Objectives and key results, otherwise known as OKRs, are part of the management philosophy that combines setting objectives, with measuring their key results, have swept through the tech industry. Legendary VC John Doerr famously introduced OKRs to Google in the early 2000s, basing his system on one he learned from Andy Grove at Intel in the 70s. Since then, OKRs have taken over Big Tech, and small tech has followed.
Doerr writes: “Measuring what matters begins with the question: What is most important for the next three (or six, or twelve) months? Successful organizations focus on the handful of initiatives that can make a real difference, deferring less urgent ones. Their leaders commit to those choices in word and deed.”
But this prominent management trend isn’t just something to leave at the office. OKRs, applied to your own career, are a terrific way to establish and demonstrate your value. As a sweet side benefit, OKRs also make it easy to structure and write your résumé throughout your entire career. Here’s how you should use OKRs in your personal career management.
Start by asking:
- What is the most important thing for you to do in the next three (or 12) months?
- What are your main priorities for the next year?
- Where should you concentrate your efforts?
Like everybody else, you’ve only got 365 days in a year. How you choose to spend it, shapes what your career will become. What, specifically, are your goals? To learn new software, to increase the number of clients you land, to improve the quality of your reports, to hire another 40 people?
Whatever your goals, your career does better by stating them, out loud and in writing. Goals give people targets to shoot for. Without a target, you might spread yourself too thin, do a little bit of everything, and accomplish nothing.
Establishing goals helps you to focus your time, attention, and calendar. Instead of pushing on 100 doors a little bit, push on just two or three to have a bigger impact on your career. It’s especially helpful if you establish these goals with your boss. That way, you have buy-in from your company that you’re focusing on the right activities.
The second component of OKRs is a key result—the number that measures how well you’re achieving your goal. Numbers are important because they are an objective measure of your success. Without that objective measure, you can’t assess your capability in the world, your need to improve, or understand where you are falling short. Setting a specific number helps frame your activities in a way that provides clarity on your progress.
Think of it as your new personal best. Each time you’re at the gym, on a bike, or off on a run, you might be racing against yourself. Can I get just a little bit better today? That same spirit of enthusiastic competition against yourself is the right attitude to bring to OKRs. It’s not about punishing yourself or undercutting your self-esteem with impossible-to-achieve goals.
Using numbers to measure how well you’re getting ahead in your career is obvious for success in business. Setting OKRs for yourself doesn’t just help improve your performance in the current year, however. It also helps communicate your value at compensation reviews and promotion time.
How often have you been at a loss during the annual review process to remember what you did, how you did it, and how well it went? Scouring your memory bank for a hodgepodge of items dimly remembered from the past twelve months always feels like a frantic, losing effort.
Keeping track of your success
OKRs make it easier to communicate with the boss and the company. Especially when you’ve agreed with your boss at the beginning of the year, or quarter, or month, on which goals are most important for your success, OKRs make annual reviews easier. They allow you to show the goals you’ve agreed on, and the specific numbers you achieved along the way. Keeping track of OKRs on a spreadsheet, in a document, or even just well-labeled emails to your boss, makes preparing for the annual review process a breeze. And demonstrating the results you’ve achieved justifies, with evidence, that bump in pay or title you request.
OKRs also help when the time comes to move on. Pulling out a few years of old OKR annual reviews reminds you of your past successes. Crafting bullet points for your résumé is made simple by OKRs. You can show how you added value to your company, and by how much. As I wrote in Fast Company earlier this year, the high score résumé format makes the biggest impact because it details your accomplishments with a success verb and a number. And that’s exactly what personal OKRs provide.
It’s so effective because it’s so easy, and communicates your value so clearly. As Big Tech has found, OKRs are the best way to propel organizations like Google into the stratosphere of business success. As you’ll find, they’re also a compelling way to organize your work effort, bringing clarity and focus to your goals, propelling you ahead in your work, hour compensation, and your job searches.