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  • Writer's pictureBrian Davidson, PMP, CSM

OKR's and BHAG's: Effective Goal Setting

In the quest for success, whether personal or professional, setting clear, achievable goals is the cornerstone. Understanding and implementing effective goal-setting strategies can vastly improve your chances of achieving your objectives. This blog post delves into key theories and methodologies behind successful goal setting, including an overview of SMART goals, OKRs (Objectives and Key Results), and BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals). We'll also explore actionable insights from John Doerr’s influential book, "Measure What Matters," and provide practical tips for personalizing these frameworks to your unique circumstances.

The Importance of Goal Setting

Before we dive into specific methodologies, it’s crucial to understand why goal setting is so important. Setting goals provides long-term vision and short-term motivation. It helps focus your acquisition of knowledge and organizes your resources. By setting clearly defined goals, you can measure and take pride in the achievement of those goals. You can see forward progress in what might previously have seemed a long pointless grind.

SMART Goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound

One of the most popular and effective goal-setting frameworks is the SMART criteria. Here's how you can apply each aspect:

  • Specific: Goals should be clear and specific to provide you with enough direction to get started. Instead of setting a goal to "lose weight," set a specific goal to "lose 10 pounds in 3 months."

  • Measurable: Include precise amounts, dates, and other measurable indicators to track your progress. If the goal is measurable, you will know exactly when you have achieved it.

  • Achievable: Your goal also needs to be realistic and attainable to be successful. In other words, it should stretch your abilities but still remain possible.

  • Relevant: The relevance of a goal should align with broader objectives. A goal that supports or is in alignment with other goals will provide a better focus and increase the odds of success.

  • Time-bound: Every goal needs a target date, so that you have a deadline to focus on. This part of the SMART goal criteria helps to prevent everyday tasks from taking priority over your longer-term goals.

OKRs: Objectives and Key Results

OKRs take goal setting a step further. They are used extensively at companies like Google and have been popularized by John Doerr’s book, "Measure What Matters." An OKR consists of an Objective, which defines what is to be achieved, and Key Results, which measure how we meet the objective.

  • Objective: The Objective should be significant, concrete, action-oriented, and (ideally) inspirational. When properly designed, it acts as a clear beacon for the team.

  • Key Results: Key Results are metrics that measure your progress towards the Objective. For each OKR, you should have a set of 2-5 Key Results. They need to be quantifiable, achievable, and difficult, but not impossible.

  • Example of an OKR

    • Objective: Improve the company’s technical support response time.

    • Key Result 1: Reduce response time from 24 hours to 4 hours within 6 months.

    • Key Result 2: Achieve customer satisfaction scores of 90%.

    • Key Result 3: Implement a new customer support platform by the end of Q2.

BHAGs: Big Hairy Audacious Goals

Coined by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in their seminal book "Built to Last," BHAGs are long-term goals that are supposed to be big, inspirational, and transformative. They are typically set for a 10 to 25-year period. BHAGs are effective because they require thinking big and changing the way you do things. They push you beyond your comfort zone.

Example of a BHAG

  • Goal: Become the number one provider of electric cars in the world, thereby revolutionizing the automobile industry (inspired by Tesla’s mission).

Applying These Frameworks in Personal and Organizational Contexts

To effectively use these goal-setting frameworks, whether for personal advancement or within your organization, follow these steps:

  1. Understand Your Mission: Before setting goals, you must understand what you truly want. This might mean clarifying your personal values or your organization’s mission statement.

  2. Choose the Right Framework: Depending on your objective's nature and timeline, decide whether SMART goals, OKRs, or a BHAG would be most appropriate.

  3. Write Them Down: Goals should be written down to make them tangible and think through the details involved.

  4. Review and Adapt: Goals are not set in stone. As circumstances change, be prepared to review and adjust your goals accordingly.

  5. Communicate: If you’re working in a team or organization, ensure everyone knows the goals and understands their role in achieving them.

By using these structured approaches, you can set goals that not only challenge and inspire you but also have a clear path to achievement. Whether you’re looking to make a small change or challenges, an effective goal-setting strategy can make a substantial difference in achieving success. We've explored the frameworks of SMART goals, OKRs, and BHAGs. Now, let's look at how you can integrate these strategies into your daily routines, whether for personal development or within your organization, ensuring that every goal leads not only to success but also to significant personal and professional growth.

Integrating Goal-Setting Frameworks into Everyday Practice

Customizing SMART Goals for Daily Use

SMART goals are incredibly versatile and can be adapted for a wide range of projects and personal objectives. Here’s how you can integrate them:

  1. Specific: Define what you want to accomplish with as much detail as possible. For instance, instead of saying "I want to write more," specify "I want to write a blog post every week."

  2. Measurable: Determine how you will measure your progress. In the writing example, success can be measured by whether or not you complete a blog post weekly.

  3. Achievable: Make sure your goal is attainable within your current resources and time constraints. Setting a goal to write a book in a month might be unrealistic if you're also working full-time.

  4. Relevant: Ensure your goals align with your broader life or career objectives. If you’re aiming to become a published author, regular blogging can hone your writing skills.

  5. Time-bound: Set a deadline. Without a specific timeline, it’s easy to lose focus. Decide when your weekly blog post will be published, such as every Monday.

Implementing OKRs for Organizational Alignment

OKRs are particularly powerful in aligning an organization’s objectives with measurable results. Here’s how to apply them:

  • Set ambitious objectives: Encourage your teams to aim high. For example, an OKR for a tech company might be to "Launch a new flagship product that achieves market leader status within six months.

  • Define key results: These should clearly measure how you'll meet the objective. For the tech company, key results could include "Achieve $1 million in sales in the first month" and "Receive a 95% customer satisfaction score by the third month."

  • Review regularly: OKRs should be reviewed frequently, often quarterly, to assess progress and make adjustments as needed.

Adopting BHAGs for Visionary Targets

BHAGs are meant to stretch your organization and think long-term. They are ambitious, align with your core values, and can ignite passion across your organization. Here’s how to set a BHAG:

  • Dream big: Think about where you want your organization to be in 10-25 years. A nonprofit focused on literacy might set a BHAG to "Eliminate illiteracy in children under 12 throughout our country by 2040."

  • Communicate and inspire: Share your BHAG with the entire organization. Make it a part of your everyday conversation to keep everyone motivated and moving in the same direction.

  • Break it down: While a BHAG is a long-term goal, breaking it down into smaller, actionable steps is crucial. These smaller steps can be framed as SMART goals or OKRs to make them more manageable.

Actionable Tips for Personalizing These Frameworks

Personal Development

  • Reflect on your values and long-term desires: Align your goals with what truly matters to you personally.

  • Write down your goals: This makes them tangible and serves as a constant reminder.

  • Set review checkpoints: Regularly assess your progress and adjust your goals as needed.

Organizational Use

  • Engage your team: Involvement in goal setting can increase commitment and enthusiasm.

  • Use technology: Leverage project management and goal-setting software to track progress.

  • Celebrate milestones: Recognizing achievements can boost morale and encourage continued effort.


Effective goal setting is a dynamic skill that requires consideration, adaptation, and regular revision. Whether you're applying SMART goals, OKRs, or BHAGs, the key is to ensure that these frameworks serve your ultimate purpose—achieving your dreams and driving your organization forward. By rigorously applying these principles, you can create a roadmap that not only guides you through specific achievements but also fosters a culture of success and continuous improvement.


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