7 min read

[Blog] 9 Ways Golf and OKRs are Alike

Featured Image

Analogies can take seemingly complex topics and translate them into more understandable (and often fun) ways. In the arena of OKRs, there’s no better analogy than golf. So let's have some fun and maybe pack in some puns. Time to tee off!

#1 - Simple in Theory

GOLF - Golf is a simple game. Hit a little ball into a little hole a few hundred yards away in as few shots as possible. If you want a better explanation and a good laugh, watch the great Robin Williams explain the origins of golf.


OKRS - OKRS are simple as well. Objectives describe a directional goal, Key Results measure performance metrics, and Strategic Initiatives track execution.

TAKEAWAY - Both are simple to understand, yet it’s what’s next where things get tricky.


#2 - Challenging in Application

GOLF - Regardless of whether you play the sport or not, it’s common knowledge that golf isn’t easy. It can be fun, exciting, memorable, and a way to get together with friends - but for the people who do play, the majority of us are no good at it - especially when we start. 


OKRS - Same with OKRS. Once the decision is made, it seems simple enough. Just write your OKRS across teams and then make sure they get updated, right? As you’ll soon find out, it’s not so easy. OKR quality is often poor, they lack metrics or supporting Initiatives, and getting folks to update can be an impossible task at times. Nobody likes to be held accountable, but it always happens - just a matter of when, by whom, and how much it will hurt (or be delightful!). 

TAKEAWAY - Although both are simple by definition and exciting in theory, in practical application that can be challenging. 


#3 - Knowledge of the Basic Rules & Terms Required

GOLF - There can’t be any confusion about what a “birdie” is or how to keep score. We all know the type. Swings five times, takes a drop or two, and somehow comes out with a par. Eyeball roll. Sure. You’re not impressing anyone, pal.

Pin page


OKRs - Just like you can’t have confusion about what Key Results are and are not. This is the easy stuff, and even after you know the basics, chances are you’ll still suck at golf/OKRs. On the OKR side, fudging numbers or keeping things so vague isn’t beneficial to anyone. Creating absolute layups isn’t stretching yourself. In fact, it’s not only hurting yourself but those around you.

TAKEAWAY - Know the rules and tell the truth. It will benefit everyone over time.


#4 - Optimism Starts High

GOLF - No matter how much we kid ourselves driving to the course (“today is the day I break 90!”) the inevitable happens. Shanked shots, foot wedges, lost golf balls, and lots of yelling “fore!” We thought today was the day all facets of the game came together, but unfortunately, it wasn’t in the cards.

OKRS - OKRs are kind of the same way. They start out well-intentioned with the goal of creating cultural alignment, shared and visible goals, and a simple way to have a conversation. Operational leaders read all the books/articles, watch all the YouTube videos, and maybe even go out and buy some shiny new OKR tracking tools. What happens next? How disappointing. Too many OKRs get created. Instead of three or ‘fore’ Key Results, you get like 17, many of which are just ambiguous tasks. Many of those OKRs are poorly written. There are no measurements or metrics. People get confused because they can’t distinguish between Key Results and Initiatives and their day-to-day. And to top it all off, the cadence of updates is sporadic. The first quarter(s) of operating with OKRs is the equivalent of walking onto the first tee box with the utmost confidence to impress your gallery of three people, only to snap-hook your drive twelve yards into the bushes. 

TAKEAWAY - Although optimism is high to start, it will quickly get tested.


#5 - Planning is Necessary

GOLF - Club selection, wind, slope, weather, score, you name it. Lots of variables to factor in every shot, but it’s important to factor all that stuff in BEFORE you stand over the ball. Otherwise, you’ll drive yourself crazy. Here it from the GOAT.


OKRS - The added complexity to OKRs though is unlike golf, OKRs is a team sport. It’s one thing to have yourself the individual prepared to do singular OKRs or goals. When you factor in dozens, hundreds, if not thousands of other folks with different skills, motivations, and desires, well, things can get out of hand. Put the time in beforehand. You have to create alignment with a clear, communicated plan. 

TAKEAWAY - It’s all about preparation and then execution. If you do the legwork upfront, the rest will be easier. Prioritization is critical, especially in how you use your time.


#6 - Find Equipment That Works for You

GOLF - Just because you purchased a $700 driver doesn’t mean you’ll magically be able to pipe it 300-yards down the center of the fairway. You don't need all the bells and whistles of expensive clubs. You just need one that works, like Tin Cup's 7-iron.


OKRS - Same with OKR tools. They all essentially have the same features, but the people utilizing them are what really matters. If they know how to use it effectively in the right situations, the tool will be more valuable. Start off small (spreadsheets are okay) and gradually build a cadence and momentum. Buying the best software with the most features doesn’t guarantee success any more than $2k custom fitted clubs will enable you to break par. Sure, you might be a little better off, but as Bobby Jones once famously said about the game is that it is, “played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course, the space between your ears.”

TAKEAWAY - It doesn’t really matter what tool you use if you don’t know how to use it.


#7 - Consistency and Execution is Critical

GOLF - Novices practice until they get it right. Pros practice until they can’t get it wrong. Repetition is the mother of knowledge, so grinding every day on your game is the best way to see the results you want.  If you don’t prioritize practice, who do you expect to achieve results? The problem is we only have so much time in the day, and prioritization is difficult - especially with so many conflicting demands. Even if you do set aside some time, you better make sure you are doing the right drills with purpose, otherwise, you are just spinning tires. 

OKRS - Plan annually and quarterly. Optimize monthly. Conduct those check-ins weekly. Look at the Key Result data. Look at the Initiatives. Look at the progress. Talk about it. Take notes. Course correct. Learn. Rinse and repeat. The more you do it, the better you’ll get. Prioritization is critical. Picking the right things, not just everything. If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. Once you select those items, focus on them and get to work. Act with intent. Do so consistently. Over time, you’ll see the impact. Execution is critical. Tiger Woods didn't just become the GOAT because he wrote a goal. He did this by putting in more work than the rest. It's that simple.

TAKEAWAY - Sporadic participation with yield minimal results. The more consistent there’s tangible involvement, the more consistent the results will be.



#8 - Success is Gratifying

GOLF - If you stick with it though, seeing results can be very gratifying. Perfectly executed drive, approach, or putt. There's almost no better feeling.

OKRS - Outlining OKRS at the beginning of the year or quarter, and then actually achieving them is a fantastic feeling. Knowing how you contributed to the bigger picture is meaningful. 

TAKEAWAY - Keep going and don’t give up, you’ll get there. Success is Gratifying


#9 - Coaching & Training Help

GOLF - Almost every golfer on tour has a “swing coach” to help identify their blindspots and work on very specific aspects of their swing. Getting lessons from a golf pro can really lay the foundation, especially when this is done early. This is no different from how OKR consultants can help with the implementation at the organizational level and identify the pitfalls to avoid during the strategic effort.

OKRS - Just like OKRs coaches can do the same with the quality of your OKRs. They are there to help and guide you with small corrections, not to fundamentally change who you are (or your swing).

TAKEAWAY - Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Invest in training, it’ll pay dividends in the long run. So if you're interested in learning more about our OKRS training and tracking technology, let us know!


New call-to-action

8 min read

Rethink OKRs: Improve Cultural Engagement with Your Own System

Here we'll explore the backstory of OKRs, what's changing in the markets, and why it's important to stay ahead of the...

4 min read

10 Ways to Optimize Your 2024 OKRs

Let's skip the part where the basics of OKRs are shared and debates over definitions are had. Let's get right to the...

4 min read

OKRs vs. KPIs Is Simply Prioritize vs. Analyze

The difference between OKRs & KPIs is an ongoing conversation with the common narrative being "KPIs are for running the...