As I’ve grown in my career, I’ve come to realize that goal setting is tricky but crucial for success. I’ve always enjoyed hearing John Doerr speak and was excited to dive into this.
The simple premise of this book is that ideas are easy, execution is everything. To execute well, a collaborative goal-setting protocol such as OKRs can work magic. OKRs are split into an objective (what is to be achieved) and key results (the metrics we need to hit in order to get to the objective). Good key results (KRs) are specific and time-bound, aggressive yet realistic.
Doerr introduces 4 OKR superpowers: focus, align, track, and stretch.
Focus and Commit to Priorities: First, set the appropriate cadence for your OKR cycle. Doerr recommends dual tracking, with quarterly OKRs (for shorter-term goals) and annual OKRs (keyed to longer-term strategies) deployed in parallel. Start by rolling out OKRs to upper management first, and ensure they commit to this process publicly. Designate an OKR shepherd to make sure that every individual devotes time each cycle to choosing what matters most.
Commit to 3 to 5 top objectives per cycle. Too many OKRs dilute and scatter people’s efforts. Choose OKRs with the most leverage. For each objective, settle on no more than five measurable, unambiguous, time-bound key results. By definition, completion of all key results equates to the attainment of the objective. To safeguard quality, you can pair key results to measure effect and counter-effect, i.e. for Accounts Payable, pair payments processed with the number of errors found.
Align and Connect for Teamwork: The express route to operating excellence is lined with transparent, public goals, on up to the CEO. Use all-hands meetings to explain why an OKR is important, and keep repeating this message. When deploying cascaded OKRs, with objectives driven from the top, welcome give-and-take on key results from frontline contributors. Innovation dwells less at a company’s center than at its edges.
Encourage a healthy proportion of bottom-up OKRs - it should be roughly half. An optimal OKR system frees contributors to set at least some of their own objectives and most or all of their key results. Smash department silos by connecting teams with horizontally shared OKRs. Cross-functional operations enable quick and coordinated decisions, the basis for seizing a competitive advantage. Make all lateral, cross-functional dependencies explicit. When an OKR is revised or dropped, see to it that all stakeholders know about it.
Finally, remember that frontline and offshore employees thrive when they can see how their work aligns to the company’s overall goals.
Track for Accountability: To build a culture of accountability, install continuous reassessment and honest and objective grading - and start at the top. When leaders openly admit their missteps, contributors feel freer to take healthy risks.
Motivate contributors less with extrinsic rewards and more with open, tangible measures of their achievement. To keep OKRs timely and relevant, have the designated shepherd ride herd over regular check-ins and progress updates. Frequent check-ins enable teams and individuals to course-correct with agility, or to fail fast.
Sustain high-performance by encouraging weekly 1-1 OKR meetings between contributors and managers, plus monthly departmental meetings. As conditions change, feel free to revise, add, or delete OKRs as appropriate - even mid-cycle. At the cycle’s end, use OKR grades plus subjective self-assessments to evaluate performance.
Before pushing into the next cycle, take a moment to reflect upon and savor what you’ve accomplished in the last one. To keep OKRs up-to-date and on-point, invest in a dedicated, automated, cloud-based platform. Public, collaborative, real-time goal-setting systems work best.
Stretch for Amazing: At the beginning of each cycle, distinguish between goals that must be attained 100 percent (committed OKRs) and aspirational OKRs. Setting ambitious goals stimulates problem-solving and spurs people to greater achievement. Just don’t set the bar so high that an OKR is obviously unrealistic as that will impact morale.
To get leaps in productivity or innovation, follow Google’s “Gospel of 10x” and replace incremental OKRs with exponential ones. That’s how industries get disrupted.
Doerr wraps up by discussing the new world of work.
Continuous Performance Management: To address issues before they become problems and give struggling contributors the support they need, move from annual performance management to continuous performance management.
Divorce forward-looking OKRs from backward-looking annual reviews. Equating goal attainment to bonus checks will invite sandbagging and risk-averse behavior. Replace competitive ratings with transparent, strength-based, multidimensional criteria for performance evaluations. Beyond just numbers, consider a contributor’s team play, communication, and ambition in goal setting. Rely on intrinsic motivations - purposeful work and opportunities for growth - over financial incentives. They’re far more powerful.
To power positive business results, implement ongoing CFRs (conversations, feedback, and recognition) in concert with structured goal setting. Transparent OKRs make coaching more concrete and useful. In performance-driving conversations between managers and contributors, allow the contributor to set the agenda. The manager’s role is to learn and coach. Make performance feedback two-way, ad hoc and multidirectional, unconstrained by the org chart.
Employ peer recognition to enhance employee engagement and performance. For maximum impact, recognition should be frequent, specific, highly visible, and tied to top-line OKRs.
The Importance of Culture: Align top-line OKRs with an organization’s mission, vision, and North Star values. To develop a high motivation culture, balance OKR “catalysts”, actions that support the work, with CFR “nourishers”, acts of interpersonal support, or even random acts of kindness. Use OKRs to promote transparency, clarity, purpose, and big-picture orientation.
If done well, OKRs should build positivity, enthusiasm, stretch thinking, and daily improvement.