and accountability. This is where an OKR setting and tracking software can help. Organizations use Leapsome’s OKR software, for example, to keep their OKRs in a centralized space where they can set them, collaborate on them, track them, and report on them.
  • Schedule regular OKR check-in meetings with your staff — We recommend running OKR check-ins biweekly or monthly. That’s often enough to ensure accountability and give everyone time to review progress and priorities.

Common mistakes to avoid

  • Not setting a time frame for each OKR — Having a deadline for your goals makes tracking and achieving them easier.
  • Drawing inspiration too closely from your competitors — Your competitors may move in the same industry, but they most likely don’t share your strategic vision nor face the exact same challenges.
  • Not checking OKRs regularly — It often happens that companies set and forget their OKRs. Setting OKRs is a good starting point, but you won’t make progress without regular check-ins and revisions.
  • No communication between managers and employees about OKR progress — It’s a manager’s responsibility to help reports set OKRs — but after that, it should be a shared effort. Managers must encourage their teams to take initiative with their OKR upkeep.
A photo of four employees working and planning together.
🔎 Transparency and communication about goals should be a part of the process
Leapsome Goals can help. Our platform lets you leave comments, provide context, and discuss goal progress. 
👉 Learn more

KPI best practices

  • Schedule regular KPI check-ins — Ensure every department understands which KPIs are essential to success, and designate someone who will review them regularly.
  • Make your KPIs transparent in your organization — Making company KPIs available for everyone doesn’t just help with cross-departmental alignment. It makes accountability easier, too.
  • Use your KPIs to discover where to improve and set your OKRs accordingly — If you have difficulty meeting one of your KPIs, you can address that issue with your next OKR. And if you regularly have a hard time meeting your KPIs, you may need to reassess them.

Common mistakes to avoid

  • Tracking KPIs without your OKRs in mind — You may, for example, have noticed a decrease in absenteeism over two months. That’s great! But is the decrease significant enough to get you closer to your objective of reducing your absenteeism rate by 2%?
  • Measuring KPIs without taking action — If you notice a KPI heading in the wrong direction, don’t wait. Flukes happen, but you shouldn’t count on them; it’s best to diagnose and address issues before they get out of hand. You can also investigate when KPIs are on track so you can replicate what’s working.
  • Too much reliance on industry norms — Industry targets are helpful to a point, but they may not help growing companies. Keep them in mind when setting your own KPI targets, but don’t make them your sole guide.
  • Not celebrating KPI wins Celebrating wins is essential for boosting morale and motivating your employees. KPI wins are always worth celebrating, even if it means a quick announcement in your company’s Slack channel.

Improve your KPIs & meet OKRs with Leapsome

A graphic of a goal tree from Leapsome’s Goals and OKRs interface.
Leapsome’s Goal Tree helps you visualize cascading OKRs to keep all departments moving toward common objectives

Educating your leadership and teams about the differences between OKRs and KPIs is crucial to get buy-in and generate effective, sustainable outcomes. Still, once you have company-wide support, where will you record and track your KPIs or OKRs for easier collaboration and transparency?

That’s where Leapsome comes in. Our platform makes it intuitive for companies to set goals they can align all their people behind, and our tools ensure it’s simple for teams to analyze and track their progress. Use Leapsome Goals to set OKRs quickly with generative AI, collaborate on them asynchronously with notes and feedback, and customize them so they align with your company’s overall targets. Goals also integrates with Leapsome Reviews, Meetings, and Instant Feedback so you can support team members with meeting their own professional objectives and recognize them for hard work.

Leapsome provides a seamless platform for companies to set and align goals, track progress effectively, and engage team members in the process, ultimately fostering a culture of continuous improvement and appreciation. 

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FAQs about OKRs vs. KPIs

Should you have OKRs & KPIs?

Yes, you should have both objectives and key results (OKRs) and key performance indicators (KPIs) — you need both to drive outcomes and measure success. If you have OKRs but no KPIs, you’ll have a goal and direction for your work but no metrics to show if you’re on the right track. If you have KPIs without OKRs, you won’t know if your success metrics are getting you where you want to go.

For example, if one of your company’s OKRs is to reduce employee turnover, you can use KPIs to help you create a roadmap to get there. If you use employee attrition as a KPI, your first key result could be reducing employee attrition from 25% to 17%. Your second KPI could be your eNPS, with a key result of increasing your eNPS from 10 to 20.

Can OKRs replace KPIs?

No, objectives and key results (OKRs) cannot replace key performance indicators (KPIs). It’s not a matter of OKR vs KPI — rather, OKRs can encompass KPIs. Let’s illustrate this with an example.

Let’s say you want your social media team to increase your company’s brand recognition. So you come up with a few OKRs, like the following:

Objective | Our brand has become so well-recognized by Q1 of next year that we can scale back our paid content strategy.

  • Key result 1 | LinkedIn engagement increases from 25% to 40%.

In this example, your KPI would be LinkedIn engagement. So, while necessary, KPIs are incomplete unless you put them to use in your OKR structure.

Why are OKRs better than KPIs?

Objective and key results (OKRs) aren’t necessarily better than key performance indicators (KPIs), but they are more comprehensive. KPIs are independent metrics, and you can use them to build effective OKRs. Examples of KPIs might be social media engagement, customer retention, leads per month, conversion rate, or cost of materials, to name a few. 

It sometimes happens that teams and leadership don’t fully understand the difference between OKRs and KPIs, or they lose sight of it. 

Let’s say your marketing team’s OKR for the next quarter is to increase brand recognition. To meet this goal, your marketing team decides to increase their content output on LinkedIn because of social media KPIs they’ve utilized in the past. At the end of the quarter, they report that they’ve increased their content output but haven’t increased engagement; this is because they failed to align their KPIs with their objective (increasing brand recognition).

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Leapsome Team

Written by the team at Leapsome — the all-in-one people enablement platform for driving employee engagement, performance, and learning.
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