OKRs often have a reputation for being inefficient and ineffective. Especially for organizations that value agility, OKRs may not seem like a good tool for growth. But when done right, OKRs can, in fact, be one of the best ways to ensure your organization can weather change and continue delivering value.
This guide demonstrates how setting OKRs can help team members and organizations align initiatives to broader company goals, and provides a detailed walkthrough of how to run your own OKR cycle to focus on what matters most for your organization.
What are OKRs?
OKRs stands for Objectives and Key Results. They are a simple but flexible framework for setting goals, defining objectives, and measuring results. OKRs are used to align individual, team, and organizational goals and to track progress toward achieving those goals. OKRs provide a clear focus and direction for organizations to ensure everyone is working toward the same goal.
Although this framework has been around since the 1980s, OKRs have become a popular tool with startups and large tech companies alike due to their ability to create alignment and ensure everyone is consistently working toward the same set of priorities.
While your team is free to define your OKRs however you want, the most effective OKRs typically have the following characteristics:
Objectives are what you want to do or achieve. Effective objectives should be concrete, measurable, and time-bound. Vague and aspirational objectives won’t be as helpful as tangible goals for your employees to shoot for.
Note: It’s also a good idea to make them action-oriented in order to inspire people to take specific steps toward achieving them.
Key results are the outcomes that measure your progress toward objectives. That means they should be quantifiable. Employees should be able to tell when they have achieved them — and when they have not. Putting time limits around them can also be useful.
How many key results should you have for each objective?
While there isn’t any optimal number of key results to measure for each objective, aim for two to five key results per objective and make sure that they can be easily tracked and evaluated on a regular basis.
What’s the difference between key results and KPIs?
Key results and key performance indicators (KPIs) are similar. Key performance indicators are the metric you measure, and key results are the metric outcome you’re trying to reach.
For example, a sales representative’s KPI may be how many leads they reach out to, but the key result they’re aiming for is 30 leads per week.
Consider this example of a well-crafted simple objective:
Lower your carbon footprint. Your key results? Convert to 100 percent renewable energy within six months — or use 100 percent recycled materials within three months.
More broadly, you could also set an objective to simply make customers happy, and then back this up with key results — like achieving a certain NPS score, lowering customer churn to a specific percentage, or collecting a certain amount of customer feedback every month.
OKRs can be used to focus work on a variety of purposes, whether driving company-wide ambitions or increasing your own personal productivity. But regardless of their scope, their strength is in helping to create consensus, clarify action, and motivate people toward achieving meaningful strategic goals.
How to get the most out of OKR planning sessions
So now you’re ready to start planning out your OKRs.
To help out this process, here’s a simple step-by-step framework you can follow to build out your OKR planning sessions:
Define your agenda
Staying on track is especially important for OKR planning sessions. Do this by writing out the schedule for everyone to see. To keep things moving, don’t forget to include how long each section will take. (Keep yourself honest by setting a timer before each session begins.)
Keep sessions flowing smoothly by letting everyone know any rules or expectations you have. For example, you could promote collaboration among distributed colleagues by asking everyone to turn on their cameras.
Start with the company vision
Before getting into specifics, it can be helpful to first ground everyone by reviewing something more general, such as your company vision. This will guide everyone as they start defining key objectives and results. (Asking your CEO to record a quick video on this topic is also a good way to make an impact.)
Break out into smaller groups
It can be intimidating to share ideas in front of a large group. Instead, begin by asking everyone to either brainstorm by themselves or in small groups. This will help get more ideas ready for the larger team.
Hold frequent check-ins to ensure everyone is aligned and engaged
Check-ins offer the opportunity to quickly course correct midstream, as well as offer feedback in the middle of the process that may pay dividends for the broader group. By checking in, you enable better alignment and increase engagement in a constructive and structured way.
Reconvene and finalize
Once everyone has come up with a few ideas, bring everyone back together to discuss them and vote on their favorites. Narrow down your OKRs to a manageable number, or even come up with individual OKRs per team.
OKR planning templates for effective goal-setting
Feel free to adapt these frameworks to your specific needs. For instance, if you are leading an OKR planning session at the team level or for a division, you could streamline these steps by asking everyone to come to the meeting with several ideas already prepared.
The OKR planning template
The template featured in this guide was developed and used by Mural’s executive leadership team. This template includes instructions for two planning sessions and a framework for writing and measuring your OKRs.
The objective & key results template
This general OKR framework provides a methodology for setting team OKRs and includes a section to assign stakeholders responsible for each key result. Use this template to collaboratively outline initiatives and milestones with your team.
The big room OKR planning template
This template by Spotify brings agile methods and visual collaboration to OKR planning. Run your team’s next OKR planning session virtually with Mural, guiding them through a series of collaborative activities over the course of 3-4 hours.
How Mural planned company OKRs entirely remotely [case study]
When the pandemic hit, our teams relied on OKRs to help navigate through the change — a strategy that helped us emerge even stronger on the other side.
This process taught us a lot about what works when it comes to OKR planning, such as the importance of remaining nimble when building out your objectives and results and the need to create accountability and clarity as you work through them.
We break down the OKR process into two sessions and a follow-up workshop to keep employee engagement high throughout the entire process.
Session 1 — set the stage
To get you started, we mapped out a session that will help get everyone aligned and ready to put together effective OKRs, using the OKR planning template.
As in every meeting or workshop, we begin with an icebreaker to get the creative juices flowing. Then we switch into a retrospective to reflect on what worked versus what didn’t. This is your chance to touch on the challenges your organization faced last quarter or year, as well as celebrate your biggest successes so that you can start narrowing down what the focus of your OKRs should be. This also helps orient everyone to use the Mural in an encouraging way that builds trust.
Try to get everyone talking and discussing so they’re ready to keep contributing later on. It may be a good idea here to remind people that nothing is set in stone. The process of coming up with and using OKRs should be thought of as a journey. As you use them, you will inevitably learn what works and what doesn’t, then iterate and adapt them over time.
Once everyone has reflected on the past few months or year and is thinking about your organization’s future, we thought it would be a good idea to include a quick note from leadership. Whether this is from the CEO or a team leader, we included a space for them to record a video in which they explain what is most important or top of mind. Tools like Loom let you record a quick video very easily. Plus, it's a way more engaging piece of content than a company-wide email!
Pro-tip: Don’t make this video too long. It should be about five or ten minutes and only give participants a sense of focus. It will be up to them to come up with a plan.
The message from the CEO should give teams the guidance they need for what comes next — working on their own to agree on objectives. Although a lot of people may think you have to come up with your objective and key results at the same time, this template encourages you to wrap up this session by getting everyone to discuss and decide on your objectives. The main purpose here is to get everyone to agree on what you’re trying to achieve so you have clear goals going into the next quarter or year.
Session 2 — let’s get organized
The second session is all about organization. After a quick warm-up, where you get everyone talking about previous goals and how they measured progress for them, you move onto the measurable action plan.
Because it might be difficult for everyone to come up with useful measurements right off the bat, this template helps you ease into them with clusters. Think of these as more general categories that can each contain multiple individual projects.
For example, say you’re launching a new website. You might have a marketing cluster that contains projects like ad campaigns, launching customer comms, and some reporting to measure the entire flow of these users. This helps you to group projects together so you can think about their wider criteria.
Once you’ve done this, the template provides space for you to organize and prioritize individual projects, as well as to assign owners, deadlines, and metrics of success. Depending on what works best for you and your participants, this can either be done collaboratively during the planning session or asynchronously. In the end, however, everyone should have a clear idea of the projects each team or employee has been working on and what is coming up.
Once you’re through with this session, everything should be in place for you to start fleshing out your OKRs.
From planning OKRs to conducting useful brainstorms, digital collaboration truly enables productivity. Unlock your team's potential and sign up for Mural's free plan today!
Post-workshop — putting it all together
So by now you’ve agreed on your larger objectives, organized your various projects, and even assigned some measurements for their success. It’s time to put that all together.
Phrasing your objective thoughtfully helps you think through what the real business goals are for each OKR.
The template provides an intuitive way to begin doing this by phrasing each objective with “We will [YOUR OBJECTIVE].” For example, “We will become a world-class Revenue Operations team” or “We will become the platform of choice for solutions consultants.” Try to be as specific as possible when coming up with your company objectives. For instance, here’s an example of what you should NOT do:
“I will improve the way I engage with my customers by preparing better for my meetings and asking for more feedback from my manager.”
Compare that with this better example:
“I will improve the way I engage with my customers by applying the ACE framework in 100% of my calls, use a discovery canvas template in every disco call and get 5 customer praises during the quarter.”
From there, you can carry forward the work you did in Session 2 and assign key results for those objectives. Try to come up with three key results per objective.
The template also provides space for you to list out your rationale (why are you doing this?), associated projects, and any relevant dependencies. There’s even a section for you to mark the status of each key result if your team would like to continually return to this template to track their progress. Like the previous session, you can conduct this part either in real-time or asynchronously, depending on what works best for you.
Tips to ensure your OKR planning session is successful
So how do you ensure your OKRs remain useful when so much else is uncertain?
One of the first things we realized when we began adapting our planning process after COVID was that the most important part wasn’t necessarily how we were conducting our planning meetings, but how we were implementing our OKRs.
Specifically, there are five key elements you should have in place to ensure your team can successfully achieve your OKRs:
You need to be nimble
No one objective or result will solve everything for your company. A willingness to continually make adjustments, experiment with solutions, and find what works is essential to making progress.
Your leadership needs to ensure alignment
Because OKRs are a collective commitment, your leadership team needs to make sure each team is working together toward your shared goals. When a new product launches, it’s not just the engineering team’s responsibility, but sales and marketing as well. Alignment is key.
Your OKRs need to be visible
Don’t treat them as something you think about only once a quarter. Make them something your managers talk about at least every other week. Make sure everyone understands what the goals are, the work that is going into meeting them, and the progress being made.
You need to create accountability and clarity
OKRs are not the place for vague platitudes. You need to make sure they are tied to specific actions and hold individuals and teams accountable for fulfilling them.
Less is more
Finally, it’s important to note that OKRs are not the place for you to be tracking business as usual. Instead, they should be used to plan out strategic choices. To that end, the fewer you have, the more focus you can give them individually.
Start planning out your OKRs visually with Mural
OKR planning sessions are, by design, a little messy. Effective OKR planning should capture as much input from as many stakeholders as possible and then focus teamwork around the most important work. This can make running the sessions seem a little intimidating and chaotic — but the reality is the mess brings meaning.
Making strategic planning visual offers your team a way to bring clarity and alignment. Everyone is included, working off the same “virtual” page — that is, the digital canvas in Mural. And everyone has the chance to show what they mean. In other words, that “mess” helps your team create shared meaning.
Felix Beccar is the VP of Operations at MURAL. He leads the company's growth strategy, finance, and revenue operations. Previously, Felix worked in management consulting at Bain & Co and in technology at LinkedIn and Pipedrive.