4 min read

Defeating OKR DRAIN with the OKR-Kolb Cycle

I used to think that OKRs were the weapons MBA-types used to suck the life and soul out of organizations.

And they do.

But by they, I don't mean the OKRs, I mean the MBA-types. But that's a rant for another day.

I have come to admire OKRs, even respect it's utility to direct the attention of a group of people.

OKRs are important because they acknowledge the existence of a non-linear, chaotic universe. There is no direct "cause/effect" assumption built into the tool. It isn't prescriptive on how to reach an aim. Instead it allows the wielder to come up with their own metrics to define success.

The big picture in a quote:

“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars.” ― Norman Vincent Peale

My insight is that it doesn't matter if you exactly reach your aim or not. What matters is making progress and moving forward. And so, even if your goal is the moon, landing on a star or two instead isn't a bad alternative.

But I have a few problem with OKRs.

The first is that they don't inspire innovation. You adhere to your KR's which can lead to unintended KR worship. You forget what you are doing. And instead focus on the KR itself.

We know this as: "Goodhart's Law".

"When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure" – Charles Goodhart

Here is my solution.

The OKR KOLB Cycle

By mixing two tools together, I've come up with a system that can "fill in the gap" between Objectives and it's KRs.

The Kolbs acts like the connective tissue between an "Objective" and it's KR's.


  1. Objective: Make $30,000 in 3 months
    1. Key Result: 15 Cold-Calls a week
    2. Key Result: 3 Pieces of content shared on LinkedIn
    3. Key Result: Sign 3 new clients a month

The Key Result tells you WHAT you'll need to be doing to reach the Objective. But it doesn't give you a way to improve along the way.

There is no structure setup to keep momentum high.

It assumes that you:

  1. Know exactly what you need to do
  2. Can handle the chaos that will happen (the unknown unknowns)
  3. Have superhuman levels of motivation

But in reality, this is far from what actually happens.


Build A KOLB's around EACH KR.

For example:

Your Key Result is 15 Cold-calls a week.

To start the KOLB, you need to first state and describe an experience you're having in this KR. It can be positive or negative.

Example Experience: "I am having a hard time motivating myself to cold-call people"

Next, you reflect on it by asking yourself questions and writing out answers.

Example reflection: "I am finding it super hard getting the right contacts to call. I feel scared. And I am unsure how it will feel to call these people. I know what to do. I just can't find the courage to do it. I am often facing this problem and if I am being honest, I don't know how to move forward. I know the answer, at some level, is to just 'suck it up' and move forward. But I can't see how that will help me in this situation."

Write a lot. Overshare. This is your opportunity to collect data about this experience – the more, the better.

Be completely honest with yourself and reflect on the experience. Expect radical honesty from yourself, no-one else has to see this.

After you reflect. Try to find patterns that re-occur or any interesting things you've learned.

Example patterns: "I noticed that I often feel quite scared when it comes to cold-calling. That seems to be a reoccurring pattern. I also notice a few negative thoughts that pop up whenever I reach for the phone. "

Your patterns will be a lot shorter than your reflection. Your reflection is like the deep, blue ocean and the patterns you find are like fishing nets you throw in. What you catch are the themes/patterns/learning's that you can take away.

Finally, you come up with an experiment to do to help move you forward in this KR.

Example experiment: "Whenever I have a hard time starting my cold-calls, I will set a timer for 5 minutes, and start. When the timer is over, I can stop. But I have to cold-call for that duration."

A real example:

The result of this experiment will become the next experience. This way, we don't really have to think too hard about what to do next, we just write out our experience, reflect, find any new patterns, then run another experiment.

The Experiment is everything.

Let the result of your experiment be the input into a new experience, then repeat the cycle again.

This way you'll be ASSURED that you're moving forward in a reliable manner.

This is HOW you build momentum.

So, the actual work you do to reach this KR is simply the gap between an experiment and the next experience.

Like how the OKR isn't demanding you to reach objectives in any specific way. The Kolbs is encouraging you to realize that HOW you go about the key-result is subject to change as well.

Don't talk about reaching the key result – talk about your experiment and what you learned.

A lot of the OKR "checking" that happens on a team is superficial.

Sure, they are important. But there is so much more value in sharing the stories behind the OKR by using Kolbs.

By following the model I have outlined above, you can say something more than: "Oh no, I am falling behind, I will do better."

You now have the data you need to UNDERSTAND why things are slowing down. You also now have a process that will help GET STARTED AGAIN.