Get total organizational alignment, crystal-clear focus, and engaged teams with 15Five's Objectives feature! Objectives enable you to set clear and measurable goals, track progress in real-time, and achieve results. Whether you're a small startup or a large enterprise, using Objectives empowers your team to stay aligned, motivated, and on track to achieve your organizational goals. Explore the key functionalities and benefits of this innovative feature and witness the transformation it can bring to your team's performance and overall success.
In this article, you will learn...
- What are Objectives and Key Results (OKRs)?
- How they work
- How Objectives impact HR outcomes
- Key components
- Permissions and visibility
- Use cases
- Best practices
- Additional resources
Access and availability
⛔️ Required access to Objectives.
👥 This article is relevant to all roles.
📦 This feature is available in the Perform, Legacy Focus, and Total Platform pricing packages.
What are Objectives and Key Results (OKRs)?
Today’s most successful, fastest-growing companies all practice Management by Objectives (MBOs) for goal-focused, company alignment. Inc. 500 companies (and even some Fortune 100 companies) all use a variety of slightly different models, including Objectives and Key Results (OKRs).
With this business practice, company leaders create Objectives every quarter, implement metrics to measure them, communicate along the way, and then discuss success and missed opportunities.
OKRs stands for Objectives and Key Results. It is a framework for defining and tracking business objectives and outcomes.
- Objectives are what the organization or individual wants to accomplish, and are typically qualitative or subjective, ambitious, and time-bound.
- Key Results are concrete, specific, and measurable. They should describe how you will accomplish the Objective and measure whether you are on track, behind, or at risk of not accomplishing an Objective.
OKRs can be summed up in a simple phrase: “I will accomplish [objective], as measured by [key results].”
To guide our OKR philosophy and design, we turned to science for answers. We critically examined academic research on all topics related to performance management including performance reviews, goal-setting, one-on-one meetings, employee recognition, and employee feedback. We leveraged trustworthy research from The Center for Evidence-Based Management, (CEBMa). CEBMa is known for critically appraising research to ensure insights are pulled from the most trustworthy sources. We extracted actionable insights from various scientific disciplines and built that research-backed wisdom into 15Five.
How they work
- Determine quarterly company, team, and individual objectives and add them to 15Five. Select 3-5 company objectives that you want to focus on for the quarter. From there, each department should set group objectives that align with the company objectives, and each team within that department will create objectives that are aligned with the ones leadership sets for the company. Employees can then work with their managers to set individual objectives that are aligned with team and company objectives. Learn how to create an objective.
- Update objective progress. Objective and key result owners can set the status of their objectives and/or key results either from the Objectives tab or as they fill out their Check-ins. Objectives are included in the Check-in to keep them top of mind every week and allow employees to update the progress on Key Results throughout a set timeframe. We also include Objectives at the top of the weekly Check-in so managers know what employees are working on and to provide context during 1-on-1s.
- Track progress, remove roadblocks, and celebrate wins. Use built-in reporting to keep track of objective progress. Managers of objective owners can use Check-ins to keep an eye on how the objective is progressing and help remove obstacles. During 1-on-1s managers can obtain deeper insight into their team members’ work and the factors that influence or hinder progress. Use 15Five's High Fives feature to recognize hard work and achievements along the way.
- Complete objectives, then begin the process again! Once objectives are completed, close them out and reflect on how they went. Then, it's time to start the cycle again for the next quarter. Evaluate the outcomes, learn from the process, and use these insights to refine future objectives and drive ongoing improvement. By continuously setting, tracking, and completing objectives, you can create a culture of growth, progress, and success within your organization.
How Objectives impact HR outcomes
Objectives are clear, actionable targets that guide an employee's focus and efforts towards strategic company goals. Establishing and communicating clear objectives ensures that individuals and teams are aligned with the broader mission and vision of the organization. By incorporating well-defined objectives into your management system, you can profoundly impact 15Five's HR Outcomes: maximizing employee performance, increasing employee engagement, and decreasing regrettable turnover.
- Classic research shows again and again that goals are extremely effective at increasing motivation and performance in organizations— outcomes that impact your organization's bottom line.
- Goal setting is one of the most powerful and evidence-based interventions for enhancing performance. The impact is even more positive when goal setting is combined with performance feedback or progress monitoring.
- When employees "do less and obsess," as is the case when owning objectives, they're enabled to work better and achieve more.
- Gallup research shows employees who strongly agree that they can link their goals to the organization’s goals are 3.5 times more likely to be engaged.
- Employees are 17 times more likely to be engaged if their managers help them set performance goals.
- Only 50% of employees say they know what’s expected of them at work. Objectives combat this issue by enabling employees to record their initiatives and regularly update progress, supporting psychological safety— a top driver of employee engagement.
- Objectives in 15Five are flexible and allow for collaboration and updates. Flexibility strongly correlates with improved employee mental health and well-being.
- 33% of professionals planning on looking for a new job cited boredom and the need for new challenges as their top reason for leaving. Giving employees the opportunity to challenge themselves can provide the continuous growth and variety that professionals seek.
- When employees have work clarity and are aligned with the purpose of their organization, they are more likely to stay at a company for the long term.
- A top reason that employees leave organizations is that they lack a sense of belonging at work. By tying objectives to company-wide initiatives, you create a "positive sum game" in which both the employee and the organization benefit. The employee has the opportunity to develop their skills and advance in their career, as well as recognize how their work ties to the organization's success. Simultaneously, the company gains from having a more skilled, adaptable, and innovative workforce that drives its initiatives forward.
- Goal-focused company alignment: Align with your leadership team on top priorities and highest leverage activities each quarter.
- Drive motivation and purpose within your company: Fit Objectives into the company vision, mission, and values to motivate your company with the purpose.
- Achieve top-down visibility. Maintain visibility into company, department, and individual OKR progress, wins, and roadblocked areas.
- Increase employee performance, engagement, and retention! Classic research shows again and again that goals are extremely effective at increasing motivation and performance in organizations— outcomes that impact your organization's bottom line.
- Keep your team focused, inspired, and aligned by providing context and direction and setting top priorities each quarter.
- Focus on progress over results, and use goal setting and achievement as learning opportunities.
- Improve manager feedback through objective-focused management.
- Increase team productivity. Research shows employee productivity increases by 56% on average when managers are involved in helping employees align their goals with the needs of the organization or overall company purpose. When employees work with their managers to both create Objectives and then align them with the organization’s mission and top priorities, productivity and engagement soar.
- Feel more purpose by aligning individual goals to company goals to see how individual work drives company goals forward.
- Understand what's expected of you. Objectives help you clearly understand what's expected of you at work— which supports psychological safety.
- Have visibility into what your organization is prioritizing and achieving. 15Five's Objectives feature gives you visibility into company priorities, updates, and changes that impact individual work.
- Achieve career growth and development. Identify skills gaps and create self-development learning objectives to keep your growth and development front and center.
Create alignment across your company with company, group, individual, and self-development objective options.
Anyone in your organization can use the Objectives tab to see OKRs and follow their progress in real-time. Click into an objective to open its details page.
Robust filtering options make it easy to find the OKRs you're looking for.
The Objectives Dashboard gives account admins and managers a high-level overview of how people are doing with objective completion. There are also additional reports available that allow you to dig deeper into objective data and stats.
To move together in the right direction, you can align an objective with a larger department or company objective during objective creation to show a visual link between related objectives. Child objectives can be set to either impact or not impact the progress of the parent objective.
Permissions and visibility
Account admins, managers, and employees have differing permissions when it comes to objectives. Please refer to our "Role-based permissions for Objectives" Help Center article for an overview of role-based permissions for creating, managing, and editing objectives and key results.
There are three available visibility options that you can select from when creating an objective: Public, 15Five permissions, and Specific people.
- Public: This objective will be visible to everyone in your company.
- 15Five permissions: This objective will be visible to anyone who can see your Check-ins, including global viewers. To find out who can view your Check-ins, you can use this link.
- Specific people: This objective will be visible to the objective owner’s reviewer, and any other groups and/or individuals that are specified, but are not visible to global viewers unless they are added as one of the specific people.
15Five's Objectives feature is a versatile tool with a range of use cases that can help your organization achieve its goals. Below are some common use cases we see.
Most work today is accomplished by teams and the research support for the benefits of team goals is very strong. When team members can create goals together, and see how their work contributes to the progress of team goals, performance improves. Collaborative Objectives in 15Five enable teams to align and work together to drive company initiatives forward.
How to create a collaborative objective
- Identify who should act as the key stakeholder and project manager. This person should be appointed as the objective owner.
- Organize a meeting or async communication channel that includes everyone who will be collaborating on the project. Here, discuss what key results need to be achieved and decide who should own each of these key results (i.e. be responsible for updating the key result's progress and ultimate completion). Remember— key results are concrete, specific, and measurable. They should describe how you will accomplish the Objective and measure whether you are on track, behind, or at risk of not accomplishing an Objective. Resist the impulse to use key results as a "to-do list" by adding each task that needs to happen to achieve the objective as a key result. Check out our "OKR Examples: How to Write OKRs that Drive Impact" blog post for tips on how to craft your OKRs.
- Craft your OKR in 15Five. Be sure to set the objective's privacy setting as "Public" (which means everyone in the company can see the objective and updates) or "Specific-people" and add everyone who will be collaborating on the objective.
- Set up a cadence for checking in on objective progress, either in a live meeting or async. Objective updates are always visible in the Objectives tab.
- Remember to celebrate accomplishments along the way! 15Five's High Fives feature makes it easy to recognize teammates.
- Complete the objective with focused effort and collaboration. It's crucial for the objective owner to drive the progress of the key results and ensure their completion. Regularly communicate with the team members responsible for each key result, providing support, guidance, and resources as needed. Keep a close eye on the objective's progress using the Objectives tab in 15Five, monitoring if any adjustments or interventions are required. Foster a culture of accountability and transparency, encouraging open communication and sharing updates on accomplishments, challenges, and roadblocks. By staying dedicated and working collaboratively, you'll pave the way for successfully achieving the objective and making a tangible impact.
We have had customers at call centers and other Customer Support departments use Objectives as a way to track their CSAT scores, and specifically to track them over time towards an end goal. There are some options on how you could accomplish this using Objectives in 15Five:
You can create a group/department/group type objective with the CSAT score you are striving for or require. The key results can each be something like "Exceed our customer's expectations with a 95% CSAT rate". Each of the group members required to maintain that CSAT score should have their own key result. With each key result being assigned to various group members, they will be able to update them. If you, as the manager, own the objective—you will be able to check progress and report on the objective at any time. This is the simplest approach.
Another option: You could create individual objectives for each group member and name them all something like "X person brings joy to customers with a high CSAT rate". The key result for the objective would be something like "Met 95% CSAT rate" and the metric would be either 0% to 95% or complete/not complete. The main difference with this option is that you could include an aspirational goal, like "Exceeds expectations with 100% CSAT" to encourage that extra push- in this case, your metrics would be 95% to 100%. For the aspirational option, we recommend you use the % complete measurement so that you can see how close they get to that aspirational goal. This option is a great way to start a growth conversation.
Here at 15Five, we have found that tracking CSAT scores is not only great for manager visibility but also enables the Customer Support Team to track how well they are doing and feel good about the service they are providing. Bonus Points: Pair an objective like this with the High Fives feature to recognize your people for stellar CSAT reviews!
"Meeting quota" can refer to a Sales Team's numbers that need to be hit, or it can mean the number of dogs groomed at your pet grooming business. 🐶 Both examples are a perfect opportunity to set objectives in 15Five. Again, setting objectives allows for progress to be monitored, and ultimately helps your business track towards the bigger goals. Bonus Points if you align these objectives to your company-wide revenue objectives.
Below is an objective for Seth, who created an objective around hitting his quota out of the park:
In the screenshot above, you can see that Seth also aligned his objective with the company-wide objective titled "Accelerate recurring revenue growth".
Seth not only set a key result regarding his quota but also added an aspirational key result to double his monthly quota amount. Seth can use the "$" option to easily add in the starting and target quota values. Using these options makes it easier for Seth's reviewer and teammates to know exactly how far along he is on his quota objective.
You can see above that for Seth's aspirational key result, the key result's starting value was set to 1 million so that 1 million is considered 0% completed for this key result. Anything above 1 million will be >0% and will be in addition to the 100% that has already been achieved on the first key result.
It is also important to note that in Seth's case, anything above 50% is considered "Quota met". If you are choosing to take this route, just make sure to be clear with your team that you understand that an aspirational Objective is not penalized for not reaching a 100% completion rate.
The other option is to use one key result to monitor the overall progress of the quota— so the key result starting value would be $0 and the target value would be $1000000. Consider naming this key result, "Meet $1M in revenue for the quota (Aspirational $2M)". Then the key result would be >100% for anything over $1M. Important to note: The key result being over 100% will not lead to the objective itself being over 100%.
Have you ever wondered what your co-worker's objective "Pump up the volume on customer satisfaction" even means? Maybe you have seen an objective titled "Launch Churn Reduction Project," but you have no idea what the Churn Reduction Project is.
On an objective's details page, any person who has visibility into the objective can leave a comment in the activity feed. The objective owner can also use this space to add context to the objective, be it with a description of the reasoning behind why the objective was created. Boom. The random title mystery has been solved.
Creating comprehensive objective descriptions also opens the door for cross-functional conversations about projects to be held.
In addition to these use cases, there are so many other ways to use Objectives to fit your unique business needs. Have a scenario that you are not sure how it would work with Objectives? Reach out to our Support Team or your company's CSM and we'll be happy to help!
Tips for using OKRs effectively
A strong OKR process starts with the leadership team, who is responsible for setting the direction for the company. Not only to develop yearly and quarterly Objectives, but to be the chief advocates of the company mission, vision, and values. Objectives translate strategy and organizational priorities into team and individual priorities. Company Objectives provide context and direction for employees to align their efforts with team and organizational goals. Every company leader must help employees connect their work to the deeper purpose, and make sure the entire company is informed, aligned, and inspired to focus on what matters most.
We recommend that top leadership set company Objectives first, followed by each nested level department Objectives that support the level above, and then allow team members to align their individual Objectives with the department and company Objectives. Encourage managers and employees to align their objectives with company-wide objectives to foster direction setting and alignment across all levels. Gallup research shows employees who strongly agree that they can link their goals to the organization’s goals are 3.5 times more likely to be engaged.
15Five has spent years working with thousands of HR leaders on their most important priorities, learning precisely which outcomes make the most significant impact on a business. Together, we’ve uncovered exactly which areas HR leaders should focus on, and how. By focusing on the following outcomes, we believe HR and People Ops can achieve the highest level of impact, maximize their organization's potential, and drive success in today's highly competitive business environment:
- Maximize employee performance
- Increase employee engagement
- Decrease regrettable turnover
15Five supports HR leaders delivering these outcomes, the benefits of which are multiplied and amplified by investing in manager effectiveness. Read more about these outcomes in 15Five's HR Outcomes Playbook.
We recommend identifying one "top priority" HR Outcome to focus your efforts on based on current company needs and initiatives. While all of these outcomes have an impact on each other, selecting one outcome to focus your attention on at a time allows you to direct your energy and maximize returns. As you continue using 15Five, you can re-evaluate your outcome priority periodically (e.g. each quarter or half). Use our HR Outcomes Dashboard and Manager Effectiveness Indicator (MEI) to measure the impact of the OKR on your company.
According to Alan Colquitt, Objectives should be flexible enough so employees can freely adjust, revise, or even abandon what they’re doing as their work evolves and as priorities change. Research from Kuvass, Buch & Dysvik, all academics in the field of organizational psychology, demonstrated a link between lower work performance and people seeing their goals as unmovable and non-negotiable. This can be managed in 15Five through regular communication, adjustment, and re-framing of goals, as well as allowing individuals the chance to provide an explanation as to why set goals could not be achieved, perhaps due to changing circumstances. In 15Five, employees can easily edit their Objectives and Key Results and provide a comment to their manager to provide context behind the change.
Managers have a huge opportunity to increase employee engagement and motivation by setting goals together with their team members. According to Gallup, 30% of employees strongly agree that their manager involves them in setting their goals at work, and those who strongly agree with this statement are 3.6 times more likely than other employees to be engaged. Science shows employee participation in goal setting is important because people won’t fully commit to goals without a voice in the process. Active participation increases perceived fairness, specifically by having one’s voice heard. Employees should set goals with their managers but never fully alone because the most important driver of performance comes from the expectations set by management.
Gallup shows that only 34% of employees strongly agree that their manager knows of the projects or tasks they’re currently working on. When managers keep track of goals and key performance projects and milestones, the feedback they provide improves. In the Check-in, managers move beyond results, and through the use of questions, blend qualitative feedback into the OKR process. During 1-on-1s managers obtain deeper insight into their team members’ work and the factors that influence or hinder progress.
Would you believe that goal monitoring is just as important to achievement as goal setting? Research shows that the ability to see the distance from the goal is crucial, so monitoring goal progress is necessary for goal setting to work. Progress monitoring is sprinkled throughout 15Five, both in the Check-in and in the Objectives dashboard, making it incredibly easy to see the distance between the current and desired result for individual, departmental, and company Objectives. Every time an employee completes their Check-in, they’re prompted to monitor the progress of their Objectives, which is visible to everyone who has permission to view the Objective.
To increase performance and motivation, managers should focus on goal progress over results. Although this may sound counterintuitive to the results-driven manager, the research is clear: progress monitoring will greatly increase motivation and a focus on results only can lead to cultures of unhealthy internal competition. Alan Colquitt, author of Next Generation Performance Management, recommends that companies focus on enabling achievement and performance instead of measuring and evaluating it. Goal transparency and a focus on progress are two key research-backed features that increase motivation and the likelihood of goal achievement.
Have you heard the phrase “Shoot for the moon and you’ll land among the stars?” That’s an example of an aspirational OKR, also known as a stretch goal. Stretch goals have a 50-70% chance of being realized. They’re not impossible, but they’re definitely ambitious...in an exciting way! Setting aspirational key results within a committed objective is inspirational, visionary, and even fun— not intimidating or high-pressure.
Growth and development is the top driver of engagement. All employees need to have a certain level of training, skills, and experience to accomplish their work, so when employees need to acquire skills, research shows it’s important for them to set learning goals rather than performance goals.
In 15Five, employees have the option to create self-development objectives to prioritize their own goals and fill skills gaps that prohibit them from doing their best work. When it comes to learning objectives, specific and challenging goals have a negative effect on performance. Instead, we recommend employees set short-term and general “do your best” goals for learning objectives. More general learning goals create a learning orientation, the key to personal growth and development.
As an alternative to OKRs, employees can use the 'Growth Plan' section of 15Five's Career Hub feature to create lightweight career goals and break them down into trackable actions. Functionally, "goals" in Growth Plan are the same as self-development objectives— only with less detail and effort in the setup process. Learn more.
Our integrations with Jira Cloud and Salesforce allow employees to link their key results to Jira issues or Salesforce reports so that key results are automatically updated in 15Five as progress is made. Check out the articles below for more information:
Common pitfalls to avoid (and solutions!)
Companies make the biggest mistake when they set traditional, annual, heavyweight, cascading goals that are controlled at the top, rigidly pushed down into every department, and then into individual Objectives. In larger organizations, it can take 4-5 years to set up goals that cascade through, which is way too slow for the normal pace of business. Instead, we suggest replacing heavyweight annual goals with shorter-term quarterly goals. Company and department objectives are set at the top quarterly or semi-annually and individuals are free to create and align their own Objectives, which saves a ton of time.
Resist the impulse to use key results as a "to-do list" by adding each task that needs to happen to achieve the objective as a key result. Instead, suggest adding tasks that you're completing in service of meeting a key result as a priority on your Check-in and linking it to the objective.
Check out our "OKR Examples: How to Write OKRs that Drive Impact" blog post for tips on how to craft your OKRs.
Objectives in 15Five are unique as they blend a tried and true business practice with leading social science research to drive engagement and performance. However, standalone Objectives tracking is insufficient for strong results and Objectives are just one part of the larger 15Five system. All features in 15Five work together to help companies achieve both high performance and also bring out the best in their people. To learn more about how Objectives work together with other features in the 15Five system, check out the research behind our award-winning Check-ins and Best-Self Review® features.
It’s critical to make sure employees know which OKRs are commitment-based, and which goals are aspirational. Aspirational goals are “if we can,” not “at any cost.” Commitment-based OKRs should be realistic enough that employees don’t feel any stress or anxiety about committing to them. If these distinctions aren’t communicated clearly enough, teams may sacrifice quality, or even cut dangerous corners, to achieve their goals. One strategy to avoid this is to back aspirational objectives up with quality-focused key results, such as “launch our software with less than 5 bugs.
Many people ask: Should compensation be tied to objectives? While this is a complex topic, the simple answer is no. Tying these conversations can be demotivating and can lead to perceived unfairness. As an alternative, we suggest utilizing the Performance Ratings+ tool in Best-Self Review®, which allows you to automate numerical scores for review cycle participants based on a custom formula that combines aggregate scores from self and/or manager review answers. You can choose to include questions about objective progress in your formula. Start making performance decisions at scale without the endless hours manipulating spreadsheets...all while reducing bias!
15Five’s OKR Playbook: As a company leader, your job is to create the what—a clear vision for everyone to align with to achieve success. Without vision, your people are basically walking around in a fog. They may be “moving needles,” but without purpose, they cannot possibly hope to contribute in a meaningful way to a prosperous quarter or year for your company.
This playbook is a starting point for you to gain more insight into the OKR methodology, and how OKRs can be used and how to make them successful in your organization.
- OKRs 101: Everything You Need to Know to Get Started: 15Five’s Director of Transformational Services, Emily Diaz, shows you everything you need to know to get started with OKRs, the goal-setting framework used by today’s most successful companies.
- The Fundamentals of OKRs: Join 15Five’s Director of Best-Self Academy, Dr. Jeff Smith, as he shows you the fundamentals of OKRs (Objectives and Key Results), one of the most impactful practices that organizations can adopt to help their people do less and obsess. We’ll cover how to create OKRs as well as how to operationalize OKRs in your organization. We’ll also discuss 10 common mistakes related to OKR rollouts.
OKR Leadership Explained: You may know that OKRs have driven the largest migration of financial assets and technological innovation ever recorded in human history to Silicon Valley, California since the 1970s. OKR leadership is a radical process for top-down hierarchical organizations to implement, but it is attractive to employees who demand to be included in decision-making. Join us as Dr. Doug Gray, author of Objectives + Key Results (OKR) Leadership: How to apply Silicon Valley’s secret sauce to your career, team or organization” teaches you how to implement the OKR methodology at your organization.