Two Examples of Weak OKRs and How to Fix Them

Seems like everyone is using Objectives and Key Results these days. Ever since Google started using OKRs in 1999, organizations of all sizes and shapes started OKR’ing their goal setting and planning processes. And it’s great people are moving towards using OKRs--I’m a huge fan--but many of the OKR’s out there are not quite up to snuff.

If you don't know what OKR's are, here is an article I wrote a couple years ago that gives a good overview.   This article dives deeper into the process of creating OKR's offering a checklist for well-written Objectives and Key Results.

Objectives define direction and create strategic alignment

First, Objectives define a directional choice and focus. They are qualitative in nature. They say, "We are focusing on this area to develop and to become better in it."

Second, Objectives need to be aligned with and support a particular strategy. By making progress on an Objective, you are implementing a strategy. Objectives certainly shouldn’t run counter to a strategy. The best Objectives are highly aligned and move along a strategy as quickly as possible.

Finally, Objectives need to be motivating. They should have meaning. They need to be interesting, inspiring, and challenging. “Waking up early” is a boring Objective. “Starting each day watching the sun rise and setting your intentions” has meaning.

Key Results define discrete work efforts

First, KRs are “doable”. They have clear definitions of done with completion criteria. A third-person should be able to “see” that a KR has been completed. Could be a checklist, could be a document, could be that they push a button and a light goes on. Conversely, you should be able to tell when a KR is not done.

Second, KRs are independent from one another. KRs shouldn’t be a list of steps in a project. If so, the last one is the KR, the rest are milestones. You should be able to complete one KR without completing the others and the failure to complete one, shouldn’t impede the others.

Finally, KRs shouldn’t include your standard work. OKRs are designed to move strategy forward, not define your day-to-day list of responsibilities. KRs should be above and beyond the day-to-day. They represent the strategy work that needs to be done that wouldn’t get done without this focus.

Here are some examples of poorly written Objectives and Key Results and what you can do to improve them.

Example 1:

Objective: Wake up earlier

Key Results:

  • Set an alarm
  • Go to bed earlier
  • Write down things to do

Let’s start with the Objective, it could be more compelling. Let’s change that to “Wake up earlier so that I can be more productive and focus on my long-term goals.” This gives it more why.

  • The Key Results need to be a little more specific and “doable”. Let’s re-write them to these:
  • Set an alarm for 5:30 AM and put it on the other side of the room to that I have to get out of bed
  • Set an alarm for 10:15 PM to remind me to start my bedtime routine
  • Each night, write down the six things I need to do the next day to make progress on my long-term goals

These have more detail and specifics that allow me to track if I really did each of these or not. It’s also more clear how they connect to my Objective and help move it forward.

Example 2:

Objective: Improve customer service

Key Results:

  • CSR training
  • Improve phone system
  • Improve call script

This Objective can use some clearer direction. There are many ways we could improve customer service and we should clarify which one we want to focus on. Both “Improve customer experience so that it reduces that time they take to get their problems solved” or “Improve customer service so that we don’t get as many unsatisfied ratings” would both be better and specify a clear direction. 

The Key Results in this case lack a clear “definition of done. Let’s set up some better measures so that we know we’ve accomplished the task at hand.

  • Ensure each CSR has had a least two coaching sessions to review recent problematic calls by EOQ
  • Upgrade the phone system to version 4.5 and hold two webinars with staff to review the new functions
  • Research and identify the top 10 service complaints and develop one-page call scripts for diagnosing each of these issues

Hopefully these examples give you some ideas on how to improve your OKRs if you’re already using them. And if you’re just getting started, use them as a guide for getting off to a strong start. If you have some that you’re grappling with and would like some feedback on, email them to and we’ll give you our thoughts.

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