How to implement OKRs (Objectives & Key Results)

TL;DR: OKR is a goal-setting system that stands for Objectives & Key Results. OKRs build alignment, help bring all players behind the same vision, and communicate a formula: We will make progress in pursuit of [OBJECTIVE] by achieving [KEY RESULTS].

Objectives must be bold, concise, and straightforward, expressing the company’s vision. Key Results define how you’ll reach goals and track progress — so they must be measurable. A best practice is to work with quarterly OKR cycles.

What’s an OKR? What do OKRs stand for? What’s an example of an OKR? And how to implement OKRs in a company?

Intel’s former CEO, Andy Grove, is known as the creator of OKRs. The essence of this goal-setting framework is simple: to break down ambitious goals (objectives) into clear, manageable, measurable outcomes (key results). Although Grove laid out this strategic planning tool in 1983 and John Doerr, another Intel veteran, gave OKRs greater visibility over decades, it wasn’t until recent years that OKRs gained tremendous traction. Now, the methodology is used by fast-scaling startups and large corporations like Google.

Objectives represent your vision. They’re bold, ambitious, but not entirely unrealistic. They’re qualitative and have the power of uniting team members. Objectives build transparency and alignment, spreading the idea of working towards the same goal across organizations. But keep in mind: Objectives shouldn’t be a simple expansion of something you’ve already mastered — they should be groundbreaking.

Key results are pieces of the bigger picture. Like signposts, these desired results tell you if your team is going in the right direction and how far you still have to push. Key results must be quantifiable, measurable, and balanced: they should guide, fuel, and not compromise your audacious plans. Key results shouldn’t be too easy to reach, but they should be meaningful enough to be celebrated if achieved.

Unlike yearly steering, the OKR methodology gives you the chance to tackle issues before they grow too big and to budget accordingly. It’s a more adaptable, transparent, focused approach that contributes to organizational intelligence and mitigates the idea of “budget hiding.”

Carefully chosen OKRs are not only one of your best bets for growth, but also for any employee engagement toolkit. When someone understands that their contributions matter and can see themselves growing with a company, they’re likely to feel more motivated. They might challenge themselves, adopt a team player’s attitude, and think of creative solutions to help their teams achieve these OKRs.

There’s an art to setting OKRs (check out our OKR framework template to get started), but once you’ve followed the steps below, their rollout will be easier and more organic than you think.

Orange checkmark icon.

Wann Sie dieses Playbook verwenden sollten

When to use
this playbook

We recommend this playbook to any CEO, People Ops leader, or manager looking to refine or rethink goal-setting strategies in their company.

Even if you already work with Objectives & Key Results, it’s always a good idea to brush up on the OKR methodology and revisit the framework after an OKR cycle.

Orange checkmark icon.

Was Sie für dieses Playbook benötigen

What you’ll need for
this playbook

A clear vision for your company

Where would you like to be within the next three to five years? This exercise can guide you to a more actionable goal-setting system.

Priorities for the upcoming years/months

Don’t stop at “Our vision is to be the #1 market leader”; consider what needs to happen as you aim to get there. Do you need to double your ARR within the next "X" years? A more specific purpose will unfold into OKRs and support your vision.

Hinweise & Tipps
  • Be specific and don’t fear numbers. Key results must be measurable. This will help you track progress and know when to realign your strategy or aim for stretch goals.
  • Don‘t choose ongoing, indefinite results (e.g., “keep increasing our readership“). This is not a KR. Here, you’d need to define a specific result to aim for (e.g., “increase our readership by 20% until the end of Q2“).
  • On the same note, refrain from words like “keep doing” and “maintain.” The idea is to be specific about key results and move forward (unless, of course, in specific situations, e.g., trying not to lose customers during a global crisis and maintaining a particular number).
  • Different departments can work on the same KR together. Just make sure you assign clear ownership and that stakeholders regularly check in with each other.
  • Goal trees are the best way to visualize company-wide, team-specific, and individual objectives. You‘ll need goal-setting software to easily visualize goal ownership and dependencies on the path to success.
  • Hitting 100% of a key result feels good, but it won’t necessarily drive growth as fast as possible. Set up bold OKRs and have clear expectations. For Google, reaching 60–70% is the “sweet spot” for OKRs, but you may decide to adjust this as it best suits your company (e.g., aiming for 75–80%).

How to run this People Ops Playbook:

Wie Sie dieses People Ops Playbook durchführen:

1. Define company-level goals

Who this step is for: managing directors/C-level executives

With a clear vision and priorities for the upcoming months/years, you can go one step further and translate these priorities into company goals. 

Also known as parent goals, company-level goals will inform yet another, more granular level of OKRs (see next step), following a cascading goal methodology that aligns the entire organization.

Even when working with quarterly OKRs, parent goals are often set for an entire year. Some common areas to focus on:

  • Revenue Goals
  • Hiring Goals
  • Acquisition Goals
  • Branding Goals

2. Discuss department-specific contributions

Who this step is for: managing directors/C-level executives and team leaders

It’s time to understand the role that each team plays in reaching your company’s parent goals. You should now engage in conversation with each department’s leader to discuss how they can push your vision forward.

For example, your marketing department could support your hiring goals by working together with People Ops to launch an improved career page and promote the employee experience across social platforms. This same department could support revenue goals by driving more leads to your product or service.

3. Set a timeframe

Although, as mentioned, it sometimes makes more sense to set a longer timeframe to reach company-level goals, we recommend working with quarterly cycles for your team-specific OKRs.

4. Choose 3-5 objectives 

Who this step is for: department leaders and their teams

Between three and five objectives for each OKR period is a realistic amount to keep teams stimulated without feeling overwhelmed. With any fewer, goals may feel limiting and not quite motivating. With more, you risk focusing on too much at once and not achieving anything.

5. Break each objective into key results & assign ownership

Who this step is for: department leaders and their teams

Consider your team’s size, the complexity of your OKR system, and your objective’s scope before determining how many key results to put in place. You don’t want to set more key results because it looks more challenging. Remember that simplicity is crucial for success, and key results exist to serve you in reaching goals.

Engage your team by asking them how they can contribute to objectives, rather than assigning top-down responsibilities to your reports. Ask yourself — and your team — several questions. Is there a need or space for a special project? Does someone want to tackle a particular aspect of the objective? How can the team and individual contributors push a goal forward?

By asking employees for their input instead of presenting a fixed plan, you encourage stakeholders to take the initiative, nurturing engagement and a sense of purpose. As a result, transparency and trust in your team’s capacity give room for thriving OKRs.

And remember: OKRs need to be aligned with the company’s goals. Although the department lead and their team will scope the OKRs, they need to be approved to ensure alignment.

Optional: besides assigning ownership for team OKRs, you may also want to work with individual OKRs. Those could be, for instance, related to skills that you or a team member would like to develop and would, in turn, support your company’s growth and vision. However, we recommend individual OKRs for OKR-mature organizations only.

6. Track progress & recognize achievements

Who this step is for: all stakeholders

Keep your OKRs in shape by monitoring progress, making your goals an ongoing conversation, and recognizing every accomplishment. Praising your team for their achievements or considering them for a merit increase — no matter how big or small — is an excellent way to have everyone engaged and keep the potential of OKRs top of mind.

A best practice is to schedule an OKR check-in with your team every two weeks or every month. This way, you can address results and roadblocks, increase accountability, and work on solutions together. 

All of these processes can be made much easier with the help of people management and goal-setting software. You and your team can be spared from manual work, easily updating and visualizing progress across your entire organization, thanks to goal dashboards, progress timelines, filters, and powerful analytics.

Follow-up best practices for OKRs

Be open to recalculating

Goals don’t always go as planned, and there’s no shame in reevaluating objectives and key results during an OKR cycle. You may realize that a set of key results was unrealistic — or not audacious enough. You may even find out that an entire set of OKRs doesn’t move the needle for company-wide goals as expected. As always, be open to learning as a team; don’t wait until the end of a cycle to ask for support or raise red flags.

Discuss results & focus on learnings

Each OKR cycle should invite questioning and curiosity. Encourage all managers and other contributors to evaluate key results when a cycle (e.g., quarter) approaches its end.

A best practice is to meet as a team to discuss results and learnings, aligning all stakeholders as they create more refined OKRs for the next period.

Involve your team members in creating the next OKRs

After agreeing upon individual and department-specific OKRs for a new cycle, schedule a retrospective and planning workshop with more stakeholders (perhaps even the entire company, depending on company size and operations) for more transparency and an even smoother alignment of cascading goals across the organization.

💡 Interested in learning even more about goals and OKRs? We’ve got you covered: Check out our guide to making a great start with OKRs and our tips and example for setting performance objectives.😉

Implement the right OKRs with Leapsome

Leapsome is the only platform that closes the loop between performance management, employee engagement, and learning. 

The best OKR tools are capable of aligning your whole team behind common goals. Watch this video on setting up a goal tree in Leapsome to structure your OKR process.

Illustration of two people carrying a box over stairs, another two stacking blocks mid-air, and another two working on a board with boxes and scales, transparent background

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the ideal timeframe for OKRs?

Although you might explore the same company-wide OKRs for longer, we recommend quarterly team-wide and individual OKRs. The reason quarters are an excellent match for OKRs is that a 13-week timeframe allows you to aim for 10% progress each week, with a handy 2-3 week grace period to get going and adjust your route.

Do you ever change key results during an OKR cycle?

If necessary, yes. The OKR-setting process should be thorough enough to only be changed if new information becomes available or if circumstances change. Yet, reevaluating objectives and key results during an OKR cycle has nothing to do with failure. 

If a set of key results proves to be unrealistic, you may have to dial back. Or, if an OKR cycle has just begun and your team is already about to reach  100% of the key results, you might want to take them a step (or two) further.

What’s crucial to success is closely tracking progress and staying aligned with your team by scheduling OKR check-ins (see part 6 of our step-by-step instructions).

Should OKRs be linked to compensation? 

Coupling OKRs with compensation is not a best practice. Achieving results is part of good performance and should be considered when evaluating raises and promotions, but making OKRs a decisive compensation factor is likely to keep your company stuck. Why? Let’s revisit some of what we’ve discussed: Objectives should be audacious. And the “sweet spot” for OKRs will be somewhere between 60 and 80% of key results. So what happens when OKR results directly impact your employees’ livelihood? The answer is that, understandably, your team might be more conservative when setting up an OKR cycle — and this is likely to hinder individual development. 

Shooting for the moon demands commitment and excitement, not fear.

What are the biggest mistakes in OKR implementation?

Common mistakes are: 

• Not frequently tracking progress;

• Not aligning OKRs with your company’s vision;

• Not working with your team as you define OKRs for a cycle;

• Not communicating with all stakeholders;

• Setting unrealistic OKRs;

• Setting too-conservative OKRs;

• Setting too many objectives;

• Setting too many key results;

• Having key results that are not measurable (e.g., if you want to “increase quality,” you need to measure it);

• Not defining ownership for key results;

• Only working towards OKRs at the very end of a cycle;

• Not aligning OKRs of different teams.

What’s the difference between OKR and KPI?

KPIs are an abbreviation for Key Performance Indicators. While KPIs evaluate how effectively your company performs a particular activity, the key results in OKRs are guided by objectives anchored in an overarching mission.

KPIs and key results should be quantifiable and might even speak to the same achievements (e.g., number of qualified leads in a quarter). However, unlike OKRs, KPIs aren’t necessarily guided by a broader vision — and it’s this vision that’ll help you keep your team aligned and focused.

What are the similarities and differences between OKRs and smart goals?

SMART is an acronym for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. This framework is very helpful to elaborate a single goal, but it doesn’t tackle the interconnectedness and organizational alignment offered by OKRs. The good thing is that you can combine both these frameworks, making your key results, the most granular part of OKRs, SMART (again: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound). You can also apply the SMART methodology for goals that don’t connect with your company’s overarching vision (e.g., individual development goals).

Explore other playbooks

Erkunden Sie weitere Playbooks

Run smooth operations with our easy-to-follow how-tos and best practices for all things People Ops

Mit unseren leicht verständlichen Anleitungen und Best Practices für People Ops sorgen Sie für reibungslose Abläufe.

No items found.