Career Development

OKRs: Definition, Goal Setting and Work Examples

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The first step to success is making a good plan. There are many techniques for effective planning, but one stands out for its simplicity and flexibility, and it’s suitable for individuals and huge corporations alike: the Objective and Key Results technique, or OKR. Here’s how the OKR method can help you achieve success in your career.

What is an OKR?

An OKR is a high-level goal setting technique that allows you to define your most important goals and how you plan to to achieve them. The OKR concept has existed since the ’70s.

The technique can apply to projects of any size, for example, you can use it to help add momentum to your career.

An OKR has three parts:

Objective

This is a high-level goal that you hope to achieve in the long term. To find your objective, ask yourself questions like, ‘Where do I want to be in 10 years?’ or ‘What kind of career would make me truly happy?’

Each OKR has a single objective. If you have more than one objective, you can create multiple OKRs.

Key results

These are the milestones that you absolutely need to hit to meet your objective. Think about the things you need to achieve if you want to meet your goal. For example, you might need to attain a professional certification or get some additional work experience.

Each OKR will have multiple key results. When you’ve achieved all of your key results, you should be close to reaching your overall objective.

To-dos

Each key result has an associated to-do list. These are the tasks that you need to perform in order to achieve your key result.

To-do list items should be clear and actionable. When you’ve ticked off every item on the to-do list, you should achieve your result.

How to set an OKR

When organizations set OKRs, they follow five basic rules. Here are the rules you should follow when using OKRs to reach your career goals:

1. Be clear

OKRs should always clearly state what you’re trying to achieve and how you hope to do so. Ask yourself if your objective is SMART—specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely.

2. Be inspiring

A great OKR will make you feel excited about the future. The objective will be something you’re passionate about, and the key results will be challenges that you feel ready to meet.

3. Be accountable

In an organization, this means publishing your OKRs so other teams can see them. For personal OKRs, you can have an accountability partner. This is a friend who knows about your OKRs and who encourages you to keep moving toward your objective.

4. Track your progress

Whenever you complete a to-do or achieve a key result, don’t forget to update your OKR to-do list. Celebrations and rewards can also help keep you motivated, so give yourself a treat when you hit a major milestone.

5. Accept failure

If success were guaranteed, you wouldn’t need all this planning. Some OKRs will fail, but failure represents an opportunity to learn and grow. The lessons you take from an unsuccessful OKR can help you succeed on the next one.

The most important part of the OKR is the objective. A good objective is something that’s not impossible to achieve but will require a lot of hard work and commitment.

Ideally, your objectives should have a time limit. It doesn’t matter if it’s a short time limit or a longer time limit, such as a week or a year. The important thing is to have a deadline. This will encourage you not to put things off indefinitely.

OKR example

OKRs can help in any situation. Here’s an example of how an OKR can help organize the search for a new job.

OKR example: Find a new job and get hired

Hannah has been actively looking for a new job for the past month, but it hasn’t been going well. She uses the OKR method to help focus her efforts.

She knows that she wants to be in a new role within the next three months. She hasn’t had any interviews yet, which she suspects is due to her resume being badly formatted. Also, she knows that she should apply for more jobs to broaden her chances of getting hired.

Here is her OKR:

Objective: Find a new job in the next three months.

Key results and to-do lists:

  1. Have a refreshed resume.
    • Consult a recruitment expert for resume advice.
    • Create multiple resumes for different job types.
    • Study online guides to writing better cover letters.
  2. Attend a minimum of one interview per week.
    • Apply to at least 10 jobs per week.
    • Ask friends and family if they know of any vacant positions.
    • Follow up on existing job applications.
  3. Be fully interview-ready.
    • Buy new interview clothes.
    • Practice the most common interview questions.
    • Try some mock interviews with a friend.

The objective in this example is aspirational. However, by breaking it down into smaller key results with a clear to-do list, Hannah has given herself a roadmap to success. While there’s no guarantee she will have a new job in three months, following this OKR will give Hannah the best possible chance of being hired.

Getting started with OKRs

You can map out your OKRs using a pen and paper, however, you may find it more productive to track your progress using a digital tool such as a task-tracking application.

Most organizations try not to have too many OKRs at one time. Some tech companies, for example, usually limit their OKRs to around five per quarter. When one is complete, they create a new one.

You can also mix short-term OKRs with long-term OKRs. You might have two or three objectives that you want to achieve in the next six months, with another one or two OKRs that you aim for over the next five years.