Committing to ambitious, yet actionable goals aligned to the culture, values and vision of your company is essential to success of an agile people operations team. So how can you set meaningful and motivating goals that are easy to track? Enter OKRs.

OKRs, or Objectives and Key Results, is an agile goal management system that enables organizations, teams and individuals to keep “every person rowing in the same direction”.

Created by Andy Grove, CEO of Intel, and used by Google to rapidly scale their team, it is now widely adopted by companies big and small to achieve:

  • Strategic Alignment: Align team and individual goals with company strategy, values and vision.
  • Focused Execution: Prioritize you and your team’s day-to-day actions on things that have the greatest business impact.
  • Improved Communications: Make inter- and intra- team communications easier as you can now use consistent language to describe needs, goals, metrics and progress.
  • Engaged Employees: Who come to work every day understanding how and what they need to do and why it is critical to the success of their organization.

Increasingly, HR and People Operations teams are adopting OKRs to become more agile and responsive to continuous organizational change. Here we’ll share some tips and tricks to creating your own OKRs and provide some people operations OKR examples for culture, retention, talent acquisition, manager success and diversity and inclusion.

What are O.K.Rs.? Think of it like a Map.

OKRs connect an audacious goal to a series of actionable steps. Think of OKRs like a map.

  • An Objective is your ultimate destination. It is where you want to go.
  • Key Results are how you’re going to get there. These are the steps and signposts that guide you towards reaching your destination.

Let’s see this in action. We’re going to set an OKR to climb Mount Everest.

Objective: Climb to the summit of Mount Everest

Key Results:

  • Improve strength endurance, high-altitude tolerance and cardiovascular conditioning for altitudes above 7000 m.
  • Trek 65km from Lukla to Everest Base Camp, acclimatize during the hike.
  • Reach Camp 1, 2, 3, 4 maintaining sufficient supply of oxygen and food.
  • Reach summit of Mount Everest at 8,850m, take a selfie 📸.

Mount Everest Climb

From this, we can take away a few important characteristics about Objectives and Key Results.

Key Characteristics of Objectives

  • Qualitative: Use expressions that communicate an achievement or end point.
  • 3 or 4 objectives at a time: Too many can result in lack of focus on achieving priority objectives.
  • Use language that describes progress, like “improve”, “boost” and “increase”. Avoid using language that maintains status quo or describes business-as-usual, like “keep”, “sustain”, “continue”, etc.
Use two types of OKRs: Committed vs. Aspirational.

John Doerr, who introduced OKRs to Google’s leadership, talks about using two types of OKRs: Committed and Aspirational.

  • Committed: Require 100% achievement of Key Results every period.
  • Aspirational (moonshots): These are objectives where you may not always have a clear idea how to achieve them. Aim for 60-70% achievement of key results for aspirational objectives.

Key Characteristics of Key Results

  • Quantitative: Key Results should be specific and measurable.
  • Outcome-oriented: Describe the desired impact of the activities you take. Avoid listing out “tasks” and turning your OKRs into a to-do list.
  • Aim for 3 key results per objective
Think S.M.A.R.T. Key Results
To avoid using vague language that leaves employees confused about what needs to be done, keep S.M.A.R.T. in mind when structuring your Key Results: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, and Timely.

Now let’s take a look at some OKR examples for HR and People Operations teams.

OKR Examples for People Operations and HR

Objective #1: Create an Amazing People-First Company Culture

Key Results:

  • Improve our Perked! Engagement Score by 15% to 8.5.
  • Fill at least 20% of new roles through internal promotions.
  • Refresh our Core Values based on the feedback of our employees.

Objective #2: Grow our Team with A-Players

Key Results:

  • Less than 2% of new hires take our “$3K to leave after 4 weeks on the job”.
  • 75% of new hires score “meets expectations” or higher after 6 months on the job.
  • 90% job offer acceptance rate.

Objective #3: Create and celebrate a diverse and inclusive team

Key Results:

  • Increase women in leadership positions (Director and above) to 43%.
  • 100% of hiring managers, interviewers and recruiters attends our unconscious bias workshop.
  • Increase underrepresented minorities in tech roles to 39%.

Objective #4: Improve employee retention

Key Results:

  • Reduce voluntary employee turnover by 15% in our two highest turnover employee teams: Customer Success and Product Development.
  • Develop and implement career paths for 100% of our teams.
  • Increase our ‘Psychological Safety’ driver score (high-impact driver) by 20%.

Objective #5: Boost Manager Development and Success

Key Results:

  • Increase participation in our “First-Time Manager Success” training to 83% of first-time managers.
  • Increase Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) of the “Manager” segment by 25% to 58.
  • Create a mentoring program pairing first-time managers with company leadership (Directors, VPs and C-suite).

Tracking Progress + Updating OKRs

For OKRs to be effective, it is essential to make them public and to continuously track your progress. Many companies use a scale from 0 to 1.0 to track their progress.

Not reaching 100% of your OKRs is a good thing. It means that you’re setting ambitious, high-value OKRs. Google aims for 60-70% achievement rate. For the OKRs you don’t achieve, treat it as a learning opportunity to understand why and what needs to be changed in the next cycle. This continuous learning approach to setting, acting and tracking your OKRs will create a strong foundation as you build an agile people operations and HR team responsive to organizational change and growth.

Key Learnings

  • Why OKRs? Use OKRs to drive strategic alignment, focused execution, improved communication and employee engagement.
  • What are OKRs? Objectives and Key Results connect an audacious goal to a series of actionable outcomes.
  • How to create OKRs for people operations and HR? Think of OKRs like a map. Objectives describe a desired end point whether that is a high-performance culture, hiring A-players or a diverse and inclusive team. Key Results focus on specific and measurable steps to get you to your destination.