SMART Goals vs. OKR: What Are the Differences?

Goals vs. OKR

Improving your company is a lot easier when you have a roadmap—and a surprising number of organizations don’t. According to one survey, around 80% of small business owners don’t keep track of their business goals at all.

If you’re among that number, the right goal-setting approaches can help you chart your course.

Setting goals for a company can feel overwhelming, but there are several popular frameworks, like SMART goals and OKR, to help you get started. If you’ve heard those terms before, you may be wondering: in a competition between SMART goals vs OKR, what are the differences, and which comes out on top? Here’s a quick breakdown of both popular approaches.

What Are SMART Goals?

SMART goals use a framework first popularized in the 1980s via Peter Drucker’s Management by Objectives approach. The name itself is an acronym, though each letter may stand for different attributes depending on the source:

  • S: specific, significant, simple
  • M: measurable, meaningful, motivation
  • A: attainable, achievable
  • R: relevant, realistic, results-based
  • T: timely, time-sensitive

This acronym makes it easy for individuals and teams to create goals and measure their progress toward them.

Here’s a quick SMART goals guide, including examples, to help you understand how to approach the goal-setting process. We’ll be using the traditional acronym for SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely.


SMART goals should offer a clear description of the goal itself. What do you want to accomplish, and who is involved? Why is the goal important, and what steps do you need to take?

For example, deciding to “develop our sales approach” isn’t as specific as deciding to invest in education for your sales team, redefine your sales pitch, or optimize your app to get new leads.


Once you have a general goal in mind, it’s important to quantify it. This allows you to understand when you’re making progress and when you’ve completed the goal.

For example, reaching a customer satisfaction rating of 90% is an easy goal to measure.


Your goal should always be something you can achieve, or your team will grow discouraged.

In the example above, reaching a customer satisfaction rating of 100% is likely unachievable. Likewise, it’s important to pay attention to the time frame you’ve set: improving your customer satisfaction rating over the course of a year instead of a month is a more attainable goal.


Setting a meaningless or impractical goal won’t help you grow your company. Instead, it’s important to set goals that are relevant to your business—which may involve some research.


Any time you set a goal, you’ll need to set an end date. Having a deadline for results ensures that you and your team feel the pressure to work toward the achievement.

What Are OKRs?

OKRs, or “objectives and key results,” are a goal-setting framework pioneered by John Doerr in his book Measure What Matters. Since then, leading organizations like Google have adopted this method to set strategies for growth.

Like SMART goals, OKRs involves a simple and formulaic approach to goal-setting. Here’s a quick OKR guide to help you grasp the basics:


Your objective is whatever you want to achieve. This part of your OKR should be concrete and action-oriented.

Examples might include lowering your company’s carbon footprint or increasing brand awareness.

Key Results

The key results are what allow you to measure your progress toward your objective. Key results should always be specific, timely, and easy to measure. The goal when setting them is to eliminate gray areas, allowing you to check your results against the desired goal with ease.

If you’re trying to lower your company’s carbon footprint, for example, one of your key results might be to make 50% of your materials biodegradable by the end of the year.

If your objective is to increase brand awareness, one of your key results might be to invest in an additional online remarketing campaign this quarter.

SMART Goals vs OKR: Which One Is Better?

Both OKRs and SMART goals can help you reach your destination, and there’s no harm in opting for whichever one you prefer. However, there are a few things to keep in mind.

OKRs are great for long-term goals, and many organizations use them to set objectives they want to check in on each quarter or year. Even better, the simple but highly defined framework of OKRs can make them ideal for sharing transparent goals within or outside of a company. Google, for example, has in the past published its ongoing OKRs to allow both its teams and its users to see its current goals.

However, OKRs aren’t for all teams, and they often involve a significant investment of time and effort. Get more insight here on why OKRs can sometimes be more difficult to set than you might think.

On the other hand, SMART goals tend to be a more flexible framework that guides your approach to goal-setting. This is especially true because the letters can be adapted to stand for a variety of structures: as we noted above, the “M” can stand for either “measurable” or “motivation” as desired, which makes it easier for your team to decide what framework it needs.

For smaller teams or individuals that don’t have a clear goal in mind, the less rigorous structure of a SMART goal can be enough to hone in on objectives and provide top-down direction. Of course, this looser framework might not be ideal for all organizations and approaches, so it’s best to consider the pros and cons of each goal-setting approach before you jump in.

Set the Right Goals for Your Needs

As we’ve stated above, there’s no right or wrong answer when choosing between SMART goals vs OKR. Both approaches are great ways to specify your objectives and timeline, allowing you to track your progress going forward. However, you might find that the structure of one approach is easier to work with than the other when it comes to your specific team, so don’t hesitate to try both frameworks as you start setting goals for your future!

Looking for more breakdowns of the key business strategies you need? Be sure to check out our other posts to make the most of your brand.