A quick checklist to distinguish between Objectives, Key Results and Tasks

Avoid the common mistake of writing Task lists and thinking they are OKRs

OKR is sweeping across Silicon Valley as a way to implement Goal Setting in organisations.  But can ‘ordinary’ companies adopt a similar goal setting approach and get the same benefits?  Well yes of course! But one of the challenges is explaining and training staff in the differences between Objectives, Key Results and just plain simple tasks.  Without this clarity, the OKR will quickly become confused and frustrating as some objectives may really be goals and some goals may really be tasks.  Bear in mind the following definitions and examples.

Objective: Something inspirational you want the business to move towards by a specified time

  • Example: Achieve a reputation for the best customer service in our industry by end 2018

Key Results: One or more measures which indicates whether you are moving towards your objective


  • Improve our NPS score from +30 to +40 by end Q1-2018,
  • Reduce average service call answer time to under 9 minutes by Q2-2018
  • Increase % of first time fix to 70% by Q3-2018

Task: An activity or set of activities that need to be completed by one or more people


  • Deliver quarterly employee NPS scoring to the organisation
  • Implement new service centre  software
  • Compose and deploy training program for customer service staff

So far so good.  However we frequently find with implementing Goal Setting and particularly the OKR method, that team members have difficulty distinguishing between Objectives, Key Results and Tasks.

Self test

So here are some handy questions to help you challenge your team to write Objectives, Key Results and Tasks that are appropriate

It’s an Objective if the following are true:

  • It describes a future state and can be expressed in a sentence starting with “by [date] we will have achieved the outcome of [description of state]”
  • It is (at least somewhat) inspirational?

It’s a Key Result if the following are true.

  • It has a measure associated with it?
  • The measure has a target date?
  • It can be described in a sentence starting with “by [date] the measure of [measure] will read [reading]
  • (The measure can on occasion be binary (i.e. Achieved or Not Achieved) but double check you haven’t just written a task.)

It’s a Task if the following are true

  • It can be described as a continuous activity that needs completing
  • The activity can be fairly easily broken down into a number of smaller chunks of work
  • It be described in the form of a gantt chart with start and end dates for tasks?


The temptation to slip into writing down Tasks is almost irresistible, particularly when setting out on the OKR journey, but since lot of the value of OKRs comes from the critical thinking required to come up with good objectives and key results, its worth spending some time on this part of the process.

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