An ex-Intel Leader’s Guide to OKRs

Beatriz Boavida
Mar 07, 2024
5 min read

OKRs – Objective and Key Results – is one of the most solid goal-setting frameworks at the centre of company change.

Although in theory, they seem easy to frame, leaders often struggle when setting OKRs. Either they tend to frame them as too specific, which does not leave enough room for the team to navigate them, or they tend to frame them as too vague, which does not lead to a sense of direction and makes it harder to progress toward the objectives.

The challenge then lies in finding the right balance between giving a sense of direction and leaving room for creativity. In this article, we will delve into how you can set OKRs to drive meaningful change with a take on Peter Engelbrecht's experience.

Meet the leader: Peter Engelbrecht

Peter Engelbrecht began his career working in Product & Commercial roles for Tech companies in the mid-90s. He spent most of those years at Intel - the home of the OKR framework.

While at Intel, Peter had the chance to get to know the framework and also work firsthand with OKRs - which later on proved to be extremely valuable as he used the framework to build his first company, Firmafon, i 2010.

OKRs vs KPIs

According to Peter Engelbrecht, leaders often have a hard time setting OKRs simply because they confuse them with Key Performance Indicators – KPIs. Although in the first instance, they may seem similar, particularly Key Results and KPIs, these are two distinct subjects.

Let’s start by setting them apart. 

What are KPIs

KPIs are quantitative measurements for the continuous operations of your company. So, commonly you have KPIs for the sales team, for the marketing team, for the customer experience team, for the operations teams, etc.

Example for the marketing team: Increase conversion rate by 35%.

KPIs help you assess projects that are already taking place. They can also be effective at the individual level, as they help each employee to know if they are on track with what is expected of them.

What are OKRs

On the other hand, OKRs are the approach that allows you to develop new capabilities as a team – it is how you grow as a business. They work brilliantly for things you want to achieve but are not yet at play.

Think of the Objective as the direction you want to take over a defined period (e.g. quarter) – it is your WHAT. And make sure to make these objectives ambitious so that you can achieve meaningful change.

The Key Results are the MILESTONES. They are measures that allow you to easily assess whether you are on track or not. As a rule of thumb, for each Objective, you should set 3-5 Key Results.

Remember, Key Results should not be your KPIs. You may find that sometimes they are somewhat linked to a part of your existing KPIs that need to grow, while other times they are not even tied to a KPI.

How NOT to set OKRs

When you are framing your next OKRs, here is an example of what they should not look like:

In this example, the Objective is too vague. When you set an OKR, the Objective should clearly tell you which direction your team is moving towards. In this case, when you read “Grow sales”, you can position yourself in multiple directions. A good Objective will not leave you with such ambiguity.

Also, the Key Result is formulated as if it were a KPI. KPIs usually include a percentage that helps measure if a certain goal was met (or not). However, Key Results should be seen as milestones - this means they should be measures that allow you to clearly assess if you are progressing towards the Objective and tell you exactly how you are supposed to achieve it.

How to set OKRs well

Contrasting with the latter example, here is what a good OKR should look like:

In this case, the Objective gives you a clear direction to grow sales - you want to grow your sales numbers by establishing a new sales channel.

The Key Result is specific enough for you to understand when you have achieved the milestone (sell 19 widgets this quarter) and how you should achieve it (through partnerships in Germany).

When you are setting your OKRs remember that they always refer to the new capability you want your company to have, so it can grow. This means that the OKRs are not tied to your main KPIs.

How many OKRs should you set

Besides knowing how to set OKRs, you also need to acknowledge how many sets of OKRs you should frame. This is another topic leaders often find challenging, as it is common for them to either overdo OKRs or underdo them.

For Peter, every leader must understand the hierarchical nature of this approach. You can have OKRs at the company level, at the team level, and at the sub-team level. Keep in mind you do not need to measure every single person!

The number of OKR sets you will need to frame will mostly depend on the size of your company. So, for instance:

You should keep OKRs as simple as you can.

Key takeaways

OKRs are the approach that allows you to achieve new goals and grow.

When setting OKRs, you need to understand how they differ from KPIs:

The secret to successfully applying this approach in your company is to keep it simple – if your company is under 20 employees, just have 1 OKR set. If your company has over 100 employees, you can have 2 levels of OKRs – company level and department/project level.

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