Comparing OKR’s and the GOST Model

OKR's and the GOST Model

An important question came up in the recent GOST webinar. What is the difference between OKR’s and the GOST Model?  It is a great question because they are very similar and they have a couple of important differences.  

I’ve talked about the GOST Model before.  Here’s a brief overview of OKR’s from the Google playbook:

Objectives are the “Whats.” They:

  • Express goals and intents
  • Are aggressive yet realistic
  • Tangible, objective and unambiguous; success is clearly defined
  • Achievement delivers value

Key Results are “Hows”. They:

  • Express measurable milestones
  • Describe outcomes, not activities
  • Include evidence of completion, eg metrics

As an aside, I describe Key Results as “What’s” because they are outcomes.  I reserve “How” for describing activities.

The Similarities

I’ll start by comparing their similarities.  Both are very goal oriented and encourage you to set very clear measurable goals.  This is a key reason why they are both popular.  Both also guide you to breakdown high-level goals into more detailed, shorter duration milestones.  This is a critical feature to help you check progress against your goals.  Are the actions you are taking achieving the outcome you desire?

The Differences

Now for the two main differences, and they help explain where best to use each framework.

  1. OKR’s are well suited to organizations with many layers.  They can be cascaded downwards through an organization.  Here’s an example:

Company Objective:  Be the market leader

Company Key Results:

    1. Introduce Breakthrough Product
    2. Increase brand recognition

Marketing Function Objective:  Increase brand recognition

Marketing Key Results:

        1. Create TV ad campaign for fall season
        2. Refresh company logo

Advertising Department Objective:  Create TV ad campaign for fall season


2. The GOST Model includes detail about planned actions, and in contrast, OKR’s focus on goals.  The additional elements of the GOST Model are Strategies and Tactics; both are activities.  Having both outcomes and activities helps the leader and their team clarify both where they are going and how they will get there.  This narrative is very useful to help every team member understand how their tasks contribute to the overall goal. This is an important source of motivation.

In Summary

Both OKR’s and the GOST Model are proven tools to help you break down goals into more manageable sub-goals. Doing this guides you to take the best actions to achieve your desired outcome.

In a large organization with many organizational layers and functions, OKR’s excel at driving alignment by cascading goals down through the organization.  This is why OKR’s are key management tools at both Google and Intel, and many other organizations.

The GOST Model, is well suited for use in a single department, to help them clarify both where they are going and how to get there.  The GOST Model is more difficult than OKR’s to cascade down through an organization. If you are a smaller company without multiple management layers, the GOST Model could be a very good fit for your needs.

Like most things, this is not a case of which is better.  I recommend you reflect on your needs and then choose the framework that is best suited.