A Goal-Setting System I Learned From Google (And Still Use At My Current Venture)
During Google’s first year, investor John Doerr pitched the idea of using an organizational system called Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) for goal setting. He presented it as an effective way to both set high level goals and also measure progress toward these goals in a quantifiable way. I’m sure he made a pretty persuasive pitch, because they were quickly adopted across the entire company and, during my first week at Google, I found myself outlining my very first set of OKRs.
The OKR system is an effective way of setting and communicating goals within an organization by connecting company, team, and personal objectives to measurable results. It pushes your company and employees to stretch and grow while staying focused on a defined and collective goal. My Google OKRs were just the first of many. Fast forward 15 years — today, every new hire at Lucid Software spends a portion of his or her first week watching Google Ventures partner Rick Klau present John’s original slides in a YouTube video (which you can view here). When I left Google to start Lucid Software, I didn’t take OKRs with me because it was what I was used to—I did so because the system had been so successful at Google. I firmly believed it could produce the same benefits at Lucid—and the system hasn’t let me down yet.
Benefits of OKRs
Setting stretch goals: OKRs establish a clear and simple pattern for setting goals within your company at the individual, team, and organization levels. When you write an OKR, you solidify a goal and draw a line in the sand. At the end of the day, you can measure yourself against this line to define your success. In contrast, without setting objectives in advance, you are stuck trying to justify your accomplishments.
At Google, we were constantly reminded that OKRs are specifically designed to push you, not to make you look good. In other words: Goals should be hard—not slam dunks. Write them aggressively.
Promoting accountability: At Google, we made all our OKRs public. We are doing the same at Lucid by having every employee upload their personal OKRs to our internal wiki. Doing so promotes accountability and transparency and makes that line in the sand even more pronounced. It’s easy to forget about goals that only you know about—it’s a game-changer when there are others (sometimes hundreds to thousands of others) also holding you accountable.
In addition to their public nature, OKRs promote accountability because they are graded each quarter. Google uses a scale from 0 to 1. You’re not supposed to crush it with consistently perfect scores—once again, these are stretch goals, so if you hit between 0.6 and 0.7, you are making good progress. In fact, if you are easily hitting all of your OKRs, you have either reached superhero status or are sandbagging.
However, it’s important to always go back and account for why you fell short on an OKR, especially if you score below a 0.4. Life happens, and priorities change—but you need to be honest with yourself about the root cause.