The Difference Between Individual OKRs and Personal OKRs

Posted on January 17, 2022.
One is for your personal development outside of work. The other is an anti-pattern to avoid.
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One of the broadly agreed upon features of objectives and key results is that they are a team goal setting framework. Unlike some other broadly held views on OKRs, I am in full agreement with this opinion. When done well, OKRs align a team or a set of teams on what the company is trying to achieve and ensures that all disciplines are pulling in the same direction. 

Individual OKRs don’t work

When taken down to the individual level OKRs start to lose their efficacy and meaning. Our goal is to change behavior and be able to objectively measure it. When we ask individuals to write their own performance-focused goals using this framework we end up with unverifiable and easily gameable success targets. The behavior change that is often written into individual OKRs is that of the person themselves allowing them to determine, subjectively, whether or not they’ve achieved their goals. Or, the behavior change ends up being more of a task completion list (e.g., read 5 books) that doesn’t necessarily have any impact on whether the individual is improving. 

We have to reconsider performance management criteria for teams who start managing to outcomes. We are certainly looking for behavior changes but not ones the individual sets for themselves. 

Outside of work, OKRs work very well

The fascinating thing that happens when work context is removed from personal goal-setting is that OKRs start to make sense at the individual level. In this case though, the scope is the person’s entire life and the behavior change we look for can be both the individual’s as well as others’ they are trying to influence

For example, you could certainly try to improve your time running a 10k. This is an objective, verifiable goal that has multiple paths to achieve (e.g., diet change, exercise routine, etc). In addition, your efforts to become more successful in your career can also be reflected in the behavior of others like recruiters (e.g., 25% increase in inbound job offers) or event organizers (e.g., 10 invitations to speak at an event in 2022). 

A little while ago I co-hosted a webinar on this topic with author and organizational management consultant Natalija Hellesoe. We spent the entire session visualizing the difference between these two types of goals. 

Webinar on personal and individual OKRs with Natalija Hellesoe and me.

OKRs make sense up to a point

Should you have personal goals in life and at work? Yes, you should. Should you use OKRs to set those goals in both contexts? No. In your personal life, objectives and key results work well because you have the option to measure the desired behavior change objectively. At work, you’ll need to find a different set of goals and measurement targets to achieve while we keep OKRs as a team-level goal setting approach.