“If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy and inspires your hopes.” — Andrew Carnegie
Agile Results is a simple productivity system for individuals, teams, and leaders to help you think better, feel better, do better, with a focus on better energy for better results.
Agile Results is a whole person productivity system that chunks big outcomes down into smaller, more achievable results, with a focus on vision, your values, and your strengths.
OKRs are a simple way to align and manage objectives with measurable key results along the way.
You can use several tools from Agile Results to help you perform better when you are working with OKRs.
One of the simplest ways is to use The Rule of 3 from Agile Results to think in 3s and to limit the number of Key Results that you have in flight.
You can also use Agile Results to drive your daily, weekly, and monthly work in a more meaningful way leveraging proven practices for better productivity.
In any case, what you are ultimately doing is focusing on high value changes toward your desired future outcomes.
With that in mind, let’s first do a quick overview and refresher of OKRs…
What Does OKR Mean? (OKRs Defined)
OKRs are a goal-setting methodology that can help you set and track measurable goals with a focus on significant outcomes versus just outputs.
OKRs stand for Objectives and Key Results.
You can think of the Objectives as what you want to accomplish.
You can think of the Key Results as how you will accomplish the objective.
OKRs can be set at different levels within an organization.
You can use OKRs for planning and managing business goals as well as personal goals.
A Brief History of the OKR Methodology
OKRs have a rich history, but I like how WhatMatters.com tells the history of OKRs that goes roughly like this:
John Doerr learned the original OKR methodology from Andy Grove of intel, and introduced it to the founders of Google in 1999.
Andy Grove created the original OKR methodology for Intel.
His OKR methodology was similar to Peter Drucker’s “Management by Objectives” framework, or “MBOs”, but with some key differences.
One key difference is that OKRs focus on quarterly results, while MBOs focus on annual results. This keeps the OKR framework more agile.
Another key difference is that MBOs were tied to compensation, but OKRs are not. This helps create some safety for teams to go for bigger and better goals rather than just play it safe.
Grove taught the OKR methodology to John Doerr, and Doerr later introduced the OKR methodology to Google’s founders.
Doerr coined the name OKRs based on the fact that whenever Andy Grove talked about objectives, he almost always mentioned “key results”.
The First Presentation of the OKR Framework
John Doerr pitched OKRs to the Google founders with the following PowerPoint pitch:
- Objective: Build a planning model for their company, as measured by three key results:
- KR1: I would finish my presentation on time.
- KR2: We’d create a simple set of quarterly Google OKRs
- KR3: I’d gain management agreement for a 3-month OKR trial
Effectively, Doerr used the OKR framework to pitch the OKR framework.
Why the OKR Methodology?
OKRs help create clarity, improve communication, improve transparency, and create a coherent, organization-wide strategy.
When John Doerr Explains the benefits of OKRs, he uses the acronym F.A.C.T.S. which stands for:
- Focus: OKRs create a clear FOCUS around a small set of priorities
- Alignment: You ALIGN the whole company to move in the same direction.
- Commitment: OKRs create COMMITMENT among employees to moving the company forward.
- Tracking: OKRs help create transparency and organization-wide TRACKING.
- Stretching: OKRs help STRETCH and achieve beyond “business as usual.”
To put it another way, OKRs create a clear, coherent, and compelling focus as well as alignment for the company, team and individual.
Alignment is a big deal.
It’s a lot easier to orchestrate and coordinate across orgs and teams when people communicate clearly and concisely their intentional results.
Using the OKR Framework
The OKR framework is simple to learn, but takes practice to get the focus, language and level right.
The key is to internalize the idea that your OKRs are supposed to drive a significant change, and not simply be a measurement of business as usual.
The power of the OKR framework is your ability to make progress on a small, well-chosen set of bigger goals to drive change and transformation.
OKRs are a way to integrate change leadership into the planning process to make big changes more systematic, coordinated, orchestrated, and aligned.
OKRs were designed to use a quarterly rhythm.
While bigger OKRs may span multiple OKR cycles, can still achieve quarterly Key Results and update them accordingly.
The OKR Formula
The OKR formula is very simple:
It’s an Objective with Key Results.
Here is an example from WhatMatters.com on an Objective with Key Results:
“I will (Objective) as measured by (Key Results).
For example, “I will fix the website for the vast majority of people as measured by 7 out of 10 people being able to get through, a 1 second response time, and a 1% error rate.”
Objectives in OKRs
An Objective answers the question:
“Where do I want to go?”
Objectives are goals and intents.
An Objective is what is to be achieved. It’s the outcome that you will be working towards with your Key Results.
Objectives are concrete, action-oriented, significant goals.
Well-defined Objectives help counter fuzzy thinking and ineffective execution.
Key Results in OKRs
A Key Result answers the question:
“How do I know if I’m getting there?”
Key Results are time-bound and measurable milestones under your goals and intents.
Key Results define progress toward an Objective.
Your Key Results are the milestones you achieve along the way toward your Objectives.
You can think of a Key Results as a signpost with a distance marker, like on a football field.
Key Results are specific and time-bound. They are aggressive, yet realistic.
At the end of the quarter, you either achieve a Key Result or you don’t (though some organizations use Red, Yellow, Green, where Yellow can show some progress).
This creates clarity around progress and helps identify gaps and focus areas.
Initiatives for OKRs
An Initiative answers the question:
“What will I do to get there?”
You can think of an Initiative as a description of what you’ll do to get to your destination.
The core of the OKR framework is simply the Objectives and Key Results components.
But in practice, when it comes to translating the OKRs into execution plans, organizations will create Initiatives.
How Many Key Results?
The guidance varies from between 3, 3-5, and 5-7.
The original presentation by John Doerr used 3 Key Results as the example.
This is a great use of The Rule of 3.
The few separate initiatives you have, the more focus you have, so you can channel your time, energy, and attention.
Also, with fewer initiatives, you can really keep the spotlight on progress and really make them worth it.
Long ago a friend said that, even with 5, imagine that you are no spreading your time, energy, and attention perhaps 20%, if you distributed it evenly.
While it’s not exactly how you might spread your efforts, it’s a good lens to keep in mind.
The real advantage of using The Rule of 3 is that you can easily communicate the story of each initiative in the hall versus having to look things up.
OKR Examples for Business Change
You can find a lot of different OKR examples on the web, but I like the real world and relatable examples from WhatMatters.com:
Here’s an example of a city-wide OKR. The city of Syracuse, New York uses Objectives and Key Results to drive it’s fiscal sustainability goals:
- Objective: Achieve fiscal sustainability.
- KR1: Reduce the general fund budget variance from 11% to 5%.
- KR2: Spend 95% of authorized capital project dollars by the end of the fiscal year.
- KR3: Spend 95% of grant dollars for grants from prior fiscal years.
Here’s an example of a company-wide OKR. Allbirds measures sustainability and their carbon footprint by using OKRs:
- Create the lowest carbon footprint in our industry.
- KR: Supply chain and shipping infrastructure 100% zero waste.
- KR: Pay 100% carbon offset for calculated carbon dioxide emissions.
- KR: 25% of material is compostable.
- KR: 75% of material is biodegradable.
Here’s an example of a team or department level OKR for a museum that wants to grow its membership base:
- Objective: Attract younger, more diverse season ticket holders.
- KR1: Increase our “$30-under-30” membership enrollment by 100%
- KR2: Land mentions on the accounts of 5 local Instagram influencers
- KR3: Get 25% response rate from a direct mail campaign to diverse ZIP codes
- KR4: Attract 75 non-members per month to live artist talks
Ambitious OKR Example for Sustainability
Here is Google’s sustainability initiative as they develop a more eco-friendly product-based line.
- Objective: Design products and services for circularity and reuse materials at their highest environmental and social value.
- KR1: 100% of Made by Google products launching in 2022 and every year after will include recycled materials, with a drive to maximize recycled content wherever possible.
OKR Example for Personal Change
Here is an example of a runner who wants to improve how fast they run a 10K:
- Objective: Run a 10K in under 50 minutes by October
- KR: Go for a 30+ minute run 3 times per week.
- KR: Increase distance by 1 mile every week.
- KR: Increase mile speed by 5 seconds every week.
3 Types of OKRs
There are 3 types of OKRs:
- Committed OKRs
- Aspirational OKRs
- Learning OKRs
Committed OKRs are commitments. They are expected to have a passing grade at the end of the cycle.
Aspirational OKRs raise the bar. They might be stretch goals or “Moonshots”. This is where Big Audacious Goals happen.
Aspirational OKRs could also be paving new paths or forging new ground, Zero to One style.
Aspirational ORKs could also be longer-lived and may span cycles, but the Key Results will evolve quarterly.
Learning ORKs are used to learn valuable information, where the learning and insight is the primary outcome.
Andy Grove used a simple measure of “yes” or “no”… did you meet the result or did you not?
A common way organizations score OKRs is by grading them “Red”, “Yellow”, “Green”.
By having “Yellow”, it’s a way to say we made progress, even if we didn’t yet meet the Key Result.
OKRs vs. KPIs
There is an important distinction when it comes to OKRs vs. KPIs.
KPIs, or Key Performance Indicators, are measures of health, or how are things performing.
OKRs are measures of change, or how big or how much is this change we want to create, what does good look like, and what are the results along the way.
OKRs Do Not Cascade – They Align
Felipe Castro brings up a great point about aligning OKRs vs. cascading OKRs.
“In traditional organizations, goals cascade. It seems it is just something that they do. Goals start at the top and then cascade down.
That is very common. And flawed.
What are the characteristics of a cascade (or waterfall)?
It’s a top-down, one-way, irreversible flow, with no feedback cycles that ends crashing on the rocks. Everything an agile, innovative organization does not want to be.
The cascading model is a residue of a command & control mindset in which decisions simply flow downwards from the top. We have to stop using top-down analogies. Words and images are powerful and help shape the culture of organizations.”
Bidirectional Goal Setting
Instead of cascading OKRs, Felipe suggests bidirectional goal setting.
Felipe refers to the book Work Rules!, where Laszlo Bock, Google’s former VP of People Operations writes:
“On the topic of goals, the academic research agrees with your intuition:
Having goals improves performance.
Spending hours cascading goals up and down the company, however, does not.
It takes way too much time and it’s too hard to make sure all the goals line up.
We have a market-based approach, where over time our goals all converge, because the top OKRs are known and everyone else’s OKRs are visible.
Teams that are grossly out of alignment stand out, and the few major initiatives that touch everyone are easy enough to manage directly.
So far, so good!”
Avoid Business as Usual
Standing still or maintaining the status quo is a way to become irrelevant or pushed out of the market.
OKRs should focus on change above maintaining the status quo.
It’s super easy to fall into the trap of simply reinforcing what you already do, instead of pushing for progress and changing towards your desired future state.
The value is in the change, and focusing your OKRs on the change is a way of ensuring you are creating and realizing new value.
The Breathe List – The Survival List and Table Stakes
You can think of 3 separate but related tracks when it comes to
- OKRs – Your big goals and significant changes and transformation towards compelling outcomes.
- Table Stakes – the things the organization must do to survive
- Business as Usual – the routine operations and sustaining progress and innovation management will naturally address by default
OKRs are not meant to cover everything. OKRs should focus on significant changes and transformations and paving new paths.
Meanwhile, you still have your business as usual and things the organization must do to survive.
According to WhatMatters.com, Allbirds created what they call their Breathe List – like breathing fresh air, to be the list of things the organization must do to survive.
The Breathe List helped acknowledge and create a place for all the table stakes and business as usual, which helped ensure the ORKs stuck to the purpose of focusing on big changes.
Turn Your Mission and Vision into Your Ultimate Goal or “Moonshot” (Your North Star)
People often confuse mission and vision and don’t often create enough clarity or ambition for the vision.
To address this, The Ultimate OKR Guide by Perdoo recommends turning your mission and vision into your Ultimate Goal.
Then your Ultimate Goal then acts as your North Star to help guide the rest of your goal efforts.
From The Ultimate OKR Guide by Perdoo:
“Most organizations have a mission and vision, but often these are difficult to understand and can be confused with one and other.
We recommend turning your mission and vision into an ultimate goal.
Your ultimate goal defines what it’s ‘ultimately’ all about for your organization. It’s your North Star to which all other goals align.
Your ultimate goal should aim for a point at a considerable distance in the future; 10, 15 even 25 years is reasonable.
A good example of an ultimate goal is when John F Kennedy decided that America should put a man on the moon, and coined the term ‘Moonshot Goal’.”
Ultimate Goal Examples
Perdoo shares a few examples of Ultimate Goals:
- SpaceX – Make humankind interplanetary
- RyanAir – Become the biggest airline of Europe by offering the lowest fare possible
- Amazon – Build the most customer-centric store that sells everything
- Perdoo – Help ambitious organizations grow faster
The First Moonshot the Goal
The dictionary defines the term moonshot as a difficult or expensive task, the outcome of which is expected to have great significance.
The first moonshot goal established a defining milestone in history.
In 1962, John F. Kennedy created the first moonshot goal when he announced the following big, bold ambition:
“This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.
We choose this goal not because they are easy, but because it is hard. Because this goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.”
Why You Need a Moonshot Goal
You need a moonshot goal to have a chance at wild success in the market.
Ambitious Moonshot goals also have the chance to attract and retain great talent.
According to Larry Page, Google’s Cofounder and CEO:
“I live by the gospel of 10x.
A 10% improvement means that you’re doing the same thing as everybody else.
You probably won’t fail spectacularly, but you are guaranteed not to succeed wildly.”
Here is a nice summary by Perdoo on why you need a moonshot goal:
“This mentality is at the heart of Google X, which is responsible for ‘moonshot projects’ like the driverless car.
Page explains that 1,000% improvement requires a completely different approach towards problems, exploring the limits of what’s technically possible, and guaranteeing everyone will have a lot more fun in the process.
Entrepreneurs like Jeff Bezos (Amazon) and Elon Musk (Tesla, SpaceX) share a similar ideology.
Moonshots, if ambitious, also have the ability to attract and retain great talent.”
How To Combine Agile Results with OKRs
You can easily combine Agile Results with OKRs to accelerate your goals and drive progress in work and life.
Agile Results is flexible by design and really a tool for agility.
Great changes require great agility.
The mindset of Agile Results is really a focus on learning and growth.
Really, it’s fundamentally about embracing change.
OKRs are a change framework born from driving massive change across organizations in an aligned way.
Agile Results is a productivity and change framework born from high performance individuals and teams collaborating on big projects and programs.
And both frameworks scale up and scale down in terms of chunking up change at different levels.
How Agile Results Aligns with OKRs
The first thing to know is that Agile Results is already aligned with OKRs because Agile Results puts a focus on objectives and results.
In Agile Results, you really start with the outcomes that you want to achieve and work backwards from the end-in-mind.
What OKRs and Agile Results also share in common is a focus on chunking things down.
It’s this chunking mechanism that empowers you to go after the big wins in work and life.
The Agile Results Mindset
The Agile Results mindset can help you think about and embrace OKRs better.
The essence of a mindset is ultimately the fundamental belief that you embrace.
For example, if you embrace a Growth Mindset, then you embrace the idea that you can learn and get better at things.
The fundamental, core belief behind Agile Results is:
So rather than get run over or swept up by change, you embrace change and you use change to create your opportunities.
You use changes as a chance to gain a fresh perspective and as a fresh change to bring to life your desired outcomes and your desired future state.
While you may find some inner conflict around change because of stories you hold on to or past events, you can choose to embrace the idea of embracing change.
And when you do, you are working on your Agile Mindset.
And it’s this Agile Mindset that will serve you when you are working with OKRs, because OKRs are fundamentally focused on driving change.
The Rule of 3 with OKRs
The Rule of 3 is both a chunking mechanism and a health limit.
You can use the Rule of 3 to chunk things down for different scales of time:
- 3 Wins for Today
- 3 Wins for This Week
- 3 Wins for This Quarter
- 3 Wins for This Year
By limiting work in progress with The Rule of 3, you reduce context and task switching.
You channel your energy better to the vital few things that at this window of opportunity in time can provide the greatest impact for you.
And you simplify the management and maintenance and the communication
3 Wins for the Year with OKRs
Agile Results is your chance to dream big. This is your chance to rise and shine to your calling and go for it!
What 3 Wins do you really, really want to achieve this year?
As Tony Robbins says:
“We usually overestimate what we think we can accomplish in one year-but we grossly underestimate what we can accomplish in a decade.”
But wait, Tony just said we don’t always achieve the goals we set out for each year.
True, but it’s what you become in the process of striving to become your Future Self and to build a bigger, better, brighter future with all you’ve got.
And it’s that compounding effort of going for your 3 Wins each year that can help you become your Future Self or become your Future Business.,
A great way to do do this exercise is to imagine it’s the end of the year and you are looking back on 3 great changes.
What are those 3 great changes you would like to see?
What is the story of WHY those 3 great changes matter.
Connect those 3 great wins, those 3 great stories, to your vision, your values, and your strengths.
When you have empathy for your compelling future, and you get excited about the great changes that you will make, you are doing this right.
Here are a few good articles to help you with this exercise:
3 Wins for the Quarter with ORKs
The default cycle for OKRs is quarterly.
With Agile Results, 3 Wins for the Quarter is also a great time frame for a chunk of change.
3 Wins for the Quarter is a really good mental model for making significant progress towards your 3 Wins for the Year.
A quarter, or 3 months, or 90 days, is a great chunk of time to make some great changes.
If you invest small consistent efforts in the direction of your strategy, they compound over time.
This is why channeling your focus around a few small initiatives pays off.
By chipping away at the stone over a period of time, you achieve your wins, you find your breakthroughs, and you also create serendipity.
3 Wins for the Month with OKRs
3 Wins for the Month really helps teams both set a great focus, as well as look back on key highlights and victories.,
It helps make the journey worth it and it makes the work more meaningful when you know what your effort is accruing to and you can tell the story of your results.
30 days is a good time frame for making progress. While the weeks may get away from you, you can get better at nailing your 3 Wins for the Month with practice.
And getting good at 3 Wins for the Month, will make it easier to align and channel your efforts to achieve your quarterly OKRs and your 3 Wins for the Quarter.
With Agile Results, it’s a good idea to give your month a theme and to name it.
For example, when I changed teams, I remember I named my Theme for the Month, “House in Order”.
The idea was that for the next 30 days I would put a firm foundation in place as I figure out the new lay of the land, and I set myself up for success.
When you name your Theme for the Month, it also helps remind you what your month is about and to get back on track when you lose your way.
You can always update your Theme for the Month or rename it if you realize you didn’t quite get it right up front, and that’s the point of agility—pivot as you learn.
Whether you are doing a personal 30 Day Sprint or focused on monthly goals at work, 3 Wins for the Month and a Them for the Month help you put an inspiring lens to all you do.
3 Wins for the Week with OKRs
3 Wins for the Week is a practice in Agile Results to create a simple vision for your week that “pulls” you forward through your week.
3 Wins for the Week is really a pragmatic way to define and scope your achievements for the week.
Knowing that you have Quarterly OKRs on your plate is on thing.
But really defining what that work looks like for this week, is a whole new skill. It’s the skill of progress.
A week is often what people are good at when it comes to having a handle on what they achieve.
The day may get away from them, or be too small a unit, but a week can start to show the fruits of their labor.
The simplest approach is, on Mondays, imagine if it was Friday and you want to look back on your 3 best achievements, or victories, or highlights, or key changes you made happen.
The more you practice building a sense of empathy for your future Friday, the more you will get better at defining work that’s worth it.
You will also learn each week, especially when you miss your mark, what you need to do differently, to get better at this.
It’s a simple loop of define meaningful victories on Monday, your 3 Wins for the Week, and reflecting on your achievements on Friday.
Use that learning and insight to get better each week.
In all of my experience coaching individuals, teams, and leaders in high performance, I can say that the days get away from people, but the week is a process of mini-course correction.
And people that get good at their weeks, really take their productivity to a whole new level.
3 Wins for Today with OKRs
This is an incredibly mindful and pragmatic practice of creating a compelling vision for today.
With 3 Wins for Today, you simply answer the following question:
“What are your 3 Wins going to be for today?”
This is your chance to define success each day, based on what’s on your priorities, what’s on your plate, the time you have, the energy you have, and the non-negotiable.
It’s a simple way to make your day more meaningful.
More importantly, by taking a simple step back from the balcony view, you are prioritizing where to spend your time and energy.
You are creating a focus for your day.
You are carving out and calling out 3 victory scenes or 3 highlights or 3 achievements for today that you genuinely care about.
Your 3 Wins for Today serve as your simple vision for today to help you focus your energy and attention on your 3 most meaningful achievements for today.
By regularly reviewing your Quarterly OKRs, you can use those to inform your work and efforts today so that you can make choices about what to spend time on.
So you can use your 3 Wins from Agile Results to help you make progress towards your Quarterly OKRs on a regular basis, while staying agile in mind and execution.
For a quick overview, see 3 Wins for Today.
Call to Action
- Learn the fundamentals of Agile Results through the Overview of Agile Results, the Quick Tour of Agile Results, and Agile Results Explained.
- Learn the fundamentals of OKRs through resources and training on the Web.
- Create your 3 Wins for This Year and 3 Wins for This Quarter to serve as the meaningful backdrop to anchor your OKRs with and to set useful limits.
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The Agile Results Deep Dive Guide
3 Wins for Today
Commit to Your Best Year Ever
How To Use 3 Wins to Generate Better Energy
How To Use 3 Wins to Have Your Best Year Ever
Mastering the Rule of 3 for Work and Life