What Is OKR? The Goal-Setting System To Scale Up Your Business

Andy Grove, helped Intel become among the most valuable companies by 1997. In his years at Intel, he conceived a management and goal-setting system, called OKR, standing for “objectives and key results.” Venture capitalist and early investor in Google, John Doerr, systematized in the book “Measure What Matters.”

A glance at the OKR system

Back in the 1970s, Intel was among the most respected and admired companies in Silicon Valley. During that time Intel’s CEO, Andy Grove, was the man who managed to drive organizational change.

Andy Grove did that via a goal-setting process called OKRs or objectives and key results. Where the objective is the direction, toward which the organization needs to be in the medium term.

And the key results are milestones, things that allow the company to get there. Those key results need to be easily trackable, understandable and shared across the company.

In its purest form OKRs consists primarily of four superpowers:

Focus and Commit to priorities

This superpower focuses on making clear what matters and what doesn’t. More precisely it allows whole teams and departments to decide where the focus is and dispel any confusion

Align and connect for teamwork

One essential ingredient of the OKRs is its transparency and the fact that it needs to be openly shared across the organization, from the CEO down to each team and member of the organization. OKRs is not a siloed process but rather a transparent goal-setting tool

Track for accountability

OKRs are data-driven. It doesn’t stress though on a countless number of metrics that help to increase the level of noise. OKRs instead focuses on a few critical metrics to measure the impact on the business

Stretch for amazing

Objectives set in OKRs aren’t conservative, those are aggressive, hard yet possible and attainable. From this balance, OKRs brings the organization forward

Those superpowers are kept together by continuous improvement and corporate culture.

How is OKRs different from MBOs?


For those that know Management by Objectives or MBO, it might be easy to confuse it with OKRs. However, there are a few key differences. At its core, the MBOs focused on what while it was primarily top-down and risk-averse. 

By converse, OKRs focuses on the “what” (direction) and “how” (key results). Rather than an annual review process which might make it too complicated and formal OKRs follow a quarterly or monthly schedule which is public and transparent and usually bottom-up. 

Where MBOs’ goals are risk-averse, OKRs goals are aggressive and aspirational.

OKRs objectives have a few key elements such as:

  • Ambitious
  • Qualitative
  • Time-bound
  • Actionable by the team

While OKRs key results are primarily:

  • Measurable and quantifiable
  • Make the objective achievable
  • Lead to objective grading
  • Difficult but not impossible

The OKR cycle

  • Brainstorm: in this phase, the top senior leaders set the company-wide OKRs
  • Communicate: the OKRs can be communicated to everyone. At the same time teams develop their own OKRs to be shared 
  • Share: contributors share their OKRs but also negotiate them with their managers
  • Track: employees track and share their objectives with managers
  • Reflect: at the end of the cycle employees perform a self-assessment and what they have accomplished

OKR scoring system

How do you score the success of the OKRs?

There are two ways to score OKRs: 

The simple way

Andy Grove would use a very simple approach of “Yes/No” to understand whether the key results would be achieved, so whether the main objective also got accomplished. 

OKR example

Objective: Reach $100K in revenue this year:

  1. KR: build a newsletter with a thousand subscribers to sell $33K worth of products
  2. KR: attend three events where to find 10 clients worth $33K in contact value
  3. KR: publish 10 articles to share to sell $33K worth of products 

Track the results with the simple method:

  • Build a newsletter with a thousand subscribers to sell $33K worth of products? Yes
  • Attend three events where to find 10 clients worth $33K in contact value? No
  • Publish 10 articles to share to sell $33K worth of products? Yes

The advanced approach

Each key result can be scored on a scale. “0” meaning failure and “1.0” meaning the objective was achieved.

Therefore, you can score each result against its outcome and evaluate whether you failed, made progress, or achieved them.

It’s important in this phased to be honest about the self-assessment as the OKR itself requires self-reflection. 


It is important also not to confuse OKR with KPIs. KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) performance metrics for a specific activity. OKRs are aggressive and aspirational. They drive the key objectives underlying the plan. Where KPIs are a set of more objective standards to measure activity and operating plans. OKRs are set to achieve extraordinary goals.

OKR vs balanced scorecard

A balanced scorecard’s main aim is to track, control and improve the execution of activities that can be monitored by executives and managers within an organization. The balanced scorecard differs in scope and aims with the OKR which is set to achieve an ambitious growth plan.

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Published by

Gennaro Cuofano

Gennaro is the creator of FourWeekMBA which target is to reach over two million business students, executives, and aspiring entrepreneurs in 2020 alone | He is also Head of Business Development for a high-tech startup, which he helped grow at double-digit rate | Gennaro earned an International MBA with emphasis on Corporate Finance and Business Strategy | Visit The FourWeekMBA BizSchool | Or Get in touch with Gennaro here

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