OKR (Objectives and Key Results) is a simple yet powerful, collaborative goal-setting protocol for businesses, teams and even individuals, relied upon by organisations around the world to drive (among other things) strategic focus, alignment, and engagement.
OKRs are not a new concept, but their growing popularity is the result of a number of factors, most noticeably their successful implementation within certain high profile organisations, their popularisation through a number of highly regarded publications, and the pursuit of a more agile strategy framework within businesses of all types and sizes.
OKRs in their current form are an evolution of methodologies that can be traced back to the mid 1950s - specifically Management By Objectives (MBO) and SMART Goals - strategic management models that aimed to improve the performance of an organisation by clearly defining objectives that are agreed to by both management and employees. This was taken forward by Andy Grove, of Intel fame, during the 1970s, and then came to further prominence when John Doerr, previously of Intel, introduced the idea to Google in the 1990s. This is widely regarded as critical to Google’s success, and acted as the modern day launch pad for OKRs as we know them.
From that success came adoption initially in the early 2000s by many well known Silicon Valley businesses - Twitter, LinkedIn, Dropbox and Oracle to name a few - and subsequently by businesses worldwide such as Amazon, Spotify, Gap, Netflix and Samsung bringing us to the state of play today.
OKR helps to ensure efforts are focused on the same important issues throughout the organisation, and a fundamental change in the way organisations think about setting and achieving their strategic goals that requires cultural self awareness and top to bottom commitment. Put simply, OKRs should transform the organisation.
They are what is commonly referred to as an ‘open source’ framework, enabling organisations to apply a constant set of principles in whatever way works best for them. They also have what are known as the OKR Superpowers - the key benefits that any organisation implementing them should observe:
•Prioritisation – less is more; focus on the critical few priorities that will drive significant performance improvements
•Alignment – ensure team objectives are aligned with those of the organisation, and that interdependencies on other teams are recognised and managed (vertical and horizontal alignment)
•Accountability – OKRs must have clear ownership
•Stretch – objectives and key results should be ambitious to drive real improvement, but set within a culture that embraces ‘shooting for Mars but landing on the Moon’; 70% of an ambitious goal is better than 100% of something easily achievable
•Transparency – full visibility of all OKRs ensures total buy in, removes silos and promotes top to bottom engagement
•Engagement - involving all levels of the organisation in the process to ensure that everyone is pulling in the same direction to minimise waste and foster teamwork
•Agility – by reviewing contribution and alignment every 90 days it is possible to quickly iterate on strategy and flex where necessary to reflect current priorities as a result of external influences , critical in today’s rapidly changing business environment