Find happiness through OKRs

Bottom Line: OKRs – a route to mastery, autonomy and purpose, and happy and motivated employees.

Daniel Pink’s 2009 book, Drive, turned our understanding of what motivates people upside down. In this article we take a look at how OKRs can help employees achieve mastery, autonomy and purpose, and ultimately greater motivation and happiness.


Greed, and fear, the primary emotional triggers employed by most businesses to incentivise their staff are almost entirely detached from performance.

This is also known as the Carrot and Stick approach. I’ve long been a fan of the Carrot approach – and occasionally I’ve resorted to using the Stick. ‘Just Carrot and Stick it!’ used to be a catchphrase at a company I worked at a while ago.

Mr Pink argues that motivation springs from another source. Rather than fearful, coin operated automatons, humans are driven by a search for mastery, autonomy, and purpose.

What’s more, these urges are intrinsic, meaning that people seek fulfilment along these three dimensions of their own accord, as opposed to the extrinsic nature of traditional motivators, requiring continuous dangling of the metaphorical carrot to drive the required behaviour.

Mastery – we all seek to improve our skills and abilities; some more so than others. Encouraging, enabling and empowering this is step one.

Autonomy – mastery is wasted without Autonomy. Allow people to make decisions commensurate with their mastery level.

Purpose – why? Why are we doing this? What is the impact of my contribution? Provide line of sight from every team member to the company mission and connect everyday tasks to a higher purpose.

So far so great. How are you supposed to deliver Mastery, Autonomy and Purpose to your organisation?

Good news for you. There is a cool, and simple management framework which enables everyone in the organisation to achieve all three; Objectives and Key Results, or OKRs.

OKRs require organisations to do a few simple (not the same as easy) things:

  1. Define a company mission
  2. Set company level Objectives
  3. Choose which Key Results to measure the Objectives against
  4. Repeat for every employee in the organisation, linking each new objective to a higher order objective (this does NOT mean managers dictating OKRs for their reports).

Defining OKRs for the organisation and individual employees provides each team member with the following:

  1. Focus on core tasks – drives mastery
  2. Responsibility to objectives, while defining own Key Results – drives autonomy
  3. Visibility of company mission and peer objectives, drives purpose.

Not only that, but OKRs operate on a quarterly cycle, and are therefore less likely to turn into an outdated view of the world, unlike other traditional management frameworks.

OKRs – a route to mastery, autonomy and purpose, and happy and motivated employees.