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As a system of goal-setting and progress measurement, Objectives and Key Results (OKR) has shown significant results for organizations which have adopted it. Initially created by Intel it has become widespread, especially in technology firms such as Google.

One of the most interesting features of the Objectives and Key Results (OKR) method is that it doesn’t strive for 100% success. In fact, it deliberately calls for setting goals which are always slightly beyond the reach of teams or individuals. It is this “progress gap” which in fact motivates the team towards success. By being able to visualize goals that are technically or physically possible, they also recognize that their performance can be improved, while the percentage grading means they are not deflated by a simple success/failure metric.

The task of motivating your team to perform better and strive for improvements while also not de-motivating them by denigrating their performance is a tough tightrope for any project manager to walk. So, here’s a look at how the Objectives and Key Results (OKR) method has become so popular and successful.

How OKRs Work

Objectives: Should be a qualitative statement of what you would like to achieve. Examples would be:

  • Improve our team’s progress transparency and communication with stakeholders.
  • Increase our marketing effectiveness.
  • Update our content and user visibility.

As a manager, ask your team to prepare what they believe should be their objectives for a set time period, i.e., the next quarter or six months. Then call a meeting and decide on two to three of these as being your team’s Objectives. Similar to the examples above, Objectives cover a broad spectrum and condense things down into a single idea.

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Key Results

After you have decided on those, take each single Objective and break it down into the Key Results that will serve as metrics to measure your progress. These should be measurable and related to achieving your overall Objective.

Where this differs from normal goal setting however is that they should be right at the edge of your team’s capabilities but not completely. In other words, they are known as “stretch goals” as they stretch the boundaries of what your team considers capable.

Examples include:

  • Ensure updating of project progress/GANTT charts at 10% intervals (i.e. 10 times per task strand)
  • Increase unique website impressions by 35%
  • Publish 30 product-focused and 30 industry-general blogs

Measuring effectiveness

At the end of the designated reporting period, the Key Results are measured, usually on a scale of 0 – 1.0. A good mark overall is considered to be 0.7, while a score of 1.0 would generally point to the creation of goals which were too easy.

Even if your team have only achieved 60% – 70% of what they had set out to, this is actually a good thing. The “progress gap” that this represents shows your team that they are still not at the height of their capabilities. However, as it is known that 0.7 is a good mark, they can still feel happy about what had been achieved and this should be acknowledged or rewarded.

This effectively turns failure into success, as your team will know they have done well but that there is still considerable space to improve upon in order to achieve their overall Objectives.