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Goals & OKRs

How to write OKRs | Our step-by-step guide

Leapsome Team
How to write OKRs | Our step-by-step guide
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When company leadership sets business-wide objectives and key results (OKRs), it’s up to the people ops and HR managers to ensure every team and department aligns their respective OKRs. And if you’ve ever been responsible for that, you know it’s not as simple as sharing the company-wide OKRs with all departments. 

You have to collaborate with team leads to create relevant, department-specific OKRs. You have to make sure everyone follows similar internal processes for tracking their OKRs. And you have to verify that every employee understands the OKR framework and knows how to write OKRs.

Sounds easier said than done? All you need is a streamlined, repeatable OKR writing process. 

To get started, use this step-by-step guide and help your people understand OKR creation. For better visualization, we also included a shareable infographic and template that illustrates the OKR methodology.

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What makes a good OKR?

Good objectives and key results (OKRs) are ambitious, measurable, specific, and deadline-driven. They strike the perfect balance between difficult-to-achieve and realistic, and should be possible but challenging to reach within your specified timeframe. 

Let’s break down OKRs into their two components: The ‘objective’ is your overarching goal — it should be ambitious, and aligned with your company mission, purpose, and values. The ‘key results’ are the action steps you have to take to reach that goal — they should be more specific and measurable. 

As for your success rate, you’ve hit the OKR sweet spot when you achieve around 70% to 80% of your target. Because ultimately, the purpose of OKRs isn’t 100% success but to make meaningful progress. 

OKR formula

As mentioned, every OKR has two parts — the objective and the key results. Each of your objectives should have three to five specific key results.

The following example shows how you can create OKRs using an OKR formula. Note how the ‘objective’ statement is broad but has a time frame, and every ‘key result’ has a target metric to help you measure its success. 

Objective | Increase employee engagement in the next quarter

Common OKR mistakes

The OKR framework is effective for reaching even the most challenging goals because it helps you break them down into smaller tasks, making them more achievable. But getting OKRs right requires planning, patience, and collaboration. Be mindful of the following challenges when writing them: 

  • Not providing enough time or training In a hurry to implement company-level OKRs, people ops professionals and team leads may fall into the trap of assigning team members OKRs without explaining how the framework works. And when employees don’t have the time to learn about, absorb, and reflect on how to use OKRs effectively, they won’t be well-equipped to set meaningful objectives on their own.
  • Being overly prescriptive There’s no such thing as a perfect OKR. And striving for perfection when building OKRs puts you at risk of not making genuine progress toward your goals. Remember, they’re a tool and shouldn’t become an end in themselves.
  • Not communicating or collaborating enough Leadership should avoid simply handing their OKRs down to team leads. Cascading OKRs have to start with leadership, it’s true. But once they decide on their goals for an upcoming period, the leadership team needs to work with management to create departmental OKRs that work for everyone.
  • Confusing OKRs with KPIs Key performance indicators (KPIs) are basic performance metrics teams use to measure their progress regularly. Common KPIs that companies track are revenue growth, engagement rate, absenteeism rate, and customer satisfaction rate. OKRs can’t replace KPIs, but you can use KPIs when writing OKRs.
  • Taking too much inspiration from others Competitive research should be part of the OKR brainstorming process to help you identify benchmarks and best practices. But your business priorities, mission, and core values should be the primary inspiration for your organizational OKRs.
📈 Develop OKRs with Leapsome and stand apart from your competitors  

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We have the OKR templates, workflows, and analytics you need to achieve them. 

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Photo of five employees in a meeting.

Collaboration is integral to writing effective company-level and team-level OKRs

How to write OKRs in 8 steps

Your leadership and executives likely have a baseline understanding of how OKRs work. But implementing OKRs across your entire organization should be a collaborative, instructive, and engaging process. Here are eight steps you can take to create OKRs that drive outcomes and increase employee alignment and commitment within your company.

1. Select a dedicated OKR tool to make collaboration easier

Top-tier OKRs require collaboration between individual team members and departments. In addition, the prevalence of remote work requires organizations to have a centralized place for all objectives, key results, communications, and feedback.

There are a few ways you can approach this. If your organization is new to setting OKRs, an OKR template might be a solid, no-cost solution. OKR templates are useful because they’re highly customizable and great for teams who have experience with Google Sheets or Excel. They let you set OKRs, assign team members to specific objectives and key results, and score your OKRs. 

But for fast-growing companies in need of a more streamlined, user-friendly OKR writing system, we encourage using OKR software. With a dedicated OKR platform, you can:

  • Make use of detailed, customizable OKR templates
  • Automate OKR grading and progress tracking
  • Communicate and give feedback on key results and progress
  • Visualize your data with reports and analytics
  • Sync your OKRs with performance reviews and career development frameworks
  • Get automatic OKR progress updates
Screenshot of Leapsome's Goals & OKR Management Module
A platform like Leapsome lets you store and share your OKR data with all stakeholders

2. Have leadership collaborate on company-level OKRs

Your C-level executives, managing directors, and team leads need to take part in creating parent goals and company-level OKRs. Why? Because collaboration drives alignment and company-wide transparency. It also prevents certain goals — like those related to revenue or acquisition — from being prioritized over others.  

In addition, team leads and managers will have to establish team-specific goals that align with the business-wide OKRs, so collaboration from the get-go is crucial. You’ll need everyone’s input at the leadership level to create objectives that make sense for all your people.

3. Reflect on your most important company values & objectives

Most companies plan parent goals for the entire year and use them to establish OKRs for every subsequent quarter. But how do they prioritize the long-term business goals for that year? Leadership gets together to brainstorm ideas and decide on the objectives, values, and initiatives they want to focus on. 

Here are some things to keep in mind during the brainstorming process:

  • Your vision statement, which is what your company strives to become. Your company’s vision typically encompasses high-level, long-term goals. It is often communicated in a sentence, such as “We aim to be Europe’s go-to provider for residential real-estate expertise.”
  • Your mission, which speaks to both the present and the future. Company missions can be more specific and describe your industry, clients, and what kind of service you provide. For example, “We offer beginning-to-end logistics solutions for medium-to-large ecommerce brands.”
  • Your values, which have to do with your company’s internal culture. To give you an idea of how they can look in real life, our values at Leapsome are:
  1. Listen and learn
  2. Challenge the status quo
  3. Take ownership and pursue excellence
  4. Seek impact
  5. Be honest and transparent
  6. Be kind and humble
  • Your purpose, which looks outward. It encompasses what you want to do for others, for example, “make work fulfilling for everyone.”

Aim to develop five to seven tentative goals in this brainstorming session, which you’ll pare down further in the OKR planning process.

Photo of five employees in a planning meeting.

Rely on your vision statement, mission, values, and purpose to inform your company-level OKRs

4. Identify your long-term business goals & set them for the year 

With your tentative goals as a starting point, it’s time to identify your main business objectives and decide what you want to focus on during the upcoming year.

Here are some examples of potential business objectives:

  • Expand into a new geographic area
  • Provide new products or services
  • Boost profit margins
  • Increase revenue
  • Venture into a new marketing channel
  • Create a new website or rebrand an existing one
  • Prioritize hiring and recruitment efforts
  • Become a coveted place to work

And here’s how you can turn some of those high-level aspirations into more specific goals for the year:

  • Expand into a new geographic area
    → Prepare a business plan for potential clients in San Francisco
  • Boost profit margins
    → Spend 3% less on overhead
  • Venture into a new marketing channel
    → Devote more resources to email marketing efforts
  • Become a coveted place to work
    → Increase Employee Net Promoter Score from 15 to 20

5. Write your OKR objective statements

Objective statements are the foundational components of your company OKRs, and you should use your yearly goals to create them. 

As you brainstorm how to turn your yearly goals into objective statements, think about the specific results you want and how much time you’ll need to achieve them. Using goal-setting software to collaborate and visualize which departments own which objectives will help you be more realistic with your timeline.

Here are some example objective statements based on the yearly goals above:

  • Prepare a business plan for potential clients by the end of Q1
  • Reduce overhead spending by 3% in the next six months
  • Develop a new email marketing strategy by the end of Q1
  • Increase eNPS score from 15 to 20 by the end of Q3
Photo of an employee presenting data to two other employees.

Your objective statements should be more specific, time-bound, and feasible than your high-level annual goals

6. Provide OKR training on company, department & individual levels

You’ve established your company-level objective statements, but before you start setting up team OKRs, ensure everyone in your organization receives adequate training and has the opportunity to practice and experiment with the OKR framework first.

Here’s what you should emphasize in your OKR training:

  • Team-wide contributions Whether you collaborate in meetings or ask team members to share their thoughts asynchronously, everyone should play a role in determining what objectives to prioritize each quarter.
  • Your team’s areas of growth — Determine what issues or gaps need your attention and address them in your OKRs. Not all OKRs need to be about solving problems, but that can be a good place to start.
  • Alignment with company-level OKRs — Help your people understand that collaboration with leadership is vital to the OKR process. Ensure every team considers the organization’s parent goals when creating department- and team-specific OKRs. This is crucial for aligning company initiatives.
  • Broad objective statements first, then key results — Avoid getting bogged down in the details and trying to set key results from the outset. Strive for high-level thinking first, then get more specific later.
  • The importance of practice — All team members should expect some trial and error in the OKR process. If they don’t meet specific key results or objectives, that’s okay: Learning is part of the process. You can leverage the lessons from each OKR cycle, and many organizations dedicate an agenda point to missed targets during quarterly OKR reviews.
  • 100% success isn’t the end goal — The goal with OKRs is steady progress. Aim for — and celebrate — a success rate of around 70% to 80%.
⭐ Every OKR needs an owner or directly responsible individual (DRI) to oversee its progress.

You can assign DRIs to specific key results or entire OKRs. And while it’s not this employee’s job to lead the initiative or manage the project, it’s their responsibility to monitor the OKR’s progress and follow up on any potential obstacles.

7. Work with teams to set individual & department OKRs

Once your team has received training on the OKR basics, it’s time for them to put what they learned into action. But writing good OKRs takes practice, so you should collaborate with department leads and team members to ensure they’re implementing the framework properly.  

Just as leadership did with their company-level objectives, work with your teams to:

  1. Use cascading goals as a guide to determine overall goals.
  2. Turn those goals into objective statements for the next quarter (or another more appropriate timeframe.)
  3. Have teams collaborate to come up with specific key results.

So, let’s say one of your HR team’s goals is to improve employee retention. Your leadership might work with HR to get more specific and decide that the company targets a 25% increase in retention that year. As a result, you come up with this objective statement:

Objective | Improve employee retention rate by 25% by the end of Q4

Then, your HR team comes up with the following three key results to achieve that objective:

Once you’ve drafted your team OKRs, ask leadership and other stakeholders to review them and offer feedback. The easiest way to do this asynchronously is by using OKR software — it provides a centralized place for everyone in the company to go for OKR collaboration and review.

⭐ Celebrate your OKR wins!

Whether you shout team members out informally on a messaging app like Slack or offer formal rewards and recognition, acknowledging OKR successes boosts morale and motivation.

8. Set up a process for OKR monitoring & review

Photo of three employees in a meeting.

A weekly OKR check-in meeting helps keep you on track with your progress

If you’re already familiar with the OKR framework, you know that establishing OKRs isn’t enough. You also need to create a process for continuous tracking and revision. And that’s where OKR check-in meetings come into play.

Here are our best-practice tips for running an OKR check-in meeting:

  • Schedule weekly meetings — at the same time every week.
  • Keep them short and focused (no longer than thirty minutes).
  • Ensure every DRI prepares a status update on their objectives and/or key results.
  • Ask everyone to take part in the discussion, not just your DRIs.
  • Stick to the same agenda every week, where you:
  1. Report on the status of all objectives and their key results.
  2. Identify any blockers to achieving your goals.
  3. Discuss what you’ve tried since your last meeting, and reflect on successes and failures.
  4. Determine what to prioritize for the following week.

Alongside your weekly OKR check-in meetings, institute quarterly OKR reviews. You can follow a similar agenda, but should also examine:

  • If you want to keep or replace your current team OKRs
  • If you need to tweak any of your key results
  • Any support you’ll need for upcoming initiatives
  • Who will be responsible for new key results moving forward

OKR framework & template

When training teams and individuals new to the OKR framework, you’ll likely have more luck illustrating the concept with visuals and examples than with written explanations. That’s why we’ve created this at-a-glance infographic to help you out.

Infographic breaking down the OKR framework at the top and showing an example OKR at the bottom
An example of how to create an effective OKR for your company, team, or department

Transform your OKR process with Leapsome

The OKR framework isn’t a one-off task. It’s an involved process that takes collaboration, learning, practice, and review. But it’s well worth it if you want to reach ambitious goals and create more transparency, alignment, and engagement within your organization.

If your company wants to implement a goal-setting process that drives outcomes and motivation, then Leapsome is for you. Our Goals and OKR Management Module includes:

  • Customizable OKR templates
  • Automated calculations and scoring
  • User-friendly, easy-to-navigate analytics dashboards

We’ve also got built-in modules for communication and feedback between various stakeholders. That way, collaboration can be a natural part of the OKR process, rather than an afterthought.

📈 Make leaps and bounds on your OKRs with Leapsome 

Our platform has everything you need to get started with the OKR framework — from templates and workflows to reports and analytics.

Book a demo

FAQs about how to write OKRs

How do you brainstorm OKRs?

To brainstorm OKRs, collaborate with leadership and start by identifying your overarching business goals. As you do that, you’ll uncover your business priorities — like revenue growth and brand development — but you should also consider what operational and cultural initiatives you want to prioritize.

From there, detail the specific goals you’d like to focus on within a certain period. Then, narrow those down to a few significant objectives, which will inform the OKRs your departments, teams, and individuals set.

How do I set OKRs for my team?

To set OKRs for your team, collaborate with leadership to determine how everyone can contribute to your company’s OKRs. This approach ensures you’ll stay aligned with your organizational goals while also helping you address development areas within your team.

Once you’ve worked with leadership to agree on a set of potential OKRs that would serve your organization and department, your team can collaboratively develop two or three objectives per quarter, each with three to five corresponding key results.

How do you present OKRs?

When presenting OKRs to your team, start by explaining the OKR framework, sharing examples, and collaborating on some sample OKRs. A dedicated OKR meeting is the best setting for this. By training your team, you’ll get more buy-in and avoid confusion or the creation of ineffective OKRs.  

With your company goals in mind, collaborate with your team to create a maximum of five OKRs with three to five key results each. Decide who will be the owner or directly responsible individual (DRI) for specific objectives and key results. This person won’t be responsible for meeting the goal, but they’ll be tracking and overseeing it. 

After that, you can decide how to cascade your team OKRs into individual OKRs. Let people draft their OKRs on their own, and when they’re ready, they can set up a meeting with their manager to discuss their OKRs.

Can OKRs replace KPIs?

OKRs cannot replace key performance metrics (KPIs) because they’re not interchangeable. If you’re unfamiliar, KPIs are metrics companies use to measure their progress toward specific goals or aspirations. Some common examples include: 

  • Employee retention rate
  • Employee turnover rate
  • Number of qualified leads
  • Customer satisfaction rate
  • Revenue growth
  • Net profit margin

However, OKRs can encompass KPIs, and it’s helpful to consult your KPIs when building OKRs.

Let’s have a look at our previous example:

Objective | Increase employee engagement in the next quarter

The KPIs used in creating this OKR are employee turnover rate, eNPS score, and response rate.

Written By

Leapsome Team

Written by the team at Leapsome — the all-in-one people enablement platform for driving employee engagement, performance, and learning.
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