“How do I keep my team accountable AND focused on the important items?”
That is a question every leader and business owner thinks about constantly.
We all know this story. A team is hyper busy, working constantly, and getting a lot done. Yet, at the end of the month or quarter, their biggest goals aren’t complete and morale drops.
We wonder why they seem so busy, yet aren’t actually accomplishing the items that are critical to moving the business forward.
In my last two companies, I saw the exact same thing happen. I had a great team that was productive, but we kept falling short on important initiatives. This sparked me to deep dive into just how to keep a team focused on the important. I started looking into and testing out all different goal setting methodologies.
There was one methodology that clearly worked the best.
This method gave us total alignment, from top to bottom.
This method allowed us to set aspirational goals then break them down into incremental, concrete, action plans.
This method helped us scale our company faster than before, and is now helping our clients do the same thing.
This method also just so happens to be used by Google, The Gates Foundation, Intuit, and other amazing companies and organizations.
This methodology is OKRs (an acronym for objectives and key results)
“OKRs are clear vessels for leaders’ priorities and insights.” -John Doerr
Why OKRs are the best way to set goals in a company:
1. OKRs allow the team to create big, inspirational objectives that break down into key results.
Two of the biggest issues with other goal setting techniques is that they are either too rigid and take the soul out of goals or too broad and don’t give any indication of how the goal will be hit. OKRs solves both of those.
Objectives are inspirational, visionary, but also focused and relevant – The WHAT to be achieved. They are the direction of the company. These do not have to be quantitative and rigid goals. They are meant to inspire your team to action, to galvanize everyone around a mission that is bigger than themselves. They can even be carried over quarter to quarter.
Key Results are HOW we get to the objective. They break down the objective into results and SMART goals. They are aggressive, timebound, and measurable. When you complete all the key results, you will have in essence have completed the objective for that quarter. Where an objective can be long lived, rolled over for a year or longer, key results evolve as the work progresses.
John Doerr, Author of New York Times bestseller Measure What Matters, stated “Objectives are the end zone, the targets you’re aiming for. Key results are the incremental yard markers for getting there.”
In Measure What Matters, Doerr illustrates two examples of OKRs that were set by the same company, Zume Pizza.
- Objective: Complete the truck delivery fleet for 250 Polaris (HQ)
- Key Result 1: Deliver 126 fully certified ovens by 11/30
- Key Result 2: Deliver 11 fully certified racks by 11/30
- Key Result 3: Deliver 2 fully certified full-format delivery vehicles by 11/30
- Objective: Delight Customers (This flowed directly from their mission and core value)
- Key Result 1: Net Promoter score of 42 or better
- Key Result 2: Order Rating of 4.6/5.0 or better
- Key Result 3: 75% of customers prefer Zume to competitor in blind taste test
These two OKRs are vastly different. One has a quantifiable objective (#1) while the other has a visionary, inspirational objective (#2). But both are valid and proper OKRs to set for a team.
2. OKRs create total alignment throughout the company
In my last company, we struggled with goal alignment for a while. At our quarterly retreats, we would brainstorm, solve issues, and plan for hours. We’d all set lofty goals for the company and for ourselves. At the end of the quarter we would all hit most of our individual goals, but the company’s goals were missed. “How could we hit our individual goals, but miss our company’s goals?” This question perplexed me until I found OKRs.
OKRs create total alignment throughout your company. They empower everyone to focus on the important, mission-focused items.
The way they do this is by cascading objectives and key results from the top line company OKRs all the way down to the front line team. This example of OKRs highlights this point.
The top line member here has two key results, which his two direct reports take as their own objectives for the quarter. These objectives then get broken down further into more key results. These key results then become the objectives for the team members below, and so on.
Google has a software that allows an intern to look at his OKRs and see how they directly tie into the OKRs of his manager, and his manager’s manager, all the way up to the company’s OKRs.
This not only ensures alignment on goals and the company’s trajectory; it also buys in the team. It shows them that what they are working on matters. That they are contributing to the greater good and not just doing busy work.
3. OKRs force a team to focus on the truly important
By only having 3-5 Objectives per company and per team, prioritization comes naturally. Having only a handful of key results for each objective narrows the focus even more.
Andy Grove, the father of OKRs and former Intel CEO once said,
“The art of management lies in the capacity to select from the many activities of seemingly comparable significance the one or two or three that provide leverage well beyond the others and concentrate on them.”
Larry Page, co-founder of Google, has the same belief,
“Winning organizations need to put more wood behind fewer arrows.”
I once walked into a company to analyze their goal setting systems. I asked the owner how many goals the team had for the quarter, to which he replied 17. I then asked how long some of them have been lingering for. He mentioned that at least half of them have been a year overdue.
I’d rather set and hit 3 out of 4 objectives a quarter than set 17 and hit 1. A team needs to focus in order to succeed.
4. OKRs keep teams accountable to execution
Displaying each team member’s objectives and key results, so that they’re transparent for everyone to see creates a sense of accountability throughout the entire company.
Teams and individuals can no longer hide in silos or beneath department goals. Individuals can also feel safe asking for help and admitting challenges when OKRs are transparent. Instead of feeling ashamed, they can reach out to managers and other teammates.
Teamwork improves greatly in this instance, as members of the same team and even separate departments step up to help each other out. When people see that a key result that affects their department’s objectives is behind, they are much more likely to step up and help out.
Transparency is the best thing you can implement to boost collaboration. OKRs creates a system for that.
Whether you are running a company, managing a team, or leading a household, OKRs can help you align your team around the essential few objectives. OKRs can help you ensure your team is working on the right things and staying accountable to getting the right results.
What are your OKRs?
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