3 Advances That Will Improve the Google OKR Model

by | Mar 26, 2014

} 3 min read
3 Advances

This year’s March Madness is proving once again that accurately predicting someone else’s performance over a fixed period of time is really hard. If we were allowed to modify our picks after the first round, would they change? Would there be a better chance of one of us taking home Warren Buffett’s $1B?

Like we do the morning after a big game, we have the benefit of time passing to assess how and why Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) are successful at Google, and what advances can be made to meet changing business requirements. The Google Ventures StartUp Lab workshop “How Google sets goals: OKRs” which we outlined in an earlier post, gives us insight and answers to some of the most relevant and critical OKR questions, such as:

Who sets the goals?

The answer at Google (and everywhere else OKRs are successful) is everyone. Goals are set at the personal, team, and company levels. These goals are then made as readily available to view internally as an employee’s position, organization affiliation, and phone number. This provides visibility into what everyone is working on, which makes communications more efficient, focuses effort, and creates alignment. All of which are tremendous benefits to the organization.

But evolutions in goal science are taking this a step further by capturing information top down, bottom up, AND across teams so everyone in the organization knows what everyone else is working on at all times. New platforms are ensuring that the most vital priorities are captured in plain English (not marketing or engineering jargon) and are personally owned. Through more accessible, Quantified Work approaches, businesses can keep track of employee contributions at more granular levels and employees can reach beyond their own areas, across teams to make a more immediate impact on results.

How are goals determined?

Negotiation is key, says Google, but meeting about the process is less important than actually doing the work. While corporate objectives come from the top, more than half of objectives should—and do—come from individuals up through the organization. That way, teams get to help decide what tasks they want to work on to help drive corporate goals. In 1:1 meetings, Google employees and managers negotiate and agree upon quarterly OKRs, which are then rolled up and rolled out during company meetings.

To gain even greater transparency, large enterprises like Google can now enable dashboards showing individual, team, and corporate-level goals with associated performance metrics. Quantifying continual progress is significantly simpler and considerably less time-consuming than hosting Q1, Q2, Q3, and Q4 company-wide meetings to reveal goals and results.

How often should goals be set and reviewed?

The Google model is to set and review goals quarterly. But I believe, and others agree, that this planning rhythm is outdated. If agility is a key indicator of business success, organizations like Google should be looking at new ways for employees to set, show progress, and get feedback about their goals every day.

Because of OKRs, businesses like Google have quarterly data measuring progress that informs strategic direction about whether to keep going, to stop, or to modify projects. OKRs provide a solid starting point, but evolving platforms and processes with a foundation in goal science are poised to provide enterprises with even more granular feedback, every day, that can be used for strategic advantage.

After Gallup reported record-low employee engagement, experts advocated finding more passionate workers. These people do exist and we can find them by providing a more adaptive, accessible way for all employees to inform others about what they are doing, want to be doing, and have done—before it happens, while it’s happening, and after it’s happened. This seems like a better way to find out who is passionate, engaged, and inspired at work.

Historically, Google has emphasized the importance of defining scoring criteria for each key result. However, I wonder how critical it is to assign scores. After all, assigning scores to goals seems like a subjective process and that could be prone to game playing. Given that achievement of individual OKRs is not directly related to a performance review or compensation, scoring OKRs could even become obsolete as enterprises sprint to a more agile future where goals are fluid.

I’m not ready to declare goal scoring obsolete, but here are some questions for advocates of defining scores for key results:

  1. If you modify a goal during the quarter several times, do you then need to change the scoring criteria each time with your manager as the goal evolves?

  2. Is there a downside to not scoring goals?

  3. If you could automatically measure and report on progress of goals throughout the quarter, would that eliminate the need for goal scoring?

What do you think? Let us know.

Omar Divina joined the founding team at BetterWorks and leads the company’s New York operations.