Goal Setting and OKRs

Achieving the Right Outcomes and Changes through the Right Processes

Alice: “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

The Cheshire Cat: “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.” 

Alice: “I don't much care where.”

The Cheshire Cat: “Then it doesn't much matter which way you go.”


If we care where we are going, then how we get there matters. So deciding on a direction is important, and then we can understand how to get there.

Professional OKRs

I wrote recently about professional goal setting in OKRs - Secrets to Success. Many of you are probably familiar with OKRs, or Objectives and Key Results. They are a mechanism for establishing team or product goals, and ways to measure success.

Fundamentally, OKRs focus our efforts, align our teams, and allow us to track our progress. They also give each team or group autonomy for their work. In product development, it takes the focus off of creating features and puts it onto creating outcomes for users.

That is what makes OKRs powerful. They are a framework for working better. We don’t have to follow any exact format (though the frameworks are useful) if we understand the principles and apply them.

Personal OKRs

And that is why using those same principles is great in personal goal setting. I like using the same framework and principles we use for professional OKRs to my personal goals as well. And there is no better time to be thinking about that than now.

So how do we do that?

Objectives & Outcomes

The objective is what we want to achieve or become. In a professional setting, it may be something like “increase revenue” or “become leader in XYZ area”. But for our personal goals, it will obviously be more personal to each of us.

It may be that you want to learn to play a musical instrument or get healthy in the new year. Or you may want to become a writer or public speaker. Or spend more quality time with your family or friends. Or learn to code or dance or draw. Or start a side business. These are all good objectives.

So an objective may look something like this:

“Become a violin player.”

If you’ve never played before, this is probably an ambitious objective. But it is focused on the end-state. Where you want to be and what you want to become. Now we need to think about how to get there.

Measurements & Processes

Goals and objectives give the direction, but we also need to have measurements and processes in place. That is where the Key Results of the OKRs come in. What does success look like? How will we get to the end-state?

For the objective above of becoming a violin player, the key results may look something like this:

  1. 30 minutes of practice 5 days per week

  2. Learn X musical piece within 6 months

  3. Play in 2 public performances by end of year

Each of these measurements helps us drive toward our outcome of becoming a violin player. The first one helps create the habit or system for improving every day. The next two set milestones for achievements so we can show progress.

I believe it is important to have both a system and milestones. In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear talks about this as well.

“Goals are good for setting direction, but systems are best for making progress.”

With both a goal and a system, we can really move forward in creating the right habits and achieving some great outcomes. I don’t think the two are at odds either, though some may lean more heavily one way or another. I think having a direction is important and creating the processes for getting there will drive our long-term success. And it really is the long-term we should focus on.

Revisiting & Evaluating

Finally, a key principle with OKRs is revisiting regularly our objectives and evaluating our progress. We should do the same with our personal goals.

How well are we progressing toward the milestone of learning the musical piece we’ve chosen? Are we on track? Moving more quickly than we expected? More slowly? What about our public performances? If we need to make adjustments, it is best to recognize that early in the process so we can address it rather than wait until it is too late.

John Doerr, of OKR fame, has used OKRs for his personal goals, and has given some examples in an article here. Likewise, Christina Wodtke wrote about her personal OKRs a few years ago and how she used them to experiment with writing and teaching professionally, and improving her health.


I’ve used the example of learning the violin above, but the same principles can apply to any goal or objective. If I wanted to start a new side business, I could set that goal and decide how to measure success, whether it is the number of sales or impressions or simply getting the first phases completed. Or if I wanted to become a writer, I could begin writing frequently and decide what other metrics to track. By setting up the process and the milestones, I can make progress on anything.

So good luck as you take the first steps with your goals in the new year!


Good Reads and Listens

Platforms, bundling, and kill zones (article) - Turn signals and radios in cars used to be optional and something you purchased and installed on your own. Now that would be unthinkable. So what is bundled and isn’t is always changing. Which makes our current technology landscape complicated.

2020 Year in Review (article) - I’ve looked forward to Dave Barry’s year in review since I was a kid. So 2020 is a good chance to look back on the funny, sad, and unbelievable from a year that felt like a decade.

Find Your People (podcast) - This was a great listen on how to find your people. From interviewing to understanding others in-depth. I agree wholeheartedly.

8 Interesting Christmas Traditions from Around the World (podcast) - If you’re interested in some different traditions from different countries, from witches to demons to poop logs, then this is a fun podcast for the season.

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