OKR vs KPI: What’s the Difference Between OKRs and KPIs and Why You Need Both?

By Jessica Wishart

OKR vs KPI: What’s the Difference Between OKRs and KPIs and Why You Need Both?

As a training and on-boarding expert OKRs vs KPIsat Rhythm Systems, I know a lot about KPIs. Recently, I’ve also learned a lot about OKRs. Many of my newer clients have come to us for a systematic way to implement their OKRs. As I help these clients map their goals into our software, I’ve been thinking a lot about whether the KPIs I know and love have a place in this world of Objectives and Key Results. I’ve come to the conclusion that while KPIs and OKRs are different, there’s a clear benefit to having both.  They are both instrumental in goal setting and performance management.

You don’t have to take my word for it, either. According to Ryan Panchadsaram on the Measure What Matters resource page, “There is no competition, KPIs and OKRs complement each other. They both have their place in a well-functioning organization.”


What's the Difference Between OKRs and KPIs?

Stands for Objectives and Key Results Stands for Key Performance Indicator
Action-oriented goals (objectives) and measures (key results) Number (metrics) that measure the health of your business
Future focused and directional, trying to get from point A to point B Could be a result or leading indicator (Looking at past results or future goals/targets)
Should be aggressive and bold, help move the needle on something strategically important to your organization Monitors the "steady-state" and provides benchmarks; Should prompt actions when the numbers are off track
Have a set time period (quarter, year, etc.), and changes from quarter to quarter or year to year as you progress Usually measured on an on-going basis, may have many of the same KPIs from quarter to quarter and year to year, but the targets might change


Feel free to download our OKR vs KPI infographic 
OKR vs KPI Infographic


To paint a clear picture of the difference, Felipe Castro uses an analogy of a road trip in his Medium post on this topic. For a road trip, first, you need to know where you are going (this is your Strategy), then you need the directions to get there (these are your OKRs) and finally, you need to know if your car has fuel and tires have air to get there (these are the KPIs that monitor the overall health of the business.)  Before you create an OKR make sure that you have clearly defined your objective and how you are going to measure how successfully it was accomplished.


How to Use KPIs and OKRs Together:

This helps to see how you can use KPIs and OKRs together. You may have a set of monitoring KPIs that you will always track just to know how healthy your business is, whether or not they are tied to any specific goals or OKRs for the year or the quarter. For example, you’ll always want to keep a finger on the pulse of financial indicators like revenue or profitability. You may also have key metrics around employee health or customer retention that are always going to be on your dashboard.

Some of your KPIs may also naturally become Key Results for your OKRs. If you have an objective around improving your website’s performance to generate X more qualified leads, and you are already tracking the number of qualified leads as a KPI in your marketing team, this KPI becomes a Key Result for the objective for the quarter.  Just remember that OKR stands for Objectives and Key Results, while KPI stands for Key Performance Indicator, and this should help you sort them out.  Keep in mind that the best practice is to use both OKRS and KPIs.


What KPIs and OKRs have in Common:

  • Both should be specific, clear and measurable. We recommend using Red-Yellow-Green success criteria for both.
  • You should focus on a few of each that are truly key. (Both acronyms contain the letter K for key - which means both require you to make choices to focus on a few things that are most important.) You should have 3-5 OKRs at a given time and no more than 8-12 KPIs.
  • You can have OKRs and KPIs for the company as a whole, for departments or teams, or for specific roles, individuals, or projects.
  • Both can help you run your business by aligning everyone around well-defined goals and clear measures of success.
  • They can be set for an individual or a team, but even the team ones need an owner that is accountable for the results.

What goals are you using to run your business? Do you have a good way to maintain your company’s health while also stimulating growth and progress?  If you'd like more information on how to use metrics to drive accountable team performance check out MBOs, KPIs, OKRs and What the Best Goals Have in Common.

Download our Free KPI Guide to Stay Focused, Aligned and Accountable

Looking for some additional examples to help get you started? 

4 Steps to Create a Leading Indicator KPI

21 Production KPI Examples to Improve Manufacturing Performance

How top CEOs Close the Strategy Execution Gap

10 Best Employee KPI Examples

5 Tips to create, evaluate and use Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to drive results in your business

33 KPI Examples to Measure Productivity & Prevent Organizational Drag

Employee KPI Examples: How to Measure What (or Who) You Want to Move (Video)

KPI Examples for Successful Sales Teams

Marketing KPI Examples

Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images

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