How to use OKRs to set goals for your professional and personal development

Posted on October 5, 2020.
Personal development OKR examples - and how to use them for goal setting
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A few weeks ago I shared with you the most basic description of Objectives and Key Results — the goal-setting trend sweeping the business world — I could come up with. The basic idea is that you set aspirational qualitative goals for your teams, products or business (objectives) and measure whether you’ve achieved the goal through observable behavior change in the people who use your service (key results). It’s a bit more difficult to implement than it sounds but, almost exclusively, the methodology has been implemented inside an organization. 

It turns out, however, that you can use this exact same method to set goals for yourself, your professional growth or the development of your career. The reason why this is a powerful way to set goals for yourself is that it changes the measure of success from doing an activity to seeing other people change their behavior because of the action you took.

If you’re not familiar with OKRs at all, take 5 minutes and read the introduction I wrote about them : What is an OKR?

Ok, welcome back. Now, let’s see how this concept applies to you personally and professionally. The first mindset shift you have to make is that what you do, what you have to offer, your skills, experience and expertise are a product you are trying to sell to other people. Your goal is to get people to show interest in your product and ultimately to “buy” it. 

Once you begin to think of the value you bring to a company, organization or relationship as a product, the next logical step is to think about your “customers.” In the case of your professional growth and development, customers could mean recruiters, executive search companies, conference organizers, editors for magazines, podcast hosts et al. 

The final step is to think about what the outcome is you’d like to see in those customers that tells you you’re delivering a product of high quality, reputation and value to them. Outcomes are the measurable changes in the behavior of your customers. In this case, you’d like to see more inbound inquiries from recruiters and executive search firms. You’d want to see invitations to speak at conferences or be on podcasts or contribute a guest column to a popular online magazine. 

Now that we have all the pieces, let’s take a look at what a well-written OKR statement could look like for your personal or professional career goals:

Example 1: Mid-career knowledge worker (professional growth)

Objective: Become a recognized expert in the field of product management by the end of 2022

Key Result: 100% increase in the number of public speaking gigs

Key Result: 5 requests to contribute a guest post to an online publication

Key Results: 20% increase in social media connections across LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram

Example 2: Personal development

Objective: Become a leader in my local software development community by Q3 2022

Key Result: 20% increase in inbound mentorship requests

Key Result: 10% increase in number of attendees at my local meetup, month over month

Key Results: At least 30% of local conferences using our network to source new presenters

In each of these cases, there is a qualitative goal to achieve — the objective. Whether or not that goal is achieved isn’t measured through the actions the person takes. In fact, you’ll notice there are no specific actions mentioned. Instead we’re looking for the people around us — our customers — to change how they behave based on what we’re doing.

It’s then left up to us, the individuals, to determine how to achieve those goals. As we start down certain paths, we measure our key results. If they don’t trend in the desired direction, we know that the tactic we’ve chosen isn’t working, and we should try something else. For example, you might decide to update your LinkedIn profile to try and attract more connections. You spend the time and effort to do it, but your connection growth rate is stagnant. This means that either your choice of action (update your profile) or the actual updates you made didn’t resonate with your customers, and it’s time to try something new. In this way, we continue to refine what we do to become increasingly more effective, wasting less time on activities that won’t help us achieve our personal and professional goals and more time on those that will. 

If you liked this piece, this entire way of working and thinking about your career is outlined in detail in my new book Forever Employable. I think you should get a copy