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The Ultimate Guide To Objectives and Key Results – OKRs

07. SMART vs OKRs

OKRs vs SMART Goals Explained

SMART is a simple and popular goal setting framework. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound, and most people have used SMART goals at some point in their careers.

S is for Specific

Think of this as your Mission Statement for the goal with added details. It’s the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of your goal. It’s not how you are going to achieve your goal. You should also be thinking about who would be working towards the goal. If you’re using Objectives and Key Results or  OKRs, this is the Objective.

M is for Measurable

A good goal is not just measurable, you measure what matters. The question you need to answer is: what metrics would represent goal success? With OKRs this part is where Key Results come in.

The importance of this step alone should not be underestimated. The conversations around what success looks like and how it can be measured are hugely valuable. Even if it turns out that the ‘right’ metrics are not available now, the conversation that allowed you to know that and then the intent to measure it are a big step forward.

A is for Achievable

This is a check-sum moment. Do you have the necessary skills and resources to work on this. When you agree on a goal it needs to become a commitment, and something you are prepared to stop other things in order to progress it. If you can’t commit there is an obvious issue somewhere that needs to be addressed.

This is different to the idea of goals being hard. OKRs have the concept of difficulty as a core part of the framework with OKR scoring being used to calibrate both difficulty and what success looks like. The benefit of this is backed by scientific evidence. Only hard goals are proven to improve and prolong focus and stimulate learning, collaboration and innovation.

R is for Relevance

This is a requirement to have considered how the goal aligns with broader goals? With OKRs the idea of showing alignment with either another OKR or single Key Result is baked into the framework and there are mechanisms for showing how goals align in OKR Software like ZOKRI.

T is for Time-Bound

The cadence at which goals are set is an interesting area. Too long and you can run the risk of goals becoming irrelevant. Too short and you can find that you might not have allowed enough time to set an ambitious outcome that would require sustained and prolonged focus. The balance that most companies have adopted in quarters, especially when using OKRs.

Every quarter the task is to define the most important goals that need to be committed to, set the bar high enough to access the benefits of the stretch, and then work in an agile way to achieve it. If a goal takes more than a quarter you can role it over where required.

The acronym FAST has been created to upgrade the SMART framework, which is closer to where OKRs sit. Here are the basics of FAST goals.


FAST Goals Explained

To understand the weaknesses of SMART goals and the need to evolve them it is useful to learn about another goal setting acronym – FAST.

What are FAST goals?

So are FAST goals and what fo they have to so with SMART goals and OKRs? 

F is for Frequently Discussed

Goals need to be frequently discussed with quarterly, monthly and weekly being the common cadences where progress is discussed, time and resources allocated, To-dos prioritised, issues resolved, learnings gathered and wins celebrated.


A is for Ambitious

We have written extensively about the science of goal setting and the benefits of hard and ambitious goals being set. Focus, effort, learning, collaboration and innovation being the core benefits.


S is for Specific

Goals need concrete, relevant and meaningful measurements to track progress against. The idea of ‘measuring what matters’. Measurement also helps us to spot what is not working and correct the course.


T is for Transparent

Goals, progress, challenges and wins should not be hidden, they should be public. It should be clear how each goal is helping the company’s goals.  It should also be clear where there is misalignment. Transparency also allows you to understand other teams and individuals’ focus and perspectives.

All of these elements are central to what the OKR framework is encourages and OKR management best-practices encourage.

OKR vs SMART

OKRs have SMART goal characteristics at their core. In many ways using OKRs makes following and managing SMART goals much easier as there is more structure.

For example, with platformed OKRs you have assigned owners and collaborators as part of the definition process and the cadence is already optimized around quarters.

The bonus features OKRs bring is they have a mechanism for having multiple ways of expressing success via small group of Key Results. They also allow you to share ‘how’ you’re going to achieve your goals via To-dos, which could be considered Projects or Tasks as well.

OKR workflows and processes also have check-ins and agility operationalised as part of the framework, so goals are not set and forgotten. The most typical check-in cadence is weekly. During a check-in plans for the week ahead are shared, progress, confidence levels and issues or blockers are also shared.

The advantages of SMART goals are that they are simple. The disadvantage of SMART goals is … that they are simple. Best-practice goal settling requires a few more best-practice guidelines.  Which given the impact goal setting has on a company and team is worth the effort.


OKRs are FAST and SMART

SMART goals are accused of undervaluing ambition, are often guilty of focusing too much on individual performance, and don’t encourage the ongoing discussion that are needed to maintain focus, improve collaboration and be agile.

You will see why OKRs are therefore more aligned with FAST goals than SMART goals, and more the best of both, not because they are trying to be different, OKRs are doing what has proven to be highly effective.


You don’t need to choose

Good goal setting actually doesn’t choose. KPIs are need universally. OKRs are a form of SMART, just extended with a few more best-practices that matter.

As such, OKRs are probably the best goal setting frameworks to use if you want a more agile, aligned and ambitious way to set goals.

Platforming OKRs or if you’d prefer SMART goals or FAST goals, is easy to do, easy to manage and more likely to be of benefit in ZOKRI vs spreadsheets. This is because setting goals is only part of the opportunity. Focusing and collaborating effectively on goals in teams and across teams, tracking and sharing progress, resolving challenges and systemising best-practice performance management is the bigger picture.

So in summary, if you make the leap to OKR, you’re going to be using the best bits of KPIs, SMART and FAST. 

The core difference with OKRs being that who sets the goals, how often you set goals, how hard you make the targets, and how often you share and discuss goals, progress, problems and wins is likely to increase, along with engagement and performance.

OKRs at Scale

Learn how to plan, write and manage OKRs at scale in a free to download PDF.

  • Learn about the proven growth drivers that OKR support
  • Why OKRs
  • What does a success look like for an OKR implementation
  • Why OKRs are FASTA Goals
  • How OKRs align with Agile
  • What makes a good Objective & Key Result
  • How OKRs align companies and teams
  • What a typical OKR cycle looks like
  • How to train and manage OKRs at scale