How To Set Useful Goals That Actually Mean Something
#PP15 An example in OKRs
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OKRs - what are they?
Objectives and Key Results - they're a way to set measurable goals for your teams and your people. Google, Netflix and plenty of other big names use them. Andy Grove created them; you can see more about the origin here:
John Doerr of Google then brought the philosophy to Google in the late 90s and, after that, it took off as an alternative to top-down goal setting.
Recently, I was invited to help turn a set of aspirational regional goals and a purpose into something that country-wide division could action.
The goals were very broad and didn't have any metrics assigned to them, typical corporate mumbo jumbo about increasing margin or being more diverse etc. They didn't resonate with most of the employees as they were too big and hand-wavey.
Someone asked, "How does this spreadsheet I'm wrangling with help me achieve that purpose?" It's true; often people cannot see how the daily work their doing is helping the company achieve its purpose.
That's where OKRs come in. They cascade.
So, we started by turning the regional goals, purpose and mission into something t bit more actionable. For example, "Build a culture of wellbeing. Encourage development and growth." became "Make our division the place to be for the growth and wellbeing of our people."
We also converted the strategy statement into a rambling aspiration to an actionable strategy. "We are a great, connected team of smart, happy people delivering the best ideas for tomorrow … blah blah snore" became "Deliver ideas for tomorrow, boldly engage with our market, deliver profitable growth and celebrate our success." much snappier and actionable.
Once we'd massage the regional messages, we were then able to brainstorm the Objectives and Key Results. I invited a bunch of senior leaders to a workshop and, for each of the goals asked:
"What BHAI (big hairy audacious ideas) do we have for achieving these goals?"
There are some rules for coming up with these ideas;
No measurements - these objectives should be qualitative.
GO BIG - we want something aspirational.
No BAU - they shouldn't contain words like "maintain". They have to be about growth.
They should be exciting and memorable.
We then voted on the objectives, so we'd have a minimum of two.
This whole exercise was really hard. When the folks are used to the day-to-day putting out fires and managing by numbers, coming up with visions for the future is difficult.
Once we had our objectives, we brainstormed again for key results. A key result is defined as "A quantitative, measurable outcome that describes the impact you'll have on your objective."
I found the best way to think of these was to imagine what the world would look like when you achieve your objectives. What kind of markers or results would you expect to have to say "Yes, we succeeded with that objective".
The other rule, as it's essential for measuring, is that it has to be on a scale. No binary measures, no yes/no answers.
Right: Shipping feature X will increase conversion from the shopping cart by 10%
Wrong: Ship feature X.
This means you can score your KR (key result) on a scale of 0 -1. In the above example, getting a 10% conversion increase should be considered a MONUMENTAL MAGNIFICIENT success. If it's easy to achieve, your KR is too easy. Getting a 7.5% conversion would be considered a good result. 5% an acceptable result. Each objective should have between three and five KRs. You can then roll them up to score the objectives.
The outcome was a set of OKRs that the senior team knew spoke directly to the regional goals, purpose and strategy. They knew they would be able to translate these Objectives and measurable results into something their respective teams could get behind. Something that individual employees can link to their day-to-day work. This link provides a purpose, and we know what Dan Pink thinks about purpose.
Next, I intend to run similar sessions with each senior leader and the senior folks in their team to make some more specific OKRs that suit those particular teams. As I said, OKRs can cascade from the top to the very bottom; they even work for individual goals. When you go this far, they become super powerful. Each employee can step back from their work and say "It this thing I'm working on helping me achieve my OKRs?" and, if the answer is no, it's likely not helping the company achieve its purpose either.
Anyway, give them a try if you haven't got a framework in place, or you're not happy with the framework of your existing goals. You can start small, with a single team, or a division like I did and grow it from there. It'll take one or two quarters for it to bed in, but they're compelling ways of measuring progress towards aspirational goals.
Drop me a line if you'd like any help.
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