Setting Aspirational Goals: A lesson from OKRs

Objectives and Key Results or OKRs is a goal setting system now widely used in companies and especially start-ups all over the world. Pioneered by corporate guru Andy Grove at Intel, the system was crucial for establishing Intel's dominance and making it a household name. From there, John Doer brought it Google where it was absorbed quickly and implemented perfectly to fuel incredible growth. OKRs are known to drive 10x growth or higher when implemented correctly.

These have been an integral part of my life as a program manager and an entrepreneur. My goal is to bring the power of this goal setting system to fuel personal growth, in the domain of your choice. Whether you want to get stronger, look better, be a better student, become a better athlete, start a business, this system will help you do it better. To guide you through the process is this multi-part blog, each breaking the goal down into a small bite-size piece for you to understand, experiment with, understand, and really make your own.

The components


As the name suggests, the OKR system consists of an objective or main goal and key results. The objective must be aspirational and, in a departure from conventional goal setting wisdom, not directly measurable. The objective must serve two main "goals":

- It should give you the direction to work for

- It should inspire you to stretch and push harder than you think possible

My litmus test for personal goals is, ideally it should make you smile. When you think of that attaining that goal, imagine yourself standing there after having it attained it, you should positively be beaming, a grin lighting up your face from ear to ear. If that is too hard to imagine, it should at least place you in a warm, happy place. What I dislike, and have experienced does not work in the long run, is a negative goal, or a goal coming from a negative place. Do not worry about the how, this goal should only be about the WHAT. What do you want?

For instance, when setting a fitness goal, you might be tempted to choose a simple goal, lose X kg by Y date. This goal is cut and dry and quite unimaginative. By experience, most of us know how hard it is to lose weight, and when the goal itself is so dry, we are letting of the strongest super-power we have, our emotions. Don't worry, this is something I can help you with. Just leave your goal in the comments, or email me, and we will set the right goal for you.

We are all unique, and what works for one does not necessarily work for someone else. So keep your OBJECTIVE personal and make sure it appeals to you.

When you are getting started, keep things simple and start with one objective. Trust me now, and thank me later :).

So you have set a great objective and it makes you smile. That's fantastic! A well-crafted objective provides the direction in which to work, and it makes you smile. However, we know that having the direction or the destination is a great first step, but to reach our destination, we need a way to measure our performance and progress. And this is where key results come in.

Key Results

Each objective can have 3-5 key results or KR. These are specific, measurable, and above all, aspirational. Don't keep them easy, don't keep them impossible. But find the Goldilocks balance, just right. For starters, pick KR that you have a 50-70% chance of making. Remember, simple not easy.

Sample OKR Process

Below is a sample OKR process. It is not a sample OKR but an account of how one can go through evaluating the right OKR's to set. It is also very close to how I set my own OKRs.

So let's pick a sample OKR. Say I want to get stronger, leaner, and healthier. This is a pretty good goal for most of us anyways. But the way it stands, it is quite a dry one. Let's add some spice to it.

Let's say, I want to run with my kids and play with my grand kids in the park. This is good if the idea appeals to you. But for most of us, this situation is too far into the future to really inspire us.

With summer around the corner, and at the risk of sounding cliché, I could say, "I want to rock a beach body this summer". Again, this may or may not appeal to us. Or it just might be too hard. For me, it does not drive me to push myself. Also, I am more performance-driven than driven by aesthetics, and this goal is all aesthetics.

Here's one I like for myself, I want to create a body in health and fitness to inspire my kids to lead healthier and higher performing lives. For me, this objective gives me pause, and then it makes me smile. My son is a big part of my life, and I want him to push his limits all the time. To inspire him, I know I have to set the example by constantly pushing mine. My body would be a physical reminder of me pushing my limits in a smart and healthy way.

To create a body in health and fitness to inspire my son to lead healthier and higher performing life.

Great! I have something I can relate to now. I know my son is going to face some tough challenges in life. The best way I can prepare him is to give them tools to carve his way in the great unknown. This is also my motivation. When things will get hard, and they will, this will drive me.

Use the information here, and set your objective. Write it on a piece of paper, don't just type it down. This is an emotional process, so make it more tangible by writing it down on paper. Use a good pen. Put effort into it. Let me know when you are done.


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