OKRs was initially developed from Andy Grove in Intel, and it is now widely used in many organizations of all stripes and sizes. In this post, I will share my key takeaways from the book, ‘Measure What Matters’ by John Doerr.
Muhammad Ali — “What keeps me going is goals.”
Ideas are easy; execution is everything.
Superpower #1. Focus and commit to priorities.
Ruthless Prioritization: Less is More.
Less is more. ‘A few extremely well-chosen objectives impart a clear message about what we say ‘yes’ to and what we say ‘no’ to. A limit of three to five OKRs per cycle leads companies, teams and individuals to choose what matters most.
What Are Key Results:
Key results should be succinct, specific and measurable. And completion of all key results must result in attainment of the objective. If not, it’s not an OKR.
Objectives and key results are the yin and yang of goal setting — principle and practice, vision and execution. Objectives are the stuff of inspiration and far horizons. Key results are more earth-bound and metric-driven. If you are certain you are going to earn it, you’re probably not pushing hard enough.
Steve Jobs — “Innovation means saying no to one thousand things.”
Too many objectives can blur our focus on what counts, or distract us into chasing the next shiny thing.
Andy Grove strongly believed in this, and said,
“People who plan have to have the guts, honesty and discipline to drop projects as well as to initiate them, to shake their heads ‘no’ as well as to smile ‘yes’… We must realize — and act on the realization — that if we try to focus on everything, we focus on nothing.”
Alex Garden— CEO of Zume Pizza
“Stop for a moment and shut out the noise. Close your eyes to really see what’s in front of you, and then pick the best way forward for you and your team, relative to the organization’s needs.”
Superpower #2. Align and connect for teamwork.
Steve Jobs —
“We don’t hire smart people to tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”
Set goals from the bottom up. To promote engagement, teams and individuals should be encouraged to create roughly half of their own OKRs, in consultation with managers. When all goals are set top-down, motivation is corroded. Studies have shown that frontline employees thrive when they can see how their work align to the company’s overall goals.
Superpower #3. Track for Accountability.
Stay Flexible. If the climate has changed and an objective no longer seems practical or relevant as written, key results can be modified or even discarded mid-cycle.
One proviso: When an objective gets dropped before the end of the OKR interval, it’s important to notify everyone depending on it. Then comes the reflection: What did I learn that I didn’t foresee at the beginning of the quarter? And: How will I apply this lesson in the future?
Wrap-up — Scoring:
Below is the scoring criteria used in Google. Google’s floor for 0.7 for successful attainment reflects the high ambition of their ‘stretch’ goals.
- 0.7–1.0 : Green (We delivered)
- 0.4 to 0.6: Yellow (We made progress, but fell short of completion.)
- 0.0 to 0.3 : Red (We failed to make real progress).
Self-assessment and Reflection:
OKR wrap-ups are retrospective and forward-looking at the same time. In the author’s view, the key to satisfaction is to set aggressive goals, achieve most of them, pause to reflect on the achievement, and then repeat the cycle.
Below are some reflections for closing out an OKR cycle:
- Did I accomplish all of my objectives? If so, what contributed to my success?
- If not, what obstacles did I encounter?
- If I were to rewrite a goal achieved in full, what would I change?
- What have I learned that might alter my approach to the next cycle’s OKRs?
And one more thing, after thoroughly appraising your work and owning up to any shortfalls, take a breath to savor and cherish your progress and achievement. You’ve earned it!
Mission vs. Objective:
Mission is directional. An objective has a set of concrete steps that you’re intentionally engaged in and actually trying to go for. It’s fine to have an ambitious objective, but how do you scale it? How do you measure it?
Superpower #4. Stretch for Amazing.
Mellody Hobson — “The biggest risk of all is not taking one.”
Two OKR Baskets:
- Committed Objectives: these are committed objectives such as sales and revenue goals and to be achieved in full (100%) within a set time frame.
- Aspirational Objectives: reflect bigger picture, higher-risk, more future-tilting ideas. By definition, they are challenging to achieve. Failures — at an average rate of 40 percent- are expected.
Continuous Performance Management: OKRs and CFRs
What comprises of CFRs?
- Conversations: an authentic, richly textured exchange between manager and contributor, aimed at driving performance
- Feedback: bidirectional or networked communication among peers to evaluate progress and guide future improvement
- Recognition: expression of appreciation to deserving individuals for contributions for all sizes
Templates questions for a continuous conversation with your manager:
- What are you working on?
- How are you doing; how are your OKRs coming along?
- Is there anything impeding your work?
- What do you need from me to be (more) successful?
- How do you need to grow to achieve your career goals?
Alex (CEO) from Zume Pizza:
I like to start with three questions: What makes you very happy? What saps your energy? How would you describe your dream job?
Then I say, “Look , I want to tell you what my expectations are. Number one, always tell the truth. Number two, always do the right thing. If you meet those expectations, we’ll unconditionally back you, one hundred percent of the time. And I will personally guarantee you that you’re going to achieve your next set of personal and professional goals over the next three months”.
Public, transparent OKRs will trigger good questions from all directions: Are these the right things for me to be focused on? If I complete them, will it be seen as a huge success? Do you have any feedback on how I could stretch even more?
Establish clear criteria. Recognize people for actions and results: completion of special projects, achievement of company goals, demonstrations of company values. Replace ‘Employee of the Month’ with ‘Achievement of the Month.’
Share recognition stories. Newsletters or company blogs can supply the narrative behind the accomplishment, giving recognition more meaning.
Make recognition frequent and attainable. Hail smaller accomplishments too: that extra effort to meet a deadline, that special polish on a proposal, the little things a manager might take for granted.
Tie recognition to company goals and strategies. Customer service, innovation, teamwork, cost cutting — any organizational priority can be supported by a timely shout-out.
Now that I am wrapping up my 2019, I started to craft my personal and work OKRs for 2020. Reading this book has provided great guideline on how I can create better and more measurable OKRs.
I am excited to see how OKRs will change my life from now on and would like to hear what you think about OKRs!