OKR & 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.

OKR stands for Objectives and Key Results and another popular goal setting Acronym that’s used by many of the world’s market leading companies.

What we are going to do in this article is define what OKRs and SMART goals are, the benefits of each and the key differences. You will then be able to differentiate and choose the right goal framework for you.

okr vs smart

SMART Goals Partially Overlap With OKR

As you will see from as we unpack the SMART acronym, OKR best-practices use SMART best-practices as well, but there are important additional best-practices that come with an OKR cycle that make all the difference.

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 can be used to explain the key differences between OKR and the SMART framework, which is closer to where OKRs sit. Here are the basics of FAST goals.

What are FAST goals?

So are FAST goals and what fo they have to so with SMART goals and OKRs (Objectives and Key Results)? 

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 Ask For Habits & Rituals To Be Formed

OKR check-ins, meetings and retrospectives are key parts of an OKR cycle. No equivalent cycle stages or processes are explicitly recommended as part of SMART goals. Yet it in these update and conversational milestones that the magic of OKRs is really revealed – continuous focus, transparency, accountability and agility.


OKR vs SMART Summary

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.

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.
You will see why OKRs are therefore SMART and FAST  with OKRs doing what has proven to be highly effective if you want to improve performance.

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 that are not ‘set and forgotten’ because they are frequently updated and discussed and become part of your company culture.

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