Maximising the Four Superpowers of Objectives and Key Results

Since their birth in the late 1990s, Objectives and Key Results offer businesses a revolutionary way to establish and achieve ambitious goals, helping numerous high profile corporations achieve immense success, exceeding expectations while coordinating and empowering the workplace.

Understanding and maximizing the four superpowers of OKRs is the first step towards building a company at the top of its game.

In his landmark bestselling book, Measure What Matters, venture capitalise John Doerr outlined the four main superpowers of Objectives and Key Results:

  1. Focus and commit to priorities
  2. Align and connect for teamwork
  3. Track for accountability
  4. Stretch for amazing

Let’s break these down and see how you can incorporate them into your performance management process in order to maximize OKRs and boost your company’s performance:

1. Focus and commit to priorities

“When you’re the CEO or founder of a company, you’ve got to say “This is what we’re doing,” and then you have to model it.” Bill Campbell, Inuit CEO

When establishing your company’s top-line goals at the executive level, it’s crucial that they are aligned to a larger purpose as well as clearly articulated throughout the company. But while the main impetus for any top-level objective may come from the executive team and company founders, it’s equally important to avoid being trapped by hierarchy.

Setting company-level OKRs ensures fluidity of ideas and solutions both across teams and up and down the hierarchy. At YouTube, product manager Rick Klau identified a problem with the site’s homepage and drafted a six-month OKR to fix the problem. They presented their case to YouTube CEO Salar Kamangar, who ran it by Google CEO Larry Page, giving it the go-ahead with a deadline reduction.

The team hit the deadline, and Klau observed, “We had no idea how we’d do it in three months, but we understood that owning a company-level OKR showed that our work took priority.”

This holistic approach to goal-setting gives good ideas higher visibility, improving both focus and commitment.

2. Align and connect for teamwork

Once you’ve established your primary objectives, you’ll need to make sure that your teams are on the same page. Studies have shown that such alignment increases the likelihood of attaining goals, and can lead to financial gains, as outlined in the Harvard Business Review study from 2016, How Employee Alignment Boosts The Bottom Line.

Transparent OKRs is an effective way to develop collaboration: by displaying and tracking objectives within the company, employees are better equipped to recognise when others are making mistakes and can offer their help or feedback.

Likewise, with OKRs set across various departments and levels of the company, executive-level objectives can be intrinsically linked to OKRs from departments and teams with the selective cascading of goals. Try to avoid rigidly cascading objectives from top to bottom; instead, you should also encourage bottom-up objectives to bring new ideas and innovations to the table.

People in the trenches are usually in touch with impending changes early.

Andy Grove. Former CEO, Intel Corporation

3. Track for accountability

Just as your objectives and key results should flow both up and down the company, so too should your ability to track performance and maintain accountability be something that aims for transparency across the workplace.

Tracking your goals and outcomes with a performance management tool ensures that your OKRs are constantly evolving organisms rather than static, driving engagement, improving visibility and encouraging internal networking.

By integrating a range of options into your tools, you can treat your OKRs with flexibility, continuing to work on effective goals, modifying those which may need some attention, ending those which are no longer useful or relevant, and introducing new goals on the fly as and when you see fit.

4. Stretch for amazing​

A great OKR should push your company beyond its comfort zone, guaranteeing its place in the competitive business landscape by embedding it with a drive towards innovation. Setting ambitious stretch goals is the best way to keep this at the forefront of your action plan.

In his classic 1968 paper, Towards a Theory of Task Motivation and Incentives, Edwin Locke noted that “[T]he harder the goal the higher the level of performance … Although subjects with very hard goals reach their goals far less often than subjects with very easy goals, the former consistently performed at a higher level than the latter.”

While stretching your teams too far or doing so too quickly can lead to failure, ambitious stretch goals confidently expressed by leaders as important and attainable outcomes, which employees feel confident they can commit to, can foster an environment in which the toughest objectives can be achieved.