Start Setting Better Goals for Better Results – OKRs vs. SMART Goals


If you’re not using SMART goals or OKRs, then you’re not doing enough to reach your goals. It’s time to learn to set and use goal-oriented methodologies.

They say that a goal without a plan is just a wish.

SMART goals have existed since the 1980s and have been used by companies ever since to be successful. But lately, many startups and multinational enterprises are switching to the objective and key results (OKRs) method. Why is that?

Well, the methodologies both provide a highly effective way of setting, managing, and achieving goals and can be used alone, or in combination with each other. SMART approaches will describe a single goal in isolation, whereas OKRs give an extra level of context and can turn goal-setting into a company-wide exercise.

This week, we’re going to take a look at why you should start setting better goals, the differences and similarities between SMART and OKR approaches, and how to set defined goals that can propel your organization forward.

OKRs vs. SMART Goals?

Objectives and key results (OKRs) and SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, andTime-bound) goals are two common ways of defining goals or objectives for an organization, project, or individual.

Although they share similarities, SMART and OKR methodologies are technically different. Before deciding on a method, you should consider what you are trying to achieve. Once you have a clear understanding of the structure of your goals, you can skillfully choose which methodology will help you reach them. Or, use a combination of the two approaches.

Both OKRs and SMART goals give you the structure to create precise goals that are realistic and timely, allow you to align corporate and team goals, and force you to identify why you are undertaking a certain activity in pursuit of a goal. And actually, each key result in an OKR approach is a SMART goal, because that key result should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. 

Key Differences to Consider

While a SMART goal will focus on an individual goal, OKRs can have key results that draw on different measures of success. So if your objective includes multiple metrics, then strategic planning using the OKR methodology may be the right fit for you.

The OKR methodology is also a good choice if you’re trying to develop long-term goals. Groups and teams can easily contribute directly to setting goals and targets while drawing on top-level strategic objectives.

The SMART methodology excels in two specific areas. First, it provides a great top-down structure for repeated processes and behaviors. Fast food and restaurant operators frequently use SMART goals because they need rigid top-down measures to ensure effective employee performance and behaviors.

The second way in which SMART excels is how it can be applied to a large organization or used to track discrete goals within a team, or for a single individual. When a team or an individual has goals or aims that are important but that don’t necessarily contribute directly to a larger strategic plan, SMART goals provide an excellent planning structure.

Setting SMART Goals and OKRs That Work

OKRs can only be as good as you make them, so you NEED to make sure that you’ve really given your objectives and key results some serious thought. So let’s break down the two areas you’ll need to consider when setting goals: your objective and your key results.

The objective is simply the goal you are aiming to achieve. They are the ‘what’ of your particular situation. They express your goals in a clear, concise, and realistic way. A properly conceived objective will be tangible, objective, totally unambiguous, and will only contain one clear objective, not several crushed into one.

If your objective is the ‘what’, then your key results are the ‘hows’. They are exactly how you will accomplish your set objective. Good key results are structured with measurable milestones and deadlines that will advance your objective in a meaningful way. For example, if your objective is to launch a new website by the end of the month, one of your key results could be to solicit five proposals from web design companies.

A common trap that people fall into is using their key results to describe activities instead of outcomes. Instead, try to describe the impact of those activities. Using the example above, a good key result could be to choose a web design company from the five solicited proposals.

And don’t forget – because SMART goals are essentially the key results of the OKR approach, all of this info still applies if you’ve chosen a SMART approach.

Why Google Uses OKRs

Let’s be honest – Google has always had big goals. It uses the OKR methodology to communicate, measure, and reach those world-changing goals. The company has grown and grown over the years, and to continue forcing itself forward, it constantly issues new OKR guidelines and templates and adapts its approach.

Why does Google find OKRs so effective? It’s pretty simple. OKRs provide a planning framework that is easily adapted to cross-team goal-setting situations.

Google has a ton of smaller teams working together towards ambitious common goals, goals that can drastically change the direction of the company itself, and the entire industry. It’s therefore critical that Google employees and managers alike make carefully considered and informed choices about how time and work energy are allocated. Google’s OKRs are the result of those informed choices and they’re how the huge company can coordinate the actions of all individuals so that the company can achieve its collective goals.

Google’s corporate approach to goal planning is impressive, and let’s be honest, it clearly works. Taking some time to do a full read of Google’s OKR Playbook is well worth it for anyone trying to improve the quality of their goal setting.

Outstanding OKRs – Our Top Tips and Examples

We’ve implemented our fair share of OKRs here at Viral Octopus and we’ve learned a few things. Here are our top tips to guide you through the goal-setting process.

Tip #1 – Keep your KRs specific and measurable

Effectively writing key results will usually include hard numbers that can be used as clear benchmarks or ways to actually measure progress and success. They use language that is specific and describes in detail the expected result.

Tip #2 – Break Key Results into Smaller Goals

You know that saying, “Don’t bite off more than you can chew”? The same applies to goal-setting. Try to create mini-goals within your key results that can act as milestones through which you can track your progress.

Tip #3 – Conduct a Pilot

If you try to implement an OKR approach but don’t quite nail it, employees may become bitter and angry. By running a pilot with a small team, you can learn important lessons to make the experience better for everyone.

Now that you know more about SMART goals and OKRs, what are you waiting for? Isn’t it time to turn your wishes into a reality? Take a cue from the most successful companies of our time and plan your goals using proven methodologies. 

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