Goal Setting

How to write effective OKRs in 8 steps

9 min read

Writing great OKRs can be simple once you know the best practices. We’ve got you covered with this guide on how to write OKRs that stick.

Every business has goals. Sometimes those are internal ones, like building a great culture. Other times they’re external goals such as delivering a fantastic experience for your customers. But achieving those goals takes more than putting your intentions out into the universe — you need a plan. You need to understand how to write ✨ OKRs. ✨

What are OKRs? They’re objectives (where you’re going) and key results (how we track our progress getting there) that make your goals actionable and measurable. They’re clear, transparent, and collaborative.

But if you’re wondering how to write OKRs that work, you’re in the right place. In this article, we’ll take you through:

What is the format of an OKR?

As far as goal-setting frameworks go, OKRs are one of the most straightforward tools for almost every type of business.

Writing an OKR that works starts with an objective statement that’s actionable, time-bound, and ambitious. For example:

  • Deliver a best-in-class customer service experience
  • Be a top 10 app in the App Store by the end of the year
  • Create an inclusive culture that’s welcoming for everyone

From there, use key results to measure your progress as you work toward the objective.

Writing great key results means keeping them clear, quantifiable, and actionable. There’s no concrete rule for how many key results an objective needs — but 3 to 5 is a good rule of thumb to use. Here’s an example of 3 key results for the last objective listed above:

  • Create an inclusive culture that’s welcoming for everyone
    • Achieve an eNPS (employee net promoter score) of 30 by the end of Q2
    • Get 15 internal referrals for posted positions
    • Reduce turnover by 10% by the end of Q2

Adding more key results doesn’t mean you’re tracking better. Less is more when it comes to key results — 3 to 5 key results will keep your team focused and moving forward together.

OKR infographic

What makes a good OKR?

Now that you know the format of an OKR let’s go into the details of what separates good OKRs from bad ones. In our example culture OKR, you might have noticed that each key result is measurable, clear and time-bound.

These are a few key characteristics that make up good OKRs:

Measurable

The core of a good OKR is that it’s measurable. If your OKRs aren’t clearly measurable, it’s going to be difficult to know if you’ve been successful. And if you don’t know if you’ve been successful, how will you know if your OKRs were effective? Or where to go next?

You need to track your progress towards the objective. Whether that’s a score like eNPS, the count of support tickets for a product, or the number of customer interviews done, ensure there’s a quantifiable way to measure success.

Challenging

Writing good OKRs is not the time or place for lowered expectations. OKRs should be a challenge — no risk, no reward. 

For many teams, writing OKRs that work involves stretch goals. These are goals that are slightly beyond what you and your team think you’re capable of accomplishing. Don’t worry about hitting that 100% mark, though. We’ll talk about what success looks like when it comes to OKRs later in the post.

Clear

This isn’t the time to get fancy —  every OKR you set needs to be easily understood by your team. OKRs need to be clear, concise, and digestible. The objective needs to be straightforward, and the key results should show what you’re tracking and how you’re tracking it without the need for an explanation.

Consistently reviewed

If no one remembers your OKRs, it’s going to be pretty difficult to hit them.

The most critical part of writing OKRs isn’t how you write them. It’s how you use them. You should revisit OKRs often so they stay preeminent and your team knows how they’re progressing. Our recommendation: make reviewing OKRs part of weekly stand-up meetings or 1:1s. 

Pro tip: try our goals software to add OKRs to the top of your agendas.

How to write OKRs: A step-by-step guide

One of the key reasons we love OKRs is that they’re not written in a boardroom. Everyone has input into what the objectives should be, and everyone has ownership of success. 

Here are 8 steps to help set and achieve OKRs that work at a company, team and individual level.

1. Understand your company goals 

Writing effective OKRs starts with understanding your organizational goals. Once you’re clear on the vision, you can break down those higher-level goals into actionable team OKRs to drive your business forward.

Remember that OKRs shouldn’t be set in isolation. Everything should ladder up into each other.

Starting with well-defined goals informs your team OKRs, which lead to individual OKRs. This will help everyone stay aligned and moving in the same direction.

2. Choose the right tools

Like any project, having the right tool for the job is critical. From brainstorming sessions on goals and objectives to tracking your progress, excellent tools are available to help support and stay aligned on your OKRs — especially when you’re working in a remote or hybrid workplace.

  • Miro: We love whiteboards for brainstorming, but if you’re a remote team or working from home, Miro is the next best thing (although there are usually muffins when you brainstorm in person 😉). 
  • Hypercontext’s Goal Library – Looking for a bit of inspiration for setting your goals and OKRs? We’ve got you covered with over 240 free examples in our Goal Library.
  • Google Sheets- When you want to track the nitty gritty details of your goals, Google Sheets is a simple but effective tool to do so — it’s why so many people use it. Plus, it allows you to collaborate with your team.
  • Hypercontext goal tracking – Keeping your team up-to-date with the progress on your OKRs is one of the reasons we built Hypercontext. It puts meetings and goals into one simple-to-use workflow so teams can easily work together and stay on the same page, regardless of location.

3. Involve your whole team

OKRs are bi-directional, not top-down. Each team member should have input into OKRs— leading to a shared sense of ownership and accountability on your team.

So once you’ve gotten clear on your company goals, and put in place the right tools, call a team meeting to start brainstorming and finessing your OKRs for the quarter.

Then, as the quarter goes on, don’t forget to continuously keep the team in the loop on progress, so everyone can see the impact of their work and that of their peers.

4. Write an OKR objective statement

Your objectives are the destination you’re heading toward — so they should be established before your key results and initiatives. Sometimes it can be tempting to start with results, but it’s the objective that guides the key results. Your objective should consist of one sentence, along with a short description.

Your objectives need to be ambitious, so it’s normal to feel a bit uncomfortable when setting them. If not, re-evaluate—  you may be setting the bar too low.

5. Develop key results

Key results are how progress is measured towards the objective. If the objective is the destination, then your key results are the map to getting there.

It’s with key results where you get to define how you’re going to measure your progress. Remember, they should be relevant to your objective and easy to measure with a number.

6. Plan your initiatives

Now, put all of this together with one more ingredient — initiatives. Initiatives are how you’re going to put the OKRs into action. Here are two examples of what the full combination of objective, key result, and initiative could look like:

ObjectiveKey ResultInitiative
Be the best remote work companyHave an eNPS score of 30Conduct monthly eNPS surveys with employees
Be in the top 5 top-selling SaaS solutionsGenerate 50 inbound leadsStart a new paid digital marketing campaign

7. Track them consistently

Too many organizations start with the best of intentions when it comes to OKRs. They do the work of brainstorming across their teams. They put their OKRs into great-looking templates. Then, sadly, they put them on a shared drive and forget about them. 

OKRs work when you track and review them. Find ways to make OKR reviews part of your process. That could be reviewing individual OKRs at 1:1s, team OKRs at weekly team meetings, or organizational OKRs during quarterly town hall meetings. 

8. Celebrate 70%

When we talked about what makes a good OKR, we discussed the need to make it challenging.

The best OKRs are just out of reach — they’re meant to inspire your team. But not demotivate them by being completely unachievable. There’s a fine line between the two. That’s why it’s important to celebrate your successes, even if you don’t hit 100% of the key results. 

Excel OKR Template

To help you get started with your OKRs, we put together a template that you can use to establish and keep track of your objectives and key results:

Hypercontext's OKR template
Try Hypercontext’s OKR template in Excel

Looking to set OKRs for your specific team? We’ve got a ton of other useful resources you can check out, plus a library of over 240 OKR examples:

👉 Get inspired with our library of 240+ goal and OKR examples