This blogpost is not an exhaustive summary of the book. Just contains the notes I took

  • Effective KRs are specific and time-bound, aggressive yet realistic. Most of all, they are measurable and verifiable. ( As prize pupil Marissa Mayer would say, “It’s not a key result unless it has a number.”) You either meet a key result’s requirements or you don’t; there is no gray area, no room for doubt.

  • In accordance with company tradition, the executive team will also grade Google’s OKRs from the prior year, with failures unblinkingly dissected.

  • Less is more. “A few extremely well-chosen objectives,” Grove wrote, “impart a clear message about what we say ‘yes’ to and what we say ‘no’ to.” A limit of three to five OKRs per cycle leads companies, teams, and individuals to choose what matters most. In general, each objective should be tied to five or fewer key results.

  • Set goals from the bottom up. To promote engagement, teams and individuals should be encouraged to create roughly half of their own OKRs, in consultation with managers. When all goals are set top-down, motivation is corroded.

  • No dictating. OKRs are a cooperative social contract to establish priorities and define how progress will be measured. Even after company objectives are closed to debate, their key results continue to be negotiated.

  • Collective agreement is essential to maximum goal achievement.

  • Stay flexible. If the climate has changed and an objective no longer seems practical or relevant as written, key results can be modified or even discarded mid-cycle.

  • Dare to fail. “Output will tend to be greater,” Grove wrote, “when everybody strives for a level of achievement beyond [their] immediate grasp. . . . Such goal-setting is extremely important if what you want is peak performance from yourself and your subordinates.” While certain operational objectives must be met in full, aspirational OKRs should be uncomfortable and possibly unattainable. “Stretched goals,” as Grove called them, push organizations to new heights.

  • OKR is a a tool, not a weapon. The OKR system, Grove wrote, “is meant to pace a person—to put a stopwatch in his own hand so he can gauge his own performance. It is not a legal document upon which to base a performance review.” To encourage risk taking and prevent sandbagging, OKRs and bonuses are best kept separate.

  • Be patient; be resolute. Every process requires trial and error. As Grove told his iOPEC students, Intel “stumbled a lot of times” after adopting OKRs: “We didn’t fully understand the principal purpose of it. And we are kind of doing better with it as time goes on.” An organization may need up to four or five quarterly cycles to fully embrace the system, and even more than that to build mature goal muscle.

  • “Bad companies,” Andy wrote, “are destroyed by crisis. Good companies survive them. Great companies are improved by them.”

  • Measuring what matters begins with the question: What is most important for the next three (or six, or twelve) months?

  • Leaders must get across the why as well as the what.

  • If an objective is well framed, three to five KRs will usually be adequate to reach it.

  • A few goal-setting ground rules: Key results should be succinct, specific, and measurable.

  • Completion of all key results must result in attainment of the objective.

  • In most cases, the ideal number of quarterly OKRs will range between three and five.

  • OKR Example
    • Objective: Continue to build a world-class team.
    • Key Results:
      • Recruit 10 engineers [0.8].
      • Hire commercial sales leader [1.0].
      • One hundred percent of candidates feel they had a well-organized, professional experience even if Nuna does not extend an offer [0.5].
  • As general manager, I cascade my goal down to the next level of management, the head coach and the senior vice president of marketing. My key results become their objectives. When all objectives are cascaded, the process can degrade into a mechanical, color-by-numbers exercise, with four adverse effects: A loss of agility. Even medium-size companies can have six or seven reporting levels. As everyone waits for the waterfall to trickle down from above, and meetings and reviews sprout like weeds, each goal cycle can take weeks or even months to administer. Tightly cascading organizations tend to resist fast and frequent goal setting. Implementation is so cumbersome that quarterly OKRs may prove impractical. A lack of flexibility. Since it takes so much effort to formulate cascaded goals, people are reluctant to revise them mid-cycle. Even minor updates can burden those downstream, who are scrambling to keep their goals aligned. Over time, the system grows onerous to maintain. Marginalized contributors. Rigidly cascaded systems tend to shut out input from frontline employees. In a top-down ecosystem, contributors will hesitate to share goal-related concerns or promising ideas. One-dimensional linkages. While cascading locks in vertical alignment, it’s less effective in connecting peers horizontally, across departmental lines.

  • Micromanagement is mismanagement. A healthy OKR environment strikes a balance between alignment and autonomy, common purpose and creative latitude.

  • Alignment doesn’t mean redundancy. At MyFitnessPal, every OKR has a single owner, with other teams linking up as needed. As I see it, co-ownership weakens accountability. If an OKR fails, I don’t want two people blaming each other.

  • For an OKR system to function effectively, the team deploying it—whether a group of top executives or an entire organization—must adopt it universally. No exceptions, no opt-outs.

  • As we track and audit our OKRs, we have four options at any point in the cycle: Continue : If a green zone (“on track”) goal isn’t broken, don’t fix it. Update : Modify a yellow zone (“needs attention”) key result or objective to respond to changes in the workflow or external environment. What could be done differently to get the goal on track? Does it need a revised time line? Do we back-burner other initiatives to free up resources for this one? Start : Launch a new OKR mid-cycle, whenever the need arises. Stop : When a red zone (“at risk”) goal has outlived its usefulness, the best solution may be to drop it. *

  • When Remind’s school-messaging platform prototyped the company’s first revenue-yielding service, a peer-to-peer payment system, it was a total flop. “No one used it,” says Brett Kopf. “It didn’t solve a clear problem. We immediately altered the goal to build an event-driven system, where the teacher could say, ‘I’ve got a field trip next week. Are you coming, yes or no? And do you want to pay?’ That changed everything. It started driving and growing like crazy.”

  • When an objective gets dropped before the end of the OKR interval, it’s important to notify everyone depending on it. Then comes reflection: What did I learn that I didn’t foresee at the beginning of the quarter? And: How will I apply this lesson in the future?

  • The simplest, cleanest way to score an objective is by averaging the percentage completion rates of its associated key results.

  • Google uses a scale of 0 to 1.0: 0.7 to 1.0 = green. * (We delivered.) 0.4 to 0.6 = yellow. (We made progress, but fell short of completion.) 0.0 to 0.3 = red. (We failed to make real progress.)

  • Say the team’s objective is to recruit new customers, and your individual key result is fifty phone calls. You wind up calling thirty-five prospects, for a raw goal score of 70 percent. Did you succeed or fail? By itself, the data doesn’t afford us much insight. But if a dozen of your calls lasted several hours apiece and resulted in eight new customers, you might give yourself a perfect 1.0.

  • Conversely: If you procrastinated, rushed through all fifty calls, and signed only one new customer, you might assess your performance at 0.25—because you could have pushed harder. (And on reflection: Should the key result have prioritized new customers, rather than calls?)

  • Google divides its OKRs into two categories, committed goals and aspirational (or “stretch”) goals.

  • Committed objectives are tied to Google’s metrics: product releases, bookings, hiring, customers. Management sets them at the company level, employees at the departmental level. In general, these committed objectives—such as sales and revenue goals—are to be achieved in full (100 percent) within a set time frame. Aspirational objectives reflect bigger-picture, higher-risk, more future-tilting ideas. They originate from any tier and aim to mobilize the entire organization. By definition, they are challenging to achieve. Failures—at an average rate of 40 percent—are part of Google’s territory.

  • Committed objectives are tied to Google’s metrics: product releases, bookings, hiring, customers. Management sets them at the company level, employees at the departmental level. In general, these committed objectives—such as sales and revenue goals—are to be achieved in full (100 percent) within a set time frame. Aspirational objectives reflect bigger-picture, higher-risk, more future-tilting ideas. They originate from any tier and aim to mobilize the entire organization. By definition, they are challenging to achieve. Failures—at an average rate of 40 percent—are part of Google’s territory. The relative

  • At Google, in line with Andy Grove’s old standard, aspirational OKRs are set at 60 to 70 percent attainment.

  • Stretch/Aspirational OKR example: Reach 1 billion hours of watch time per day [by 2016], with growth driven by: KEY RESULTS Search team + Main App (+XX%), Living Room (+XX%). Grow kids’ engagement and gaming watch time (X watch hours per day). Launch YouTube VR experience and grow VR catalog from X to Y videos.

  • Stretch goals can be crushing if people don’t believe they’re achievable. That’s where the art of framing comes in. Clever manager that he is, Shishir cut our BHAG down to size. While one billion daily hours sounded like an awful lot, it represented less than 20 percent of the world’s total television watch time.

  • Conversations : an authentic, richly textured exchange between manager and contributor, aimed at driving performance Feedback : bidirectional or networked communication among peers to evaluate progress and guide future improvement Recognition : expressions of appreciation to deserving individuals for contributions of all sizes Like OKRs, CFRs champion transparency, accountability, empowerment, and teamwork, at all levels of the organization.

  • When Pact adopted OKRs, we officially killed our annual performance review. We replaced it with a set of more frequent touch points between managers and employees. Internally, we’ve dubbed this ‘Propel.’ It consists of four elements: “The first is a set of monthly one-on-one conversations between employees and their managers about how things are going. “The second is a quarterly review of progress against our OKRs. We sit down and say, ‘What did you set out to accomplish this quarter? What were you able to do—and what weren’t you able to do? Why or why not? What can we change?’ “Third, we have a semiannual professional development conversation. Employees talk about their career trajectory—where they’ve been, where they are, where they want to go. And how their managers and the organization can support their new direction. “The fourth bit is ongoing, self-driven insight. We’re constantly surrounded by positive reinforcement and feedback, but many of us haven’t been trained to seek it out. Say you give a presentation to your team. After the fact, somebody comes up to you and says, ‘Hey, nice job.’ Most of us would say, ‘Oh great, thanks,’ and move on. But we want to probe a little deeper: ‘Thank you. What one thing did you like about it?’ The idea is to capture more specific feedback in real time.”

  • Divorce compensation (both raises and bonuses) from OKRs.

  • Based on BetterWorks’ experience with hundreds of enterprises, five critical areas have emerged of conversation between manager and contributor: Goal setting and reflection , where the employee’s OKR plan is set for the coming cycle. The discussion focuses on how best to align individual objectives and key results with organizational priorities. Ongoing progress updates , the brief and data-driven check-ins on the employee’s real-time progress, with problem solving as needed. * Two-way coaching , to help contributors reach their potential and managers do a better job. Career growth , to develop skills, identify growth opportunities, and expand employees’ vision of their future at the company. Lightweight performance reviews , a feedback mechanism to gather inputs and summarize what the employee has accomplished since the last meeting, in the context of the organization’s needs.

  • Institute peer-to-peer recognition. When employee achievements are consistently recognized by peers, a culture of gratitude is born. At Zume Pizza, the Friday all-hands “roundup” meeting concludes with a series of unsolicited, unedited shout-outs from anyone in the organization to anyone else who’s done something remarkable. Establish clear criteria. Recognize people for actions and results: completion of special projects, achievement of company goals, demonstrations of company values. Replace “Employee of the Month” with “Achievement of the Month.” Share recognition stories . Newsletters or company blogs can supply the narrative behind the accomplishment, giving recognition more meaning. Make recognition frequent and attainable. Hail smaller accomplishments, too: that extra effort to meet a deadline, that special polish on a proposal, the little things a manager might take for granted. Tie recognition to company goals and strategies . Customer service, innovation, teamwork, cost cutting—any organizational priority can be supported by a timely shout-out.

  • Coursera rolled up its team-level objectives to top-line strategic objectives, which in turn rolled up to five core values: Students first. Engage and increase value to students; extend reach to new students. Great partners. Be a great partner to universities. Think big and advance pedagogy. Develop an innovative, world-class education platform. Care for teammates and be human, be humble. Build a strong, healthy organization. Do good, do well. Experiment and develop a sustainable business model. Each core value was mapped to a corresponding set of OKRs.

  • As an example, here is an OKR for “students first”:
    • OBJECTIVE Extend Coursera’s reach to new students.
    • KEY RESULTS
      • Perform A/B tests, learn, and iterate on ways to acquire new students and engage existing students.
      • Increase mobile monthly active users (MAU) to 150k.
      • Create internal tools to track key growth metrics.
      • Launch features to enable instructors to create more engaging videos.
  • We grade them with a color scale to measure how well we did: 0.0–0.3 is red 0.4–0.6 is yellow 0.7–1.0 is green.

  • Objectives are the “Whats.” They: express goals and intents; are aggressive yet realistic; must be tangible, objective, and unambiguous; should be obvious to a rational observer whether an objective has been achieved. The successful achievement of an objective must provide clear value for Google. Key Results are the “Hows.” They: express measurable milestones which, if achieved, will advance objective(s) in a useful manner to their constituents; must describe outcomes, not activities. If your KRs include words like “consult,” “help,” “analyze,” or “participate,” they describe activities. Instead, describe the end-user impact of these activities: “publish average and tail latency measurements from six Colossus cells by March 7,” rather than “assess Colossus latency”; must include evidence of completion. This evidence must be available, credible, and easily discoverable. Examples of evidence include change lists, links to docs, notes, and published metrics reports.

  • OKRs have two variants, and it is important to differentiate between them: Commitments are OKRs that we agree will be achieved, and we will be willing to adjust schedules and resources to ensure that they are delivered. The expected score for a committed OKR is 1.0; a score of less than 1.0 requires explanation for the miss, as it shows errors in planning and/or execution. By contrast, aspirational OKRs express how we’d like the world to look, even though we have no clear idea how to get there and/or the resources necessary to deliver the OKR. Aspirational OKRs have an expected average score of 0.7, with high variance.

  • Classic OKR-Writing Mistakes and Traps
    • TRAP #1: Failing to differentiate between committed and aspirational OKRs. Marking a committed OKR as aspirational increases the chance of failure. Teams may not take it seriously and may not change their other priorities to focus on delivering the OKR. On the other hand, marking an aspirational OKR as committed creates defensiveness in teams who cannot find a way to deliver the OKR, and it invites priority inversion as committed OKRs are de-staffed to focus on the aspirational OKR.
    • TRAP #2: Business-as-usual OKRs. OKRs are often written principally based on what the team believes it can achieve without changing anything they’re currently doing, as opposed to what the team or its customers really want.
    • TRAP #3: Timid aspirational OKRs. Aspirational OKRs very often start from the current state and effectively ask, “What could we do if we had extra staff and got a bit lucky?” An alternative and better approach is to start with, “What could my [or my customers’] world look like in several years if we were freed from most constraints?” By definition, you’re not going to know how to achieve this state when the OKR is first formulated—that is why it is an aspirational OKR. But without understanding and articulating the desired end state, you guarantee that you are not going to be able to achieve it. The litmus test: If you ask your customers what they really want, does your aspirational objective meet or exceed their request?
    • TRAP #4: Sandbagging. A team’s committed OKRs should credibly consume most but not all of their available resources. Their committed + aspirational OKRs should credibly consume somewhat more than their available resources. (Otherwise they’re effectively commits.) Teams who can meet all of their OKRs without needing all of their team’s headcount/capital . . . are assumed to either be hoarding resources or not pushing their teams, or both. This is a cue for senior management to reassign headcount and other resources to groups who will make more effective use of them.
    • TRAP #5: Low Value Objectives (aka the “Who cares?” OKR). OKRs must promise clear business value—otherwise, there’s no reason to expend resources doing them. Low Value Objectives (LVOs) are those for which, even if the Objective is completed with a 1.0, no one will notice or care. A classic (and seductive) LVO example: “Increase task CPU utilization by 3 percent.” This objective by itself does not help users or Google directly. However, the (presumably related) goal, “Decrease quantity of cores required to serve peak queries by 3 percent with no change to quality/latency/ . . . and return resulting excess cores to the free pool” has clear economic value. That’s a superior objective. Here is a litmus test: Could the OKR get a 1.0 under reasonable circumstances without providing direct end-user or economic benefit? If so, then reword the OKR to focus on the tangible benefit. A classic example: “Launch X,” with no criteria for success. Better: “Double fleet-wide Y by launching X to 90+ percent of borg cells.”
    • TRAP #6: Insufficient KRs for committed Os. OKRs are divided into the desired outcome (the objective) and the measurable steps required to achieve that outcome (the key results). It is critical that KRs are written such that scoring 1.0 on all key results generates a 1.0 score for the objective. A common error is writing key results that are necessary but not sufficient to collectively complete the objective. The error is tempting because it allows a team to avoid the difficult (resource/priority/risk) commitments needed to deliver “hard” key results. This trap is particularly pernicious because it delays both the discovery of the resource requirements for the objective, and the discovery that the objective will not be completed on schedule. The litmus test: Is it reasonably possible to score 1.0 on all the key results but still not achieve the intent of the objective? If so, add or rework the key results until their successful completion guarantees that the objective is also successfully completed.
  • Reading, Interpreting, and Acting on OKRs: For committed OKRs Teams are expected to rearrange their other priorities to ensure an on-schedule 1.0 delivery. Teams who cannot credibly promise to deliver a 1.0 on a committed OKR must escalate promptly. This is a key point: Escalating in this (common) situation is not only OK, it is required. Whether the issue arose because of disagreement about the OKR, disagreement about its priority, or inability to allocate enough time/people/resources, escalation is good. It allows the team’s management to develop options and resolve conflicts. The corollary is that every new OKR is likely to involve some amount of escalation, since it requires a change to existing priorities and commitments. An OKR that requires no changes to any group’s activities is a business-as-usual OKR, and those are unlikely to be new—although they may not have previously been written down. A committed OKR that fails to achieve a 1.0 by its due date requires a postmortem. This is not intended to punish teams. It is intended to understand what occurred in the planning and/or execution of the OKR, so that teams may improve their ability to reliably hit 1.0 on committed OKRs. Examples of classes of committed OKRs are ensuring that a service meets its SLA (service level agreement) for the quarter; or delivering a defined feature or improvement to an infrastructure system by a set date; or manufacturing and delivering a quantity of servers at a cost point.

  • Aspirational OKRs: The set of aspirational OKRs will by design exceed the team’s ability to execute in a given quarter. The OKRs’ priority should inform team members’ decisions on where to spend the remaining time they have after the group’s commitments are met. In general, higher priority OKRs should be completed before lower priority OKRs. Aspirational OKRs and their associated priorities should remain on a team’s OKR list until they are completed, carrying them forward from quarter to quarter as necessary. Dropping them from the OKR list because of lack of progress is a mistake, as it disguises persistent problems of prioritization, resource availability, or a lack of understanding of the problem/solution. Corollary: It is good to move an aspirational OKR to a different team’s list if that team has both the expertise and bandwidth to accomplish the OKR more effectively than the current OKR owner. Team managers are expected to assess the resources required to accomplish their aspirational OKRs and ask for them each quarter, fulfilling their duty to express known demand to the business. Managers should not expect to receive all the required resources, however, unless their aspirational OKRs are the highest priority goals in the company after the committed OKRs.

  • More Litmus Tests Some simple tests to see if your OKRs are good:
    • If you wrote them down in five minutes, they probably aren’t good. Think
    • If your objective doesn’t fit on one line, it probably isn’t crisp enough
    • If your KRs are expressed in team-internal terms (“Launch Foo 4.1”), they probably aren’t good. What matters isn’t the launch, but its impact. Why is Foo 4.1 important? Better: “Launch Foo 4.1 to improve sign-ups by 25 percent.” Or simply: “Improve sign-ups by 25 percent.”
    • Use real dates. If every key result happens on the last day of the quarter, you likely don’t have a real plan
    • Make sure your key results are measurable: It must be possible to objectively assign a grade at the end of the quarter
    • “Improve sign-ups” isn’t a good key result. Better: “Improve daily sign-ups by 25 percent by May 1.”
    • Make sure the metrics are unambiguous. If you say “1 million users,” is that all-time users or seven-day actives?
    • If there are important activities on your team (or a significant fraction of its effort) that aren’t covered by OKRs, add more
    • For larger groups, make OKRs hierarchical—have high-level ones for the entire team, more detailed ones for subteams. Make sure that the “horizontal” OKRs (projects that need multiple teams to contribute) have supporting key results in each subteam
  • Brainstorm Annual and Q1 OKRs for Company Senior leaders start brainstorming top-line company OKRs. If you’re setting OKRs for Q1, this is also the time to set your annual plan, which can help guide the direction of company.

  • Communicate Company-wide OKRs for Upcoming Year and Q1 Finalize company OKRs and communicate them to everyone. Start of quarter Communicate Team Q1 OKRs Based on the company’s OKRs, teams develop their own OKRs.

  • Communicate Team Q1 OKRs Based on the company’s OKRs, teams develop their own OKRs and share them at their meetings.

  • Share Employee Q1 OKRs One week after team OKRs are communicated, contributors share their own OKRs. This may require negotiation between contributors and their managers, typically in one-on-one settings.

  • Employees Track Progress and Check-in Throughout the quarter, employees measure and share their progress, checking in regularly with their managers. Periodically through the quarter, contributors assess how likely they are to fully achieve their OKRs. If attainment appears unlikely, they may need to recalibrate.

  • Employees Reflect and Score Q1 OKRs Toward the end of the quarter, contributors score their OKRs, perform a self-assessment, and reflect on what they have accomplished.

  • Goal Planning and Reflection To help facilitate this conversation, a manager might ask a contributor the following:
    • What OKRs do you plan to focus on to drive the greatest value for your role, your team, and/or the company?
    • Which of these OKRs aligns to key initiatives in the organization?
  • Progress Updates To get the contributor talking, a manager might pose these questions:
    • How are your OKRs coming along? What critical capabilities do you need to be successful?
    • Is there anything stopping you from attaining your objectives?
    • What OKRs need to be adjusted—or added, or eliminated—in light of shifting priorities?
  • Manager-led Coaching To prepare for this conversation, the manager should consider the following questions:
    • What behaviors or values do I want my report to continue to exhibit?
    • What behaviors or values do I want the report to start or stop exhibiting?
    • What coaching can I provide to help the report fully realize his or her potential?
    • During the conversation, the leader might ask: What part of your job most excites you? What (if any) aspect of your role would you like to change?
  • Upward Feedback To elicit candid input from a contributor, the manager might ask: What are you getting from me that you find helpful? What are you getting from me that impedes your ability to be effective? What could I do for you that would help you to be more successful?

  • Career Growth To tease out a contributor’s career aspirations, a manager might ask:
    • What skills or capabilities would you like to develop to improve in your current role?
    • In what areas do you want to grow to achieve your career goals?
    • What skills or capabilities would you like to develop for a future role?
    • From a learning, growth, and development standpoint, how can I and the company help you get there?
  • Prepping for Performance Conversations Before launching a performance conversation with a contributor, some prep work is in order. Specifically, leaders should consider the following:
    • What were the contributor’s main objectives and responsibilities in the period in question?
    • How has the contributor performed? If the contributor is underperforming, how should he or she course-correct?
    • If the contributor is performing well or exceeding expectations, what can I do to sustain a high level of performance without burnout? - When is the contributor most engaged? When is the contributor least engaged?
    • What strengths does the contributor bring to the work? What types of learning experience might benefit this contributor?
    • Over the next six months, what should the contributor’s focus be? Meeting expectations in his or her current role? Maximizing contributions in the current role? Or preparing for the next opportunity—be it a new project, expanded responsibility, or new role?
  • Contributors, too, should prepare for performance conversations. Specifically, they can ask themselves: Am I on track to meet my objectives? Have I identified areas of opportunity? Do I understand how my work connects to broader milestones? What feedback can I give my manager?

  • Four Superpowers of OKRs
    • Focus and Commit to Priorities
    • Align and Connect for Teamwork
    • Track for Accountability
    • Stretch for Amazing Continuous Performance
  • Focus and Commit to Priorities Set the appropriate cadence for your OKR cycle. I recommend dual tracking, with quarterly OKRs (for shorter-term goals) and annual OKRs (keyed to longer-term strategies) deployed in parallel. To work out implementation kinks and strengthen leaders’ commitment, phase in your rollout of OKRs with upper management first. Allow the process to gain momentum before enlisting individual contributors to join in. Designate an OKR shepherd to make sure that every individual devotes the time each cycle to choosing what matters most. Commit to three to five top objectives—what you need to achieve—per cycle. Too many OKRs dilute and scatter people’s efforts. Expand your effective capacity by deciding what not to do, and discard, defer, or deemphasize accordingly. In choosing OKRs, look for objectives with the most leverage for outstanding performance. Find the raw material for top-line OKRs in the organization’s mission statement, strategic plan, or a broad theme chosen by leadership. To emphasize a departmental objective and enlist lateral support, elevate it to a company OKR. For each objective, settle on no more than five measurable, unambiguous, time-bound key results—how the objective will be attained. By definition, completion of all key results equates to the attainment of the objective. For balance and quality control, pair qualitative and quantitative key results. When a key result requires extra attention, elevate it into an objective for one or more cycles. The single most important element for OKR success is conviction and buy-in by the organization’s leaders.

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