OKRs (or "Objectives and Key Results”) is a phrase you may have heard in a business setting, but what exactly does it mean, and who can it benefit?
It is a method for defining goals and setting measurable criteria to determine if those goals have been met. Sounds simple, right? Let’s dive into the history and some use cases.
OKRs have been around since the early 1990s and are generally credited to Andy Grove, the CEO of Intel at the time. From there, venture capitalist John Doerr shared OKRs with the founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, in the form of: “I will [objective] as measured by [key result]”.
It is claimed that Page and Brin used this method as new business owners because they didn’t have any other methods to manage their young corporation, but are OKRs only for use at the corporate level? No, they are not. To this day, every Google employee writes down their OKRs and the company has been massively successful over the years because defining and measuring success happens at the individual contributor level too. When employees internalize the concepts for their own performance, and for the overall goals and performance of the company, everybody is working toward a common goal.
OKRs aren’t just for large companies like Intel and Google. They can help small companies, too.
Consider the example of a small technology company that creates educational games. If one of the objectives is to help school-aged children to learn in a fun way, the key results should be tied to measurable data, such as improved assignment grades and test scores among those who use the software, learning the material more quickly as compared to other educational methods, or an improved rating of enjoyment from the children (again, as compared to other methods). Other objectives might be tied to company growth, and key results that allow “growth” to be measured are increasing the number of employees, increasing the number of customers, and increasing revenue.
Key results should also be specific in order to be measurable. Vague metrics like “increase number of employees” aren’t measurable. A better key result or “key performance indicator” (KPI) would be “increase employees from five to eight, by hiring two software engineers and a marketing manager.” This is a key result that supports the objective directly by allowing the company to make new products, do work faster, and also focus on expansion via marketing to new clients.