How to Focus Objectives and Create Amazing OKRs

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What are OKR focus objectives? How can you use OKR focus goals to implement an OKR system?

Choosing your OKR focus objectives allows you to decide on your priorities and frame your goals. OKR focus objectives also give you the tools to adjust your goals.

Read more about OKR focus objectives and how they works.

Why Focus Objectives

How to Implement OKRs for focus: Create OKRs at the organizational level, the departmental level, the team level, and the individual level. At each tier, create no more than 5 sets of objectives and key results. Limiting the number of OKRs keeps you focused on what matters most.

This OKR superpower has two facets: 1) focus on your priorities, and 2) commit to the OKR process. We’ll look at “focus” first.

There are 3 steps to creating OKRs that focus your attention

  1. Identify your objectives
  2. Identify your key results
  3. Check the quantity and quality of your OKRs

Identify Your Focus Objectives

The first step of the OKR process is figuring out the “Os,” your objectives. Every individual and team in the company will have their own objectives and key results, but in order for these OKRs to be meaningful, they need to align with the organization’s highest objectives, so start with these.

To determine your organization’s highest objectives, ask, “What are the most important tasks we need to accomplish in the next three months, the next six months, and the next year?”

You can’t do everything. Answering these questions gets you focused on the few things that have to get done for the company to succeed. These are your objectives.

Your biggest priorities, the goals that everyone in the organization is working toward, are your organization-level objectives, or company-wide objectives. 

Once you’ve identified your organization-level objectives, departments, teams, and individuals can identify their own objectives. These objectives often feed into and support organization-level objectives, so determining them is a matter of starting with the top objectives and figuring out what sub-goals you need to meet to achieve them. (We’ll cover how to create this alignment in the next chapter.)

At each tier, OKR focus on three to five objectives. Any more than this, and your focus will be too dispersed.

Identify Key Results

After you know your priorities, your objectives, you can start to plan how to achieve them. Key results are the steps that get you there. For each objective, decide on three to five key results—sub-goals that are specific, measurable, and time-bound, and that collectively ensure you’ll attain your objective.

The three sets of key results (KRs) below are all proposed paths toward the objective of winning the Indy 500. What differentiates the strong key results from the weak and so-so key results?

Weak KRsSo-So KRsStrong KRs
Objective: Win the Indy 500.KR #1: Achieve a faster lap speed.KR #2: Decrease time during pit stops.Objective: Win the Indy 500.KR #1: Achieve a lap speed that’s 2% faster.KR #2: Decrease time during pit stops by an average of 1 second/stop.Objective: Win the Indy 500.KR #1: Achieve a lap speed that’s 2% faster.KR #2: Decrease time during pit stops by an average of 1 second/stop.KR #3: Decrease pit stop errors by half.KR #4: Spend 1 hour/day practicing pit stops.

The Problem with the Weak KRs: These key results are measurable, but they aren’t specific. How much faster does your lap speed need to be to win the Indy 500? By how much time do you need to decrease pit-stop length?

The Problem with the So-So KRs: These key results are better because they’re measurable and specific. In the beginning, many of your KRs will look like these, and that’s fine. But there’s still a problem. Achieving a faster lap speed is relatively straightforward, but how do you decrease your pit-stop time? The strongest KRs answer how. 

Checklist: Focus and Commit

Once you’ve focused your priorities with OKR focus, you need to commit to the OKR process. Use this checklist to set up the OKR system and get your entire staff to commit to it.

Start with the Executive Team and Upper Management 

Use the company’s mission statement and strategic plan to create top-line OKRs with focus objectives. There are three reasons to start at the top, and to start small:

  1. Executives and managers need to know their own OKRs before their direct reports can align their individual goals with those of the company. Often, organization-level key results will trickle down the hierarchy, becoming the objectives of departments, who will then create their own key results to meet those objectives.
  2. In the beginning, implementing OKRs won’t be a smooth process. Work out the biggest kinks before you continue the rollout to other tiers. It may take several phases before you implement OKRs company-wide.
  3. You need to establish buy-in. Employees won’t commit to the process if their bosses don’t publicly model and commit to it. Establish your own commitment first before asking for anyone else’s. To this end, create your own personal OKRs, independent of your team’s OKRs.

Decide on the Length of Your OKR Cycle 

While individual focus objectives may have their own deadlines, your team should be operating according to the same general goal-setting schedule, or OKR cycle. For most companies, there are two OKR cycles, quarterly and annual, running simultaneously. Annual cycles are for long-term OKRs, and quarterly cycles are for short-term OKRs that support the longer-term objectives.

A quarterly OKR cycle is appropriate for businesses in markets that change quickly, such as technology. The short time frame of three months per quarter helps create a sense of urgency and deter procrastination. But the timeframe of your OKR cycle will depend on your particular business and field. Your OKR cycle might be monthly or semi-annually.

Choose a Cloud-Based Management System

In order to effectively track OKRs, you first need a place to store and share them. General-purpose software, such as Microsoft Word, can only get you so far. One Fortune 500 company had to completely revise their OKR system after starting with Word: They realized that quarterly goals in Word from all 82,000 employees resulted in 328,000 distinct Word files annually. These files were public, but did anyone have the patience to read them? If nobody knows your OKRs, are they really transparent?

A better system is a cloud-based OKR system, many of which include mobile apps, analytic tools, automatic updating, and integration with other services. (Shortform note: Cloud-based OKR systems include WorkBoard, Ally, Culture Amp, Asana, and many others.)

The benefits of a cloud-based OKR system:

  • They make goals visible because it’s easy to find the OKRs of your boss, your colleagues, your direct reports, and people in other departments. The other benefits stem from this all-important one.
  • They increase your engagement with your goals because you can clearly see how they align with the goals of the company.
  • They allow you to network with your colleagues because, again, your colleagues’ goals are easy to find and see.
  • They save you time, money, and energy because you’re not hunting for the relevant Word docs, emails, and notes. Everything you need is in one place, and it’s easily searchable.

Designate an “OKR Shepherd”

In order for the OKR system to work, everyone, from the CEO to the lowest-level employee, has to take part. No one can opt-out. But you’ll likely encounter people who resist the system or procrastinate in setting their OKRs. It’s useful to put someone in charge of keeping the rest of the team or organization accountable for setting and evaluating their OKRs.

Support the OKRs of Your Team and Direct Reports 

If you think a departmental OKR is so important that it could use company-wide support, elevate it to a company-wide OKR. If you think a particular key result is at risk of not being achieved on time, elevate it to the level of an objective and give it its own key results to make the path to its achievement clear with focus objectives.

How to Focus Objectives and Create Amazing OKRs

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  • How Google uses OKRs to rally 100,000 employees in the right direction
  • How to avoid setting useless OKRs, and how to set great ones
  • Key subtle behaviors your team must master to make OKRs work

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