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2 minute read / May 9, 2018 /

An Ode to the OKR - How to Motivate Greater Ambition in Teams

I remember the first time I wrote an OKR (objective and key result) at Google. “You should set your goals so that you attain 70%. That’s success,” my manager told me. “Even better if you have a moonshot goal in there, with a 5% likelihood of success.” I was uneasy with calling 70% goal achievement as success. The habits formed from 17 years of schooling and a 100 point scale run deep.

John Doerr’s book Measure What Matters is a paean to the OKR. Andy Grove introduces Doerr to the idea at Intel and Doerr brings the concept to Google. Several years later, I found myself writing them.

An OKR is a an objective with a key result. The objective is a goal. The key result is a quantified measure of success.`

There are many goal management techniques, each with positives and negatives. I found OKRs effective for two reasons because of the way Google deployed them.

First, the OKR process aligns the company from top to bottom. The company leadership set corporate OKRs. Then SVPs decomposed those company OKRs into goals for their divisions and teams. The VPs would do the same, and the directors, and the team leads and the individual contributors. This recursive deconstruction linked the highest level goals to the work of individuals.

Second, the OKR construct reinforced greater ambition. Quoting from the book:

said Edwin Locke, “hard goals” drive performance more effectively than easy goals. Second, specific hard goals “produce a higher level of output” than vaguely worded ones.

The 70% attainment idea, that success is 70%, reinforced the notion of hard goals. The key result component of the OKR complemented the pair with specifics.

OKRs demand an investment and a commitment to the process. But teams using OKRs enjoy a better aligned and more ambitious work culture. If you’d like to learn more about OKRs in startups, First Round has a wonderful overview.

Doerr refers to OKRs as the first gift he gave Google. OKRs are a gift. They are a process, a leading indicator of success, discipline and ambition.

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