Measure What Matters

As we ramp up on the corporate performance cycle end of year reviews and goal setting, I thought it would be a good time to read up on Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), an overhaul to the normal KPI process used today. OKRs are championed by John Doerr and used by the likes of Google, the Gates Foundation, Intel and…Bono? Interestingly, he applies them to both his DATA foundation and to U2, I would have never thought the Edge was on board with quarterly objective updates 😆.

First things first, if your company is going to implement this system, I think you should required to pronounce OKRs like this:

Measure What Matters is generally told through the series of stories perspective, i.e. the author devotes each chapter to a specific use case for OKRs and lets someone from a company that implemented OKRs tell their story. That being said…I generally felt that they’re not much different than the status quo performance objective process. At most for-profit corporations (or at least the ones I have worked at), the goals are set early in the year, you check in with your manager with some frequency and then you are judged against your goals at the end of the year.

I suppose that the difference between OKRs and the traditional performance cycle would be frequency. The author suggests setting quarterly objectives with specific time horizons and reviewing their progress after each quarter. I did agree with the author that any goal should have specific, measurable objectives rather than broad, blanket goals (i.e. increase daily logins by 10% before June 1st). Without being specific about goals, it is too easy to allow sandbagging and write goals that will be attained regardless of how A) they directly impact the business and B) how they align to the corporate goals.

I also greatly enjoyed the transparency aspect of OKRs: that every individual in the company had their specific OKRs made public and available for anyone to read and evaluate. This not only increases accountability, but collaboration as well!

Favorite Part: Truly, my favorite part was the quick biography of Google’s third CEO, Sundar Pichai. On page 144, he summarizes his journey and the amazing impact that technology had on his life:

“Growing up in south India in the 1980s, I had scant exposure to technology as we see it today. Yet what we had made a profound impact on my life. My father was an electrical engineer in Chennai, a great metropolis, but we lived modestly. The waiting list for a telephone-a rotary dial model-was three to four years. I was twelve years old when my family finally got one. It was a big event. Neighbors would come and use it.”

“I remember my life as pre-phone and post-phone; that one device changed so many things. Pre-phone, my mother would say ‘Can you see if the blood test is ready in the hospital?’ I would catch a bus and ride to the hospital, and wait in line, and often they would tell me, ‘No, it isn’t ready yet, come tomorrow.’ By the time I rode the bus home, it was a three-hour trip. Post-phone, I could simply call the hospital and know the results. Now we take technology for granted, and it gets better every day. But for me there were these discrete moments, before and after, that I will never forget.”

Favorite Quote: “In implementing OKRs, leaders must publicly commit to their objectives and stay steadfast.”

Greg Shick
Analytics / Data Science / Statistics