On May 27 our lead investor John Doerr and I held a webinar to examine how OKRs and CFRs can empower companies to ride out a downturn and thrive in a recovery. In many organizations, OKRs and CFRs are already well-established tools to align teams around shared goals, enable constant agility, transparently monitor progress, and deliver an optimized employee experience. But judging from the enormous number of pre-registrants, the chance to hear someone of John’s stature discuss the revolutionary workplace changes ahead attracted more than the already-converted.

For those not familiar, John is a living legend, a prime architect of the modern world — chairman of the pioneering venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins; a first investor in Google, Amazon, and multiple widely-admired companies; economic advisor to Barack Obama; and author of the 2017 OKR classic Measure What Matters. If Yoda needs advice, he turns to John Doerr.

The vital topic on everyone’s mind, of course, was the shape of worklife to come. It’s undoubtedly going to be different, but no one knows exactly how. John believes, as do I, that no matter what “work” becomes in the months and years ahead, the core organizing principles of Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) and Conversations, Feedback, and Recognition (CFRs) will remain bedrocks and north stars for sustained success. 

To illustrate the point, John quoted Bono of U2 on the role OKRs play in Bono’s anti-poverty organization ONE. (The Bono clip is at the 14:30 mark of the webinar video.)

“You’re passionate. I’m passionate. What action does your passion lead you to do?” asks Bono. “If the heart doesn’t find a perfect rhyme with the head, then your passion means nothing. [OKRs] give us an environment for risk, for trust, when failing is not a federal offense. When you have the right structure, environment, and the right people, magic is just ’round the corner.”

Bono’s comment re passion-into-action via OKRs/CFRs underscores how many workplace “experts” are missing a fundamental point when they prophesy sagely about the New World of Work. 

Much of what I’ve read in industry and general media deals with managers concerned that remote workers will shirk their responsibilities. In my last blog on May 22, I chided The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, NPR, and CNBC for featuring “The Boss is Watching You” stories when it’s a simple fact of human nature that people want to excel at work. They want to do a great job. The real question: how can we help them?

Make no mistake: the onus is on us, the managers, to enable workers in the New World of Work — whether they’re digitally remote or working physically in reconfigured socially distanced offices — to give us their best and get our best in return. “Linking performance management that supports measurable, valuable business outcomes is the strategic duty and obligation of serious leadership,” the MIT Sloan Management Review said on June 1. 

What workers will need most in this new world are not high-tech leashes but lifelines that will enable them to let their passions lead to actions that 1) achieve their organizations’ objectives (OKRs), and 2) deliver the professional development, engagement, and life-enhancing employee experience (CFRs) that preserves the cultures we’ve worked so hard to create.  

Since the pandemic began, I’ve grown increasingly convinced that this moment of imminent historic change creates an executive onramp — not the classic HR “seat at the table,” but actual top leadership in the coming new world — for operationally-minded HR practitioners. As I wrote in TLNT Magazine recently, business success is about people, and who knows people better than we do?

During our webinar, John Doerr explained how Google employees automatically default to OKR thinking: “If you’re in a meeting at Google and somebody says, ‘We’re going to do this new thing,’ somebody else on the team will always say, ‘Well, that’s a great objective. Now what key results are we going to create in order to achieve it?’”

That was my a-ha! moment. Thanks to OKR/CFR solutions, operationally-minded HR leaders are equipped to extend the lifelines employees in the New World of Work will hunger for: powerful, nuanced, real-time tools to measure, reinforce, and transparently share the most effective and rewarding methods to achieve organizational objectives. Or put more lyrically, to enable their hearts to find perfect rhymes with their heads.