If you follow our Inside Labiotech posts, you will know that we are not a fan of overworking our team. But with such little time to grow a company, what do we do to achieve so much? One of our secrets resides in our goal setting, based on the OKR system used by Google.
What are OKRs?
OKR stands for Objectives and Key Results. The OKR system derives from the MBO model (Management by Objectives) invented by Peter Drucker in 1954. This system has evolved inside Intel into the OKRs we use today. But the true evangelist of OKRs is John Doer, the guy who implemented the model at Google in 1999 (you can see his great TED talk on goal setting here). Almost 20 years later, Google is still using it company-wide.
OKRs rely on a very simple and flexible system and is composed of two parts:
- Objectives: they set your goals
- Key Results: they measure your progress for each goal
Each Objective is linked to several Key Results. One set of Objectives + Key Results equals an OKR. Each team member typically has 3 to 5 OKRs per quarter to complete. KRs are graded each quarter and contribute to the completion of the OKR. The average of all your OKRs gives you your quarter grade.
To work, Objectives must be:
- Actionable: they should be executed by a specific person or team
- Inspirational: they should be exciting and have ambitious goals
- Time-bound: they should have a timeframe.
While Key Results should have these specificities:
- Specific: is it well-defined and understandable for everyone?
- Measurable: can you measure success or failure?
- Achievable: is it realistically possible to do?
- Relevant: is this KR important for your Objective?
For a better overview, the image below shows how the OKR is integrated with your daily activities and long-term goals:
For those who want to explore OKRs in more detail, here’s a video from Google Ventures’ partner Rick Klau, explaining how he learned about OKR when he joined Google.
Why did we need a better goal system?
The OKR system didn’t come to us early. It was the consequence of a long learning phase, where we tested over the years different management methods and learned their pros and cons.
At the beginning of 2018, we were confronted with these challenges:
- Our project management tool (Trello) was getting overly complicated
- We needed a clearer organizational chart in our company
- We needed a better visibility on where our employees were struggling and a system to help them improve
- We needed to align the long-term vision of the team with our short-term objectives
After some research to solve these issues, we learned about the OKR system. We decided to have a try and implement it in our company. And it worked! Here are a few benefits we gained from using it:
- It complements our project management tool without adding complexity. We use Trello to communicate and plan our projects, and Weekdone [https://weekdone.com/] to manage our OKRs. Both tools work independently
- We clarified the structure of our organization thanks to the OKR. We now have two departments working independently with each managed by one founder: the Product department (Editorial, Product Dev and Growth) and the Business Performance department (Business Dev, Finance and Team support)
- We use the OKRs as the starting point for our 1:1 meetings between managers and team members. Managers can identify the struggling points easily and help the team to progress
- The OKR system created more transparency between our team members. Now everyone can see what’s the goal of their colleagues and interact with them. It’s also easier to communicate on our long-term goals thanks to that.
How did we set up OKRs in our company?
It took us 3 months from the time we decided to implement it to the time we were actually using it company-wide. When looking back, it’s a small amount of time to invest compared to the benefits you gain in the long run. In five months, our team was already completing their first cycle of OKR:
Here are the 5 steps we used to implement it:
1 – Prepare a top-down draft
My co-founder Philip and I created our own draft of the company’s OKRs. We started with our long-term goal and decided on each team and each person’s objectives for the next quarter. This was an important step to have some material to start working with our team, but your OKR should never be only decided top-down by the management.
2 – Train your team on OKRs
The next step was to train our team on OKRs. We had been researching and experimenting for a few weeks and it was now time to transfer this knowledge to the team. This step is crucial to gain the support of the whole team.
3 – Everybody works on the bottom-up draft
Just after the training, we asked the team to draft their own OKRS, all independently and without our input. This is very important as OKRs should be a balance between management input and employees personal goals.
4 – Reconcile both drafts and present the result
We were now in possession of 2 drafts, one from the top management and one from the team. We worked to reconcile both and create a final version of the OKRs for the quarter. To make sure we were not making any mistakes, we also organized 1:1 meetings with each team member to understand their vision and offer them our advice. We were positively surprised to see that our initial draft was not so far away from the one made by our team.
5 – Start using it on a weekly basis
We implemented our OKRs in our tool Weekdone and immediately started using it. You don’t necessarily need to pay a tool to do this, a spreadsheet can be enough and you can easily find free templates online.
Once we started, we agreed with our team on a continuous workflow for our OKRs:
Now it’s your turn!
OKRs helped a lot to grow our company in the last few months. The system is easy to understand and to implement in any team. It creates motivation and a clearer vision. I can only recommend that you try it with your team or suggest it to your manager.
If you decide on taking the next step, here are a few tips I learned:
- Focus only on 3 to 5 Objectives per quarter and attach 3 to 5 Key Results to each. More than this will either be impossible to achieve or will create non-relevant Objectives.
- At least 50% of your Objectives should be bottom-up. Trust the vision of your team, they will teach you more than you think on your own business.
- A total quarter grade of 60-70% is the sweet spot! Don’t reach for 100%, the OKR system is not made for this.
- This is not a performance system! Don’t use OKRs to blame or find culprits in case of failure. The OKRs are here to guide your team and create a virtuous feedback loop between all members of the company.
I hope you enjoyed learning about OKRs. Feel free to reach out to me if you have comments or advice from your own experience with OKRs 🙂
Let's Continue The Conversation
Feel free to send us comments about this article to firstname.lastname@example.org and/or comment on that article on social media.