OKR Method: All about Objectives and Key Results

It has long been used in the strongholds of the software giants – the management method called OKR. But what does the abbreviation mean? Here you can learn everything about the leadership model of Google and Co., who else uses OKR and it and how it works.

OKR Definition: What is OKR?

OKR stands for Objectives and Key Results. It is a management model based on objectives and key results. OKR describes an innovative and transparent management method for leading employees, which is mainly used in agile organizations.


Objectives = What goals do we want to achieve?

Key Results = What do we have to do to achieve our goals and how can we measure it?

Digression: Who Developed Objectives and Key Results?

Andrew Grove, one of the co-founders of Intel, developed this management method back in the 1970s and introduced it to Intel. He recognized that current management methods were not only incompatible with the increasing urge to innovate, constant growth, the fast pace and dynamism of modern companies, but also hindered their development.

This innovative method is based on Management by Objectives (MbO). Grove took many elements of the MbO and adapted them so that they met the requirements of the modern corporate world. At first, the new method was very similar to the MbO. But finally, thanks to John Doerr, Google liked the new approaches, developed them further and introduced OKR in their own company in 1999. To this day, the search engine giant uses OKR as a management method.

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OKR Method: How does It Work in Practice?

OKR is normally based on a three-month cycle that always runs the same way and is always repeated. For this cycle to work, it takes…

  • a mission statement. The mission statement summarizes the company’s vision and mission to form a framework for formulating the MOALs and OKRs. However, mission and vision usually remain unattainable. They resemble an ideal that needs to be as close as possible. ⇒ [Validity: approx. 3-5 years]
  • Moals. Moals stands for “mid-term goals”. They are derived from vision and mission, i.e. the company’s mission statement, but break them down into short-term goals to make the vision and mission more tangible. The Moals provide orientation as to which medium-term goals are important for the company in the near future in order to approach the mission and vision in the long term. ⇒ [Validity: approx. 1 year]
  • Objectives. Objectives are short-term goals that further scale down the Moals. These are no longer specified by the company, but defined by employees and/or entire teams. They can be reached in terms of time and content, are controllable, promote business and have a motivating character. ⇒ [validity: approx. 3 months]
  • Key Results. In contrast to the objectives, the key results are of a quantitative nature. They are concrete, measurable and should ensure that the goals are achieved by being defined and action-oriented. ⇒ [validity: approx. 3 months]

Objectives and key results Illustration

If these conditions are met, the first cycle can begin. A cycle always runs in the following four phases:

Phase Description Duration
1. OKR Planning At the beginning of the cycle, the goals for the next three months are planned. The vision and mission of the organization are integrated through the MOALS. A session of about four to eight hours
2.  Weekly OKR A short meeting takes place every week, in which all those involved exchange information about the ongoing processes and clarify any questions and problems. Weekly sessions of 15 minutes each for three months
3. OKR Review At the end of the three-month cycle, the goals are reviewed by the company and the employees. A session of about four hours
4. OKR Retrospective The fourth and last phase reflects on how the cycle went and why certain goals were not achieved. This serves to learn from the mistakes and to continuously optimize the work processes. A session of two hours

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OKR Examples: Formulate Objectives and Key Results Correctly

The core element of the OKR framework is the formulation of goals and key results. There is always a maximum of five objectives, each with a maximum of four key results. The objectives are always qualitative and result-oriented, while the key results are quantitative and measurable actions.

When formulating the goals, it is also important that they are developed together with the employees. In this way, some of the objectives are created top-down and some are bottom-up.

But how do you correctly formulate the objectives and key results? The prerequisite for setting goals is that they can be completed at the end of the cycle and do not represent long-term company goals. It should not be about smaller tasks, but more abstract, positively formulated goals. The key results, in turn, must be measurable and able to assess whether the goals have been achieved or not.

John Doerr’s OKR formula is helpful for the formulation:

„We will [Objective] as measured by [set of Key Results].”

Using this formula, companies can quickly test whether the goals and key results fit together and work. A good example is provided by the OKRs used to develop the Chrome web browser. They were formulated as follows:

  • Objective = Build the best browser
  • Key Result = 20 million users by the end of 2008

If you now apply the OKR formula, this is: “We will build the best browser as measured by 20 million users by the end of 2008.” Thus, if Chrome manages to generate 20 million users by the end of 2008, the goal of developing the best browser can be considered achieved.

Pros: Why Introduce OKRs?

In times of digital and demographic change, the involvement of employees and, above all, employee retention plays an increasingly important role. In our fast-moving world, work and employee structures are changing very quickly. Goals that were important at the beginning of the year can already be out of date after half a year or no longer fit the framework conditions.

Companies depend on the active design and input of the different departments. It is becoming increasingly important for different departments to work together and to continuously redefine goals in mutual, interdisciplinary exchange. Knowing the goals of other departments can also help to better understand the background of networked processes. This in turn helps to optimize one’s own activities and other related processes.

Increasingly, employees today also want to help shape their own work content and career. Structures that are too tight lead to more frequent job changes. Self-defined goals promote intrinsic motivation – the one that comes from within – and are therefore more successful. Not least because they are more realistic.

This is exactly where OKR comes in.

Because the management method makes it possible…

  • … to become more agile.
  • … to ensure more transparency in the company.
  • … to focus on the immediately important goals.
  • … to make success measurable.
  • … to promote the motivation of the employees.

OKR Framework & Tools: Manage Objectives & Key Results Successfully

There are a number of different tools that help companies to manage the objectives and key results in a well-structured manner. Which tool is the right one or whether OKR software is necessary always depends on various factors, such as company size, budget and the demands of the organization on the tool.

However, if a company uses an OKR tool, it needs to ensure that it is well managed and used regularly. If this is not the case, all the effort of implementation was for nothing.

Common OKR software solutions are:

  • Confluence
  • Asana
  • Perdoo
  • Atlassian
  • 7Geese

In Comparison: Objectives and Key Results (OKR) vs. Balanced Scorecard (BSC) vs. Management by Objectives (MbO)

At first glance, OKR seems to have some similarities with the Balanced Scorecard (BSC) method. In fact, however, they differ in essential aspects. For example, the BSC formulates goals for an entire year, while OKR usually focuses on a three-month cycle. In addition, the Balanced Scorecard provides four clear perspectives (finance, processes, learning and growth, customers). However, OKR always works with those goals that are most important for the next cycle.

There are many more similarities in connection with the Management by Objectives (MbO) approach – not surprising, since OKR is derived from this management method. But here, too, there are various differences:

Cycle quarterly yearly
Transparency high: all employees see all goals low: Employees only see their own goals
Dynamics High: Goals can always be adapted to changing framework conditions Rigid: Goals are defined at the beginning of the period and their achievement is assessed at the end of the period
Goal setting Qualitative Quantitative
Target Focus Way to the goal: The decisive factor is how goals are achieved Result: It is crucial that goals are achieved
Objective Top-down and bottom-up: Both management levels and employees are involved in shaping the target landscape Top-down: The management levels set the goals
Target Horizon Agile Constant

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Requirements: This is the Only Way OKR Works

In order to introduce the OKR method, the following requirements should be met so that there are no negative effects on the company:


Employees and managers should be open to this method, willing and motivated to work on the company’s goal development.

Positive Handling of Transparency

The disclosure of the goals of all departments and employees should be perceived as positive and not as control or monitoring. Otherwise, there is a risk that goals will be manipulated afterwards or results will be embellished.

Clear Differentiation from the Employee Appraisal

First and foremost, the OKRs are intended to motivate employees to make their work more efficient and to increase performance, but are not used to assess employees. Otherwise, there is also a risk of manipulation or concealment of the true results.

In order to have a motivating effect and to be taken seriously, the OKRs must be set high and demanding. OKRs do not necessarily have to be 100% achieved.

FAQs on Objectives & Key Results

How do I formulate OKRs?

Good OKRs are best formulated using John Duerr’s OKR formula. This reads: “We will [Objective] as measured by [set of Key Results].” It is important to note that the goals are always qualitative, while the key events represent quantitative measures.by [set of Key Results].” Wichtig zu beachten ist, dass die Ziele immer qualitativ sind, während die Schlüsselereignisse quantitative Maßnahmen darstellen.

Who Uses OKR?

OKR is best known for the search engine giant Google. Since then, many other companies inside and outside of Silicon Valley have introduced the agile management method. These include, for example, LinkedIn, Mymuesli, Zalando, Apple and Trivago.

What are key results?

Key results are quantitatively measurable results that make it possible to measure the progress towards achieving goals. They describe the way to the goal, i.e. they indicate how a goal can be achieved.

What is an OKR Master?

An OKR master is a person in the company who is responsible for ensuring that the OKR method is implemented correctly within the organization. He acts as an expert, introduces the method to the company and ensures that the three-month cycles are structured.

Is OKR an agile method?

Yes, OKR is an agile management method that offers companies a flexible framework for goal setting and measurement. Goals are determined quarterly and can therefore always be adapted to current circumstances.

It has long been used in the strongholds of the software giants: the management method called OKR. But what does the abbreviation mean? You can read everything about the leadership model of Google and Co., who else uses it and how OKR works here.