Fear. Anxiety. Stress. Anger. These aren’t the emotions you want to trigger when discussing performance and goals at work, right? 

That’s where KPIs and OKRs come into play. These goal-setting methods and frameworks help you keep close tabs on your progress as you work toward that finish line. Try to view KPIs and OKRs not as stress-inducing metrics but as helpful guides on your journey to success. 

These two catchy acronyms are frequently confused and conflated, but the approaches have some distinct differences. Objectives and key results (OKRs) require you to identify your target and the metrics to help you stay on track. Key performance indicators (KPIs) are focused only on tracking your progress — think of them as signals that you’re heading the right way.

Companies like Marketing Architects and Walmart Canada use Wrike to track their goals and measure metrics. For example, Eric Pilhofer, Senior Vice President of Creative at Marketing Architects, shares his experience using Wrike: “We have built out a space specifically for OKRs … you can see whether it’s at 25%, 50%, or 75% done. Wrike allows everybody in charge of a particular OKR to go in and make a status update on a weekly basis, so it’s given us really great visibility into our goals.”  

Lace up your running shoes — this guide will run through the definitions and differences of KPIs vs. OKRs and how to use them to achieve your desired outcomes.

What is a KPI?

Key performance indicators (KPIs) are defined as performance metrics that evaluate the success of an organization or particular activity. KPIs can apply to projects, programs, products, and a variety of other initiatives. They can measure the success of anything from sales goals to social media metrics.

The exact origin behind KPIs is unknown, but the act of measuring performance dates back to the third century when the emperors of the Wei Dynasty (221-265 AD) rated the performance of official family members. Today, KPIs have been adopted by countless organizations and used to evaluate and forecast success.

However, a KPI is only as valuable as the action it inspires. Often, companies try to adopt KPIs used by other companies and use them as their own, then wonder why their goals are never met. Just as every employee is different, every organization is different. KPIs should be tailored to your specific organizational objectives, how you plan on achieving them, and who can act on this information.

Lets take a look at an example. Lets say your product management KPI was to increase marketing qualified leads (MQLs) by 30%. Heres how you define it:

KPI for MQL growth

  • What: Increase MQLs by 30% this year
  • Why: Achieving this target will allow the business to become profitable
  • How: Hiring additional sales staff, improving existing marketing strategies, adopting a new tool, creating more content, etc.
  • Who: VP of Marketing is responsible for this metric
  • When: The KPI will be reviewed on a quarterly basis
You can visualize key performance indicators in a way that makes sense for your team. Use Wrike’s Table view to see your work in a spreadsheet format without switching to Excel or Google Sheets.

What is an OKR?

Objectives and key results (OKRs) are defined as a metric that outlines company and team objectives along with the measurable key results that define the achievement of each objective. OKRs represent aggressive goals and define the measurable steps you’ll take toward achieving those goals. Theyre typically used to set quarterly goals but can also be used for annual planning. The rising popularity of OKRs is mainly attributed to Intel and Google, which have adopted this technique for their planning.

OKRs are set at the company, team, and individual levels. Here are a handful of OKR examples:

Company OKR 1:

  • Objective: Become the #1 most-downloaded iOS productivity app
  • Key Result 1: Conduct a survey to identify the ten most-requested features and launch five of the top most-requested features by Dec 15
  • Key Result 2: Conduct 10 user tests to identify UX issues
  • Key Result 3: Show at least 50% improvement in satisfaction with UX (via customer survey)
  • Key Result 4: Earn 200 five-star ratings by Dec 31

Company OKR 2:

  • Objective: Increase brand recognition and awareness
  • Key Result 1: Increase media engagement by 20%
  • Key Result 2: Launch customer referral program by Jan 1
  • Key Result 3: Extend social media reach and visibility to two new target markets
  • Key Result 4: Expand the thought leadership program by placing guest articles on four industry-related sites with an Alexa ranking of at least 30,000

Marketing team OKR:

  • Objective: Increase social media engagement by 35%
  • Key Result 1: Research and identify the three most popular social media sites among two new target audiences and develop an engagement strategy by Jan 1
  • Key Result 2: Participate in six Twitter chats involving industry leaders
  • Key Result 3: Respond to new Facebook comments within three hours
  • Key Result 4: Increase the number of followers on Facebook and Twitter by 20%

Individual OKR:

  • Objective: Increase the number of social media connections by 25%
  • Key Result 1: Increase posting frequency on Twitter to 8x daily and Facebook to 3x daily
  • Key Result 2: Establish a social media presence on two new sites — LinkedIn and Quora
  • Key Result 3: Join five LinkedIn groups with at least 2,500 members each and leave comments on the 10 most popular discussions in each group
  • Key Result 4: Gain 15 followers on Quora by posting three answers and one question every week
Wrike’s intuitive calendar is designed to provide you with 360° visibility on company OKRs. Keep teams informed of important goals and work in sync on interdepartmental tasks.
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What are the differences between OKRs and KPIs?

They’re both three-letter acronyms focused on goal setting, so it’s understandably easy to confuse OKR vs. KPI. However, there are some notable differences between the two.

Here’s a quick breakdown on what separates an OKR from a KPI:

Objectives and Key Results (OKRs)

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

  • Goals with metrics attached
  • Standalone metrics
  • Set an entirely new goal and then identify the signals of success
  • Set only signals to apply toward an existing goal, project, or process
  • Used to lead and measure
  • Used to measure
  • Often set and measured quarterly
  • Measured on a continuous basis

OKR vs. KPI: Which one to choose?

Still scratching your head wondering which way to go? Take comfort in the fact that there isn’t one “right” answer. When evaluating whether to use OKRs vs. KPIs, its really up to you and what youre looking to measure.

For example, if youre looking to scale or improve upon a plan or project thats been done before, KPIs might be the better option. Theyre straightforward and allow you to add a measurement system to your ongoing projects and processes.

However, if you have a larger vision or are looking to change your overall direction, OKRs might be the better choice. They have a greater depth that will allow you to stretch your goals even further and be a bit more creative in how you plan to reach them.

No matter which approach you choose, you need to track progress in a way that works for you. Wrike’s project management reporting tools give you real-time updates on all your projects.

Can OKRs and KPIs work together?

If you’re still feeling stuck on whether to choose an OKR or a KPI, use them both. OKRs and KPIs not only can work together, but are most powerful and impactful when used in combination with each other. 

Your KPIs measure overall performance, which means they’re a relevant and data-backed starting point for setting your OKRs. For example, perhaps your organization set a KPI of maintaining an employee turnover rate under 15% for the next year.

But when you do your monthly reporting and check in on that KPI, you realize that you’re currently hovering at about 23% turnover. You have some work to do, and setting some OKRs for the company and even at the individual and team level can help you get that back on track.

To provide just a quick example, the human resources team might set a related OKR that looks like this: 

  • Objective: Improve employee engagement scores by 20% on next engagement survey
  • Key Result 1: Launch new employee intranet to inform and connect onsite, remote, and hybrid workers
  • Key Result 2: Roll out career paths so all employees see clear paths for advancement
  • Key Result 3: Provide targeted training to managers on pertinent topics like autonomy, wellbeing, and career development

See how that objective and those key results connect to the broader KPI? The OKR is focused on engaging employees, which will likely reduce turnover and improve your KPI performance.

Put simply, you can use your KPIs to monitor and highlight potential areas of growth and improvement and then set your OKRs to support development in that area. Doing so helps you set KPIs and OKRs that support each other, rather than confuse or compete against each other.

Importance of measuring performance

Regardless of which technique you choose, the bottom line is: The only way to improve is to measure and review performance. If you dont take the time to set objectives, or youre setting them but not reviewing them at the end of the year or quarter, you miss a prime opportunity to learn and improve. Remember, you can actually learn from failures and successes, so make it a top priority to implement performance metrics. You may be surprised by how quickly you and your team reach them.

Whether you work for a small organization or a large company, Wrike can be tailored to suit the way you work. You can easily design a workspace that matches your project or team.

How Wrike can help you define business goals

Wrike’s OKR management and goal-tracking software is designed to help organizations meet and exceed their objectives. You can visualize milestones with calendars and Gantt charts, keep track of progress with personalized dashboards, and share results with our custom reports. 

What’s more, our OKR template makes it easy to build OKR projects, create OKRs for individual team members, and align your team’s work with the overall company goals. Wrike’s OKR template shows how individual work connects to broader company goals. You can pinpoint precisely what you’re aiming for. No more shooting in the dark! 

Next, there’s the issue of keeping your eye on the ball. Are we there yet? How far have we come? The prebuilt template is like that friend with a map who tells you, “Hey, you’ve passed three milestones, only two more to go!” 

Overall, Wrike’s OKR template will help you correctly format OKRs and monitor progress to ensure projects stay on track in the short and long term.