When OKRs Become NoKRs

Before diving in, I want to first say I’m a fan of OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) for groups and organizations. They can help bring a clear vision and targets, whether stretch goals or required bars to hit. While they should never be a “slam dunk,” they should be attainable. Rather than another “how to” for OKRs — there are plenty out there — I thought I’d have a little fun taking some themes from OKRs and apply them to real life, aka outside of the business world.

Translation: I’m having fun here, but there’s always a grain of truth — you’ve seen versions of these.

(Post-writing edit: Because I always like to make sure I’m not stealing the ideas of others — even if unintentional, I looked up “NoKRs.” The term does exist, but not in the same way. The “serious” use of NoKR is an OKR that states what we should not be doing and seems to originate with Lotus. An example is “Lotus should not do hardware.”)

Objective: Become healthier and get in better shape.

Key Results: Lose 10% of body weight YOY. Add 1 mile to overall weekly miles run every month.

We’ve seen these before. In the short term, say for a few quarters or maybe even a year or two, this makes sense. If I am 6'4" (1.92m) and weigh 300 pounds (136kg), I can lose 30 pounds in year one. By year five, I would need to be down to 178 pounds. That’s probably not feasible if you lift any weight heavier than a water bottle. And good luck capping off that 300 mile week in a few years (unless your last name is Gump, of course).

True example of this that won’t incriminate anyone in the business world: I started my career as a teacher. In my third year, No Child Left Behind was passed in the US. Politics aside, the desire of having schools and kids improve was a good one. However, the practice was that a certain percentage of children would test in a “proficient” range and would increase annually, up to 100% of students. Regardless of disability, illness, home issues, having a bad day — or being like a sibling of mine and just filling in “C” to every question because you don’t want to do it — meant this was never going to happen.

Message: Be careful that your metrics make sense not just now, but in the future.

Objective: Achieve financial independence

Key Results: Receive salary increase of 50%. Pay off all debts within 6 months.

It’s nice to dream, right? And seriously, my boss is a great guy — however, if I go up to him and ask for a 50% increase, he’s either going to laugh in my face or pull some cartoon character move where his eyes pop out of his head. I won’t even touch the paying off debts in six months…may as well hope for a Pearl Jam concert weekly in my back yard.

Caveat to this one: If you’re in sales and want to make stretch goals for your team, this will not apply to you. Also, those of you who have already paid off your debts…don’t tell me about it.

Message: Make sure the key results are something within the team’s control.

Objective: Increase efficiency around the house

Key Results: Increase sock-folding speed by 50%. Double number of trashcans in the house to reduce steps to throw things away by 25%.

Parents of five or more children may look at that first KR and say “I’d save SO much time!” (Beside the point, but for our two kids…well, I think the last time they even had matching socks was when we still dressed them.) I’m relatively certain most of us would gain about 12 minutes a year on sock folding. On the other, maybe I’m lazy, but I’d rather empty one or two trashcans than 37 of them (not that my house is that large, mind you).

Message: Make sure what you measure matters. Otherwise, no one will care what you want to measure.

If you made it this far with my nonsense, thank you for sticking with it. I’m hopeful this will help you look at OKRs that exist now and see if they are NoKRs, or as you write them in the future.

If this was fun for you, send me some NoKRs you’ve seen — or even better, more like these. I had fun with this — though perhaps I need to find a new hobby. I may be the only one amused…