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Copy Google’s goal-setting framework in your organization

Emily Herrington
May 11, 2021
Copy Google’s goal-setting framework in your organization

How do giant companies like Google, Twitter, Walmart, and Airbnb manage to keep their operations and teams aligned, engaged, and working on the priorities that matter most?

It’s not a secret, and it’s not magic. They lean on a three-letter model to plan and measure goals: OKR.

What is the OKR model?

OKR stands for Objectives and Key Results. It is a goal-setting methodology that helps create and align team goals to make sure all involved are on the same page. 

Objectives are short, qualitative, and motivational goals. According to Google, “objectives are ambitious and may feel somewhat uncomfortable.” Don’t be afraid to dream big when writing objectives. These goals should not be easy to achieve. 

Key results, on the other hand, are how organizations measure progress made toward the objective. They are quantitative and measurable. Each objective should be accompanied by about 3-5 key results. Initiatives or plans are the action items you set in order to work toward achieving the key results.

See the table below for an easy-to-understand glimpse at objectives, key results, and initiatives.

ObjectiveKey ResultsInitiatives
What it isA statement of what you want to achieve A measurement of how close you are to accomplishing the objectiveThe specific tasks you need to complete in order to influence the key results
CharacteristicsLofty, qualitative, inspiringMeasureable, specific, quantitative, tied to a number Specific, tactical, action-oriented
ExamplesBe a top place to work Go viral on social mediaIncrease member engagementIncrease website traffic by 50%Gain 100 new Instagram followers per weekIncrease member retention rate by 20%Post on Instagram five times per weekCreate member engagement email marketing campaignSurvey churned members to understand why they left

All levels of the organization can set OKRs. There should be a general hierarchy of overarching organizational OKRs that support the mission and vision, departmental OKRs that help individual teams set and achieve goals, and employee-level OKRs that give individuals direction, clarity, and opportunities for growth. These can be set on an annual, quarterly, or even weekly basis.

OKR vs. KPI

What is the difference between an OKR and a KPI? OKRs (objectives and key results) are future-focused, ambitious, and bold goals and measurements. KPIs (key performance indicators) are ongoing measures of the health of a project or organization. KPIs measure what already happened, while key results show progress toward the overall goal. KPIs are more output-oriented, while OKRs are growth-oriented.

OKR vs. SMART goals

SMART is another goal-setting framework in which the goals set must be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. Because SMART goals are tied to a single metric, this type of model is more similar to the key results element of OKR. With OKR, the objective is intended to be aggressive and aspirational. 

An example of an OKR objective would be to accelerate new member acquisition. The key results of that objective could be:

  • Increase new membership sign-ups by 20%
  • Capture 30,000 unique social media impressions
  • Increase traffic to membership website page by 50%

An example of a SMART goal to increase new membership sign-ups by 20% in nine months. 

Benefits of the OKR model

Using OKR helps your association set bold goals while tracking how far you’ve come working toward those objectives. The primary benefits of using this goal-setting framework are:

  • Alignment among your team to ensure everyone is working on what matters most
  • Increased transparency and accountability, as everyone in the organization is able to see what one another is working on
  • Clarity on what is most important to the company so that everyone understands the strategy and how it will be measured
  • Teams shift to be result-oriented rather than production-oriented

Should your association use OKR?

The OKR model is a great way to align your team to the goals that matter most. It brings focus, clarity, transparency, and accountability. However, OKR may not work for every organization. For the OKR methodology to function at its best, there needs to be clear communication, agreed-upon key results, and aspirational goals. While OKRs should be updated regularly, moving the goal posts too frequently can lead to burnout. You also don’t want to set too many OKRs, because priorities can get lost and confusing. 

The OKR model is an effective way to set and measure goals, while achieving alignment throughout your organization. If you’re interested in implementing it, be prepared for highly communicative and transparent leadership, accurate goal-setting, cross-organizational alignment, and a lot of discipline.  

Want to learn more about the OKR methodology?

Register today for SURGE Forward, our FREE three-day virtual conference happening June 8-10. Speakers Debra BenAvram and Alex Bartholomaus will talk us through how to apply the OKR model to the association industry. Click here to register. 

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Emily Herrington

Emily Herrington is a New Orleans-based digital marketer specializing in SEO, content, and pay-per-click advertising. She can usually be found at her desk obsessing over data and rankings, or in the kitchen covered in flour.

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