2-Layer Goal Setting Framework for Your Life
Whether you are looking for a way to plan out your life, or run a more efficient team in your work, the Objective & Key Result (OKR) framework might be the next concept you can utilize for better results.
What is an OKR?
Setting goals and targets predate the giant corporations of today. Ever since someone wanted to be better than they were yesterday, they likely used one of the thousands of goal setting strategies available or simply made up their own.
An OKR is one of those goal setting strategies, and I have been using them both in a global business perspective as well as in my personal Life Operating System (LOS) for years now.
OKRs were the brainchild of Andrew Grove during his time at Intel in the 1980s. He documented his thoughts in a fantastic book, High Output Management. There is so much good material in there, but for our sake, one key concept is that goals should be measurable, but great goals measure outcomes instead of outputs.
You are a financial executive given a project to implement a new accounting tool/process. You want to set the goal for the project team. Two options you have are:
Option A — Implement 4 key finance modules and train 1000 staff members
Option B — Reduce financial operations overhead by $5M
Option A might define what the project will be doing and give the team some direction, but what happens at the end of the project and the system is delivered and the team is trained? What does the company benefit?
Here Option B comes in. It defines a business result that has built-in flexibility. If halfway through the project, it is found out that 1 of the 4 modules are unnecessary (very common in enterprise system implementations), they could still ace Option B but would have failed to achieve Option A.
OKRs put you in good company
OKRs were spearheaded by the tech giants through the 90s and 00s, with Google being an avid supporter and adopting it through many of their business units. Larry Page wrote a foreword in John Doerr’s book, Measure What Matters, including this passage:
“OKRs have helped lead us to 10x growth, many times over. They’ve helped make our crazily bold mission of ‘organizing the world’s information’ perhaps even achievable. They’ve kept me and the rest of the company on time and track when it mattered the most”.
Sears and LinkedIn are 2 other prominent case studies. LinkedIn attributes the OKR framework to the success of their management during their rise to a $20B valuation.
But how to use OKRs in your personal life?
So far we have been talking about major business and their goal setting. But what about you? I have been in charge of setting my work teams’ OKRs for a long time now and I approach my personal OKRs in the same fashion.
First Step: Unleash your creativity with objectives
I usually like to visualize the objective as the phrase you would put on a poster you hang in your office. It is the quick insight that you can read while passing by with a cup of coffee and understand what it means. It is relevant enough that it reminds the passerby of a certain strategy, policy, or goal. Think of the objective as the poster for your daily walk. What phrase will remind & inspire you every day to keep moving forward to your vision?
Some of my current objectives: – Create a Beautiful Life in Europe – Be Ready to Kick Zombie Ass – Be a Digital Ninja
Notice something about the objectives? They do not seem to have a solid ending, do they? When does one close the objective of ‘Building a Beautiful Life”? The answer is: maybe never.
I believe objectives extend your vision into the next level of detail. Your results are the measures that are time and scope bound. This allows you flexibility in your achievements. What I define as a beautiful life may change but the only way the objective would become obsolete is if I decided to move somewhere other than Europe, like the UK for example.
A perfect example of this is when in the summer of 2020 I was prepping to move to the Netherlands, visa in process and all. Then I get a phone call one day, with a directive that I will be moving to Copenhagen, Denmark instead. In the same time frame. So how did I adjust my LOS? I simply closed my Netherlands moving results and duplicated my “Move to the Netherlands” project. Closed the Netherlands project and renamed the copy to “Move to Denmark”. All the while keeping the objective and all the thought documentation largely intact.
My personal LOS architecture diagram (author)
Before we get into the results, I would like to point out the hierarchy of my LOS. Notice that the projects are related to Objectives and not Results. In theory, actions should drive results. But I found that in practice, projects typically drive multiple results, and it is difficult to manage such a complex relationship. Therefore, I find it much easier to have projects push forward objectives, with results being the pit stops along the journey to check your direction/bearing is still correct.
Second Step: Get specific with your results
I will open my LOS to better explain what I find works for you. Life said before, I do not want this to be so generic you do not believe that I do not use this framework. I must put some skin in the game, right?
Let us take my current objective: “Create a Beautiful Life in Europe”.
One of my objectives in Notion (author)
This extends my vision board, which you can read about here. This is a new objective started in 2020 with the project “Move to Denmark”. Given I just started this objective the scope of the results is still small.
Top Goals Using OKRs:
Top Objective Results (author)
Each result is also given a start and end date. So, with a time frame, status, and target status, the status for the result dynamically updates, which you see in the above picture as well.
A common phrase in the goal-setting literature is “You can’t manage what you can’t measure”. This is true, especially for OKRs. And the results part of the OKRs is where you need to make sure this holds.
Find the one number that you can track.
There are many ways you can set a target number. What I have found though is that not everything fits into money, views, or other easy numbers. What about a result that tracks my successful apartment hunt? How do you put a number on that?
There are 2 approaches to this. You can always default to a target of 1. Meaning if I did sign a lease by Dec 31, I would get a 1/1 and it would be a success. If I never signed a lease or did so in January, I would get a 0/1, not completing the result.
However, I found taking just a few more minutes to explore what would be a better result, proved a much better outcome. Living in Hong Kong, my rent was crazy high, and it ate up more of my income than I wanted. But we also wanted to have a bigger place in Copenhagen. Therefore, what I wanted to measure was that I got a better-valued apartment in Europe than I did in Hong Kong. Given the average apartment was much larger in Copenhagen than in Hong Kong I just wanted to make sure I paid less for housing than I did in Hong Kong, getting more value out of my housing expense.
Therefore, the result, which is a trailing result (can only be measured after the lease is signed), measured the monthly rent per sqm of the leased apartment. I succeed the result if my price per sqm is less than that in Hong Kong. Thankfully, I was able to achieve this.
Goals using OKRs is a great framework for a Life Operating System.
This article is just a small tasting of the world of goal setting. Your key takeaway should be that the OKR framework is a great way to combine inspiring messages and hard data targets to manage your ambitions.
By creatively writing memorable objectives to keep font of mind and pairing that with data driven results, you can begin to track progress constructively.
The next step will be to start building your Action Center, where you build the projects that push forward your Objectives. Then bring in a consistent review schedule to update your Results. I will explain more on how I achieve this in my “Reflect & Improve” LOS module with a weekly review and Key Result Status Reflection Period in a future article.
Hope this helps you understand OKRs better and encourage you to get creative in your goal setting!