Choosing great OKRs

If you are using OKRs, nothing is more important than choosing good objectives and key results. Here are some principles to keep in mind.


Objectives describe what you’d like to accomplish. Good objectives have the following features:

  • they are meaningful – they contribute to the achievement of the organisation’s wider mission, vision, and strategic goals

  • they are ambitious – they challenging to achieve (without being unachievable)

  • they are actionable – they are capable of being pursued, and those responsible for their achievement have the resources and authority they need to pursue them

  • they are time bound – it’s good practice to establish a time frame for achievement. Three-month time frames work well for many objectives, but they can be longer or shorter

  • they involve change, not management of BAU. Good objectives are intended to take the organisation forward, not maintain the status quo

  • they are limited in number – it’s good practice for each organisational unit (company, team, individual etc) to have no more than 3 to 5 objectives at any given time to ensure they stay focused on what’s important

There’s an art to writing good objectives and people get better with practice, but here are some tips that might help:

  1. Describe the future you aspire to. Project yourself three months into the future and think about how you would like your business to be then. Build your objectives around this future state.

  2. Keep it simple. Everyone in the organisation should be able to understand an objective, so drop the jargon. As a bonus, using plain language often forces you to clarify what you actually mean.

  3. Always start your objective with a verb.  E.g.  Improve a process, increase engagement, enter a new market etc

  4. Avoid metrics. Don’t include numbers in your objectives. Using numbers is often a sign that you are conflating objectives with KRs. Quantifiable measures belong in your KRs and are used to assess the achievement of objectives.

Key Results

Key results describe how you’ll know whether you have achieved an objective. Good key results have the following features:

  • they are relevant to the objective. This might seem obvious, but it is vital to ensure each KR actually helps you assess the achievement of an objective. Irrelevant KRs can send you off in the wrong direction.

  • they are quantifiable – KRs must be able to be expressed in some quantifiable form, which could be numbers, dollars, percentages or simple binary yes/no states.

  • they are verifiable. Again, this might seem obvious, but there must be reliable, accurate data available to measure the KR.

A word of caution: When setting KRs, watch out for Goodhart’s Law. Goodhart’s Law posits that “when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.” The reason for this is nicely illustrated in the cartoon below.

While few of us make nails, there are many real-world examples closer to home. For example, customer support staff who are measured only on throughput are incentivised to maximise number of tickets they process or minimise the wait time before a ticket is picked up, rather than spend time properly resolving customer queries. Employees’ quest for efficiency may actually reduce customer satisfaction.

If the company’s objective is to improve customer satisfaction with support services, then multiple factors come into play, including the time taken to respond to a query, the attitude of support staff and the eventual resolution of problems. That being the case, three KRs might be needed to: initial response time; customer perceptions of staff helpfulness; and customer perceptions of problem resolution. No single KR fully measures the achievement of the objective (except, perhaps an NPS, but an NPS alone won’t be very helpful in understanding how to improve customer satisfaction).

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