An established set of OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) can help any organization and the teams and individuals within it maintain focus on the most important matters at hand. From Zynga’s focus-oriented objectives to Google’s OKR stretch goals, today’s post is all about how successful organizations (both large and small) have adapted the OKR (Objectives and Key Results) framework to to suit their cultures and help them achieve awesomeness. (In case you missed it: our overview of Objectives and Key Results as they pertain to product teams)
Google establishes Objectives and Key Results quarterly, and instead of setting goals that appear reachable within those 90 days, Google chooses to set seemingly unattainable goals and then measures how close employees get to reaching them.“We needed to set stretch goals that seemed impossible to fully achieve,” says Don Dodge of Google, “Achieving 65% of the impossible is better than 100% of the ordinary – Setting impossible goals and achieving part of them sets you on a completely different path than the safe route. Sometimes you can achieve the impossible in a quarter, but even when you don’t, you are on a fast track to achieving it soon.”
For LinkedIn’s Jeff Weiner, OKRs are “something you want to accomplish over a specific period of time that leans toward a stretch goal rather than a stated plan. It’s something where you want to create greater urgency, greater mindshare… You are sending the signal to the rest of the organization that ‘this matters.’” he explains in a post on First Round Review.At LinkedIn, not only do OKRs provide day-to-day reminders of everyone’s objectives, but Weiner also uses them to run efficient and effective meetings. Instead of weekly team meetings that borderline history lessons, he says the focus is on the status of OKRs and “wins” that are getting the company closer to reaching those objectives.
Normative has always been a goal-oriented place and the team knew early on that they wanted a management system that gave people the freedom to set their own goals, didn’t take too much time and labor to implement, and allowed for setting stretch goals. OKRs checked all of the boxes.
“I did notice that some of our stretch goals were met with some glances around the room and a few gasps,” CEO, Matthew Milan said in a blog post on why Normative adopted OKRs, “This is a good thing, because the OKR system is based around achieving 60-70% of each stretch goal. If your score is higher, the objective was too easy to achieve. If the score is lower, it suggests that you might not fully understand the effort and activities required to achieve that goal.”Normative has also taken the transparent nature of OKRs to the next level, not only sharing them internally but making them available to anyone interested.“It makes us much more accountable when the whole world knows what we are committing to do. Also, we learned so much from other people’s writing on OKRs that we thought that our experience might be helpful for other teams and leaders who are considering the same. Finally, we expect we are going to get some valuable feedback and constructive criticism from those of you who are following along with us this year.” says Milan.
While OKRs are supposed to align organizational goals and individual goals, Pusher didn’t take things to that level of detail, instead, they set team OKRs:“In much of the literature about OKRs, setting goals for individuals is often at the forefront of the implementation described. However, we chose to avoid this step in the initial rollout. We move the emphasis onto the objectives that the team needs to work on as the primary point of discussion, says Max Williams, “As a method of learning about a new process and discovering the pros and cons, this felt much easier than trying to do it as individuals.”Pusher also took a very democratic approach to setting objectives, allowing anyone to attend a group’s planning meeting and then letting people vote on which objectives should be prioritized. The company does, however break away from the team OKR mold in one place: when setting their product roadmap, “Making decisions in teams often leads to a silo effect, where the opposite of alignment can be the result. Creating a product roadmap is an activity that spans teams, and includes the input of many stakeholders. By making it part of a particular team’s plan, it limits both the ability of that team to set their own priorities, and for other people to contribute (since they feel like guests rather than doers)” Williams points out.
“We created OKRs because we were getting to a size where I or the leadership wouldn't be able to and wouldn’t want to weigh in on every little decision — now everyone in the company has the framework to make decisions in Swipely's best interest and a support system to build the skills that will take them to the next level” Swipely CEO, Angus Davis explains in “How to Make OKRs Actually Work at your Startup.”Davis introduced OKRs to the company in an email memo where he stressed the significance of defining clear objectives, saying “OKRs are critically important to me, to our board, and they should be important to you too. Having clear objectives, especially those tied to developing your skills, are a key part of career development here at Swipely.” Today, he says Swipely launches every quarter’s OKR-defining process with an all-hands meeting: “Everyone should come out of this meeting with a clear understanding of where the company’s going and why… Having public goals forces different types of thinking around how people ask for help from others.”
At Upstart, the team has its own custom approach to OKRs. Early on they wanted to adopt the tenets of OKRs, but felt that waiting an entire quarter for a result was too long for a young organization, so they invented their own hybrid model of Quarterly OKRs and Monthly Projects.“The Objectives are our top 3-5 general focus areas as a company and tend to be fairly consistent quarter to quarter,” says Jeff Keltner, “Each Objective has 3-5 Key Results associated with it.”The team takes apart each individual goal outlined in their OKRs and breaks it out into monthly projects that should be 100% achievable during the given time period. “Monthly projects allow us to hold ourselves accountable for our internal commitments and have a tight timeline for product development or marketing and business development activities,” says Keltner, “If we are completing all of our projects but not hitting our OKRs, we know we have a strategic problem we need to address.”
Zynga CEO Mark Pincus takes a weekly approach to team objectives that differs a bit from the OKR model, “I ask everybody to write down on Sunday night or Monday morning what are your three priorities for the week, and then on Friday see how you did against them. It’s the only way people can stay focused and not burn out. And if I look at your roadmap and you have 10 priorities for you and your team, you probably don’t know which of the three matter, and probably none of the 10 are right.” he told the New York Times in a 2010 interview.In that same interview he explained that he believes individual “roadmaps” are a great way to keep people on track,“I can look at everyone’s piece of paper, and their roadmap shows every item you were going to do and your predicted results and actual results, and then the results are in red if you missed them, yellow if they’re close and green if you passed them. I think roadmaps are a great principle just for managing your life. It keeps everybody focused, and it lets me know what trains are on or off the tracks.”
The Objectives and Key Results framework can easily be molded to fit the needs of your team, and (to get a little meta) the objectives underlying your organization’s objectives. Want to motivate and challenge your team? Set seemingly “impossible” stretch goals like Google does. Does your culture demand more accountability? Take notes from the folks at Normative and Pusher. Feel like your team needs to take a step back and focus? Perhaps Zynga’s approach of setting weekly objectives is a good remedy. Or, (most likely) you’ll develop your own system for setting OKRs over time through trial and error.