Luis Goncalves
Last updated on | Strategic Alignment

How OKR at Google Works and Approach You Can Learn From Them

by Luís Gonçalves
okr at google

Google is probably the largest (and richest) multinational technology company in the world today. Everybody knows Google and the name has been part of many people’s daily lives. But apart from being the search engine as we know it, Google has so many technology products and services (some of it, the company has acquired or purchased over the years).

What’s its secret? There’s probably plenty. But there’s one that you can adopt right now as a leader in your company. It’s OKRs.

OKR has been used by Google even before it was just a small, thriving company. One of its investors in the name of John Doerr, introduced it to the company as a way of setting goals and achieving them. OKR stands for Objectives & Key Results.

This framework originally came from Intel (which Doerr has been part of). It’s a simple structure designed to help companies, teams and individuals set challenging goals and achieve them through measurable actions. OKR is not only applied to team management. It can also be helpful in your personal life.

How OKRs work at Google

Want to adopt OKRs the way Google does it? Here are the steps:

Set an objective. The objectives you will set for your company should be clear, specific and measurable. It shouldn’t be ambiguous. For example, saying that you want to improve your sales department is not a clear objective. Rather, you say “I want to improve our annual sales by 30%.” Next, set a number of “key results” which should all be measurable. These are the qualifiers that would tell you that your team has achieved their objective.

At Google, employees have 4-6 OKRs per quarter. Going more than this threshold is not healthy and productive as you won’t be able to focus. They also have OKRs at a company level, team level, management level, and personal level. Everyone works together to ensure that their company is on track in terms of hitting their targets.

Google does OKRs on an annual basis too. The yearly OKRs are the umbrella objectives where the rest of the team and individual OKRs can be patterned from. Even so, these OKRs are not set in stone. It evolves as the year goes by, and therefore adaptable to changes.

OKR at Google: An Actual Example

Klau’s OKRs are a great example of how this framework can be applied to your company. His OKR looked like this (not copied in verbatim):

Objective: Improve Blogger’s Reputation

Key Results:

  •     Speak at three events to re-establish Blogger’s leadership in the industry.
  •     Coordinate Blogger’s 10th anniversary with massive PR efforts.
  •     Personally reach out to Blogger users.
  •     Eliminate music blog takedowns and fix the DMCA process
  •     Set-up Blogger on Twitter and personally update discussions regarding the product.

OKR Best Practices

In Google, measuring OKRs take only a couple of minutes. They put more effort in achieving their individual goals, not worrying about their grades.

After each quarter, employees grade their key results through specific, quantifiable set of scales. Contrary to what you might think, achieving a perfect score of “1” is not the goal. You must aim for a score of 0.6-0.7. As Google puts it, if you’re getting a “1”, you are not crushing it. You’re just sandbagging it. On the other hand, a score of 0.4 suggests that an employee needs to take a deeper look at how they’re doing. It could mean reviewing the key results or making changes in existing processes to achieve the set objectives. If they have a low score, employees need to ask themselves – what can we do differently to achieve the goal?

This is one of the best components of OKRs. Basically, there is always a room for changing things, adjusting key results, and improving processes along the way. This is vital for any company especially in a world as dynamic as today’s business arena.

Furthermore, their OKRs are accessible to everyone, from the head down to the frontline employees. It’s part of their internal profile. Not only can anyone see what others goals are, but they also can see their scores. This might seem intimidating, but at Google, this practice helps everyone understand what anyone else is working on. For instance, when Rick Klau of Google Ventures was working on the homepage of YouTube, his OKRs were visible to his team and everyone else in Google. They could check out his OKRs, see what he’s up to, and either shape or pattern their own goals, and get guidance on how they could set up their OKRs for the next quarter.

Are OKRs Used to Support Promotion?

While OKRs are a great way to assess an employee’s performance at work, it is not used to determine promotions. At Google, OKRs are used by employees to understand and keep track of what they have accomplished. According to Klau, if he was up for a promotion, he will use his OKRs as an easy, quick system that lets him personally understand what he has done for the company.

OKRs can be powerful criteria for promotion. It’s up to you if you want to include it for your company promotion process. Imagine how your team will take this framework seriously if OKRs would be included in advancing their career.

Conclusion

OKR is a great framework that your company can adopt.  Regardless if your company is big or small, it has a lot of advantages worth emulating. This is not only clearly demonstrated by Google but also by other non-tech companies.

Goal setting shouldn’t be a complicated process. OKRs do sound simple and straightforward indeed. And that makes it really appealing to many companies. It makes it easy on everyone – from key executives and managers down to individual contributors. What’s more, it promotes transparency and efficiency. As everyone knows what everybody else is doing, everyone within your company has a deep sense of responsibility of keeping track of their goals and working on their key results. Of course, individual OKRs are best done under the guidance of their supervisors or managers who should be able to give constant, timely feedback and coaching.

Companies that implement OKR have their own processes and guidelines. It is important to experiment on what techniques work best for your company. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to implementing OKRs.

Have you tried establishing OKRs in your company? How did it benefit your team? What are the best practices that you can share?

THE ULTIMATE OKR GUIDE

Do you want to know more about OKRs? We wrote a white paper that summarises everything that you need to know in order to start using OKRs in your company! Do not wait any longer and download your white paper now.

Download The White-Paper

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Luís Gonçalves

About Luís Gonçalves

https://plus.google.com/u/0/+LuisGonçalves1979

Luis Gonçalves is an Entrepreneur, Author & International Keynote Speaker. He works with Senior Executives to implement his ‘Organisational Mastery’ system so they can greatly increase the effectiveness and efficiency of their organisations; enabling them to become recognised and highly rewarded Leaders.

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