How to Apply OKRs Practically? (Book Review: Radical Focus)

After I learned what OKR is, I felt excited and started immediately preaching OKRs and applying them in my work.

The result was not very exciting. I found it was really hard to convince people to start using it. At its core, OKRs is just a way to set goals and review them regularly. It seems natural and obvious to me. But some people don't believe in planning and prefers a more "agile" way of doing things. Or some people just don't write down their goals and review them regularly. Though I personally have some experiences with setting goals and reviewing them, I can't easily change the working style people are already familiar with.

Measure What Matters can't help me much in these cases. It is a great book. But most of this book is just stories about how a company became successful with OKRs. It doesn't provide enough directions on how to use OKRs.

Thankfully, I found Radical Focus right after I finished Measure What Matters. And it answers exactly the question I had: How to apply OKRs practically?

So, if you are like me, also want to know how to set stretched goals and achieve them with your team, read this book!

Bonus: Some highlights from this book

Turn important things into urgent things

Tying Actions to Goals

  • It’s mentally quite difficult to drop things that don’t matter (especially if someone is nagging us). So a solution is to time-constrain things that are important but not urgent, thus making them urgent.
  • if you review the priorities each week, you discover
    1. what conditions allow you to achieve them.
    2. what keeps you from getting things done. (more valuable)

When I read about this, I just finished the summary for my GTD workflow. And the idea behind my workflow is exactly the same as above:

  1. turn important but less urgent things into urgent things by setting deadlines
  2. filter out things that seem to be important by reviewing often and spotting deadline slips.

OKRs are about continuous improvement

  • OKRs are about continuous improvement and learning cycles.
    • So you didn’t hit any of your KRs. Ask yourself why, and fix it.
    • So you hit them all? Set harder goals, and move on.
  • Focus on learning, getting smarter and having better things to celebrate every Friday.

Continuous improvement is the key for both operations and individuals. And it's mentioned in multiple books covering different topics:


    Help create a climate of learning

    • Creating a training budget and advocating for it internally
    • Ensuring that your team has the resources to engage in informal learning and the space to explore ideas.
    • Making it safe to fail.
    • Creating opportunities and spaces to share information
    • Encourage sharing and innovation by having demo days and forums
  • Thanks for the Feedback - PULL TOGETHER: Feedback in Organizations


    • In every organization explicit and implicit messages evolve about what is (actually) valued and what is (actually) rewarded.
    • If you want “learning” to be valued, it has to be embedded in
      • what is talked about with admiration,
      • what is highlighted as important in the war stories that are told,
      • what matters when it comes to visible projects and key promotions.
    • Here are five ideas that help promote a culture of learning.
      1. Highlight Learning Stories
      2. Cultivate Growth Identities
      3. Discuss Second Scores
      4. Create Multitrack Feedback
      5. Leverage Positive Social Norming

To achieve this continuous improvement in our organizations, we need to have continuous conversations with our team members or a Continuous Performance Management system:

  • Radical Focus - OKRs and the Annual Review

    • Instead of a one-time performance review event, use continuous conversations to coach and calibrate.
    • Have 1-on-1’s at least twice a month and calibrate on three things:
      1. engagement
      2. performance
      3. alignment
    • End of year, your employees had 24 conversations with opportunities to improve and recognition -- it’s more authentic, builds skill and improves performance.
    • Reviews are simple because the facts are shared, there are no surprises and it is just another in a series of performance conversations.
  • Measure What Matters - Continuous Performance Management

    • We need a new HR model for the new world of work.
      • Annual performance reviews are costly, exhausting, and mostly futile.
      • individuals cannot be reduced to numbers.
    • That transformational system, the contemporary alternative to annual reviews, is continuous performance management
    • It is implemented with an instrument called CFRs, for:
      an authentic, richly textured exchange between manager and contributor, aimed at driving performance
      bidirectional or networked communication among peers to evaluate progress and guide future improvement
      expressions of appreciation to deserving individuals for contributions of all sizes