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When Andy Grove joined Intel and transformed it using his management method known as OKRs (Objectives and Key Results), little did he know that one of his seminar students over the years, John Doerr, would revolutionize the way companies like Apple and Google run.
In his book Measure What Matters, John Doerr defines OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) as "a collaborative goal-setting methodology used by teams and individuals to set challenging, ambitious goals with measurable results."
Since Doerr's book was published, setting OKRs has become a people management phenomenon in Silicon Valley and around the world. Companies like LinkedIn, Spotify, Adobe, Viacom, and Netflix use OKR goal-setting frameworks to orient employees with business goals and measure success.
To help achieve your OKRs, Doerr recommends adopting the delivery system of “CFRs,” which are short for Conversations, Feedback, and Recognition. CFRs offer a more descriptive picture of OKRs. They push a team to think beyond the question, “Was the goal achieved or not?”
Contrary to the traditional (and often dreaded) annual performance review, OKRs and CFRs together speed up and simplify the review process, resulting in a much bigger impact.
Step 1: Have meaningful conversations
Most companies expect employees to schedule regular one-on-ones with their managers to discuss their OKRs. However, John Doerr suggests that the employee must set the agenda and the proceedings of the meeting themselves. What this does is that it keeps the supervisor in the loop and they can coach, guide, and support team members in setting goals and achieving results. This way, the conversation zeroes in on future improvements and measurable outcomes, rather than being critical.
Whether you choose to have your one-on-ones every week, month, or quarter, make sure to discuss things in detail apart from daily tasks. A useful guideline for this is BetterWorks' experience with several enterprises, where 5 key areas emerged for conversations:
1. Goal setting and reflection: In this scenario, your OKR plan is set for the coming cycle and the discussion can be around how best to align individual OKRs with company priorities.
2. Ongoing progress updates: Short, data-driven check-ins can help an individual's real-time progress, with damage control or putting out fires as needed.
3. Two-way coaching: This kind of conversation can help contributors reach their potential while also allowing managers to grow into better coaches and mentors.
4. Career growth: Spend quality time talking about upskilling, identifying growth opportunities, and developing the individual’s vision of their future at the company.
5. Lightweight performance reviews: These pocket-sized feedback loops help gather inputs and summarize what a person has achieved since the last meeting, in the context of the business's needs.
Step 2: Get and give feedback
What is the shortest word in the English language that contains the letters: a, b, c, d, e, and f? You guessed it - it’s feedback!
Effective feedback can improve performance. But it has to be specific and built into the performance management process.
Feedback cultures are best when they are multidirectional, impromptu, and real-time. It should be an open discussion between people anywhere within the company.
Healthy, constructive feedback also enhances connections. It gets rid of silos in the organization and boosts teamwork. That being said, one has to be mindful and constructive when giving negative feedback. Think about how you would provide feedback and see if your organization is open to using OKR tools that let you give anonymous feedback. Some of these tools also have regular pulse surveys that offer real-time feedback.
Step 3: Give recognition when and where it's due
Dale Carnegie said, “People work for money but go the extra mile for recognition, praise and rewards.” That's how powerful recognition can be. You can actually have employees performing at the top of their game just because you are recognizing, praising and rewarding them for their work.
These days, recognition is multi-directional and key to improving employee engagement. In John Doerr's book, he has outlined guidelines for recognition:
1. Encourage peer-to-peer recognition. In order to build a culture of gratitude, employee achievements should be regularly recognized by their coworkers.
2. There must be clear criteria for providing recognition. Celebrate results when people complete projects, reach company goals and exemplify company values.
3. Share recognition stories. Highlight employee achievements via the company newsletter, blog, and/or messaging channels.
4. Build a culture of frequent recognition by making them easily attainable. Even if it's a small effort, it helps to be recognized. For instance, a little extra effort to meet a deadline, small but important details on a presentation - these are the little things a manager might take for granted.
5. Company goals, strategies, and recognition should be aligned. Whether it's cost-cutting or teamwork—any business strategy or goal can be supported by a timely shout-out.
Peer-to-peer recognition should become an inbuilt feature of the OKR system. They serve as energy boosters for achieving goals while also highlighting areas for improvement.
Questions to ask during CFRs
Before your next 1:1, take the time out to prepare questions that might help you make the most of the meeting. Some examples include:
- What are some roadblocks that are stopping you from reaching your goals?
- Are there any critical resources that you need to hit your targets?
- Is the OKR coming along as planned?
- Based on shifting priorities, what OKR aspects need adjusting?
- Are there any concerns about the strategic goals of the company?
Questions to ask after an OKR cycle
Agile teams typically use the OKR Retrospective to create a list of concrete actions for improvement based on the last completed OKR cycle. Here are some questions to ask at this stage:
- Did the objectives we set align with the team's intent and direction for the quarter?
- If the goal was accomplished, what factors contributed to its success?
- In case we didn't reach our goal, what obstacles stopped us?
- Was the bar set too high or too low, and did we measure our results accurately?
- Did we organize ourselves effectively to achieve results week-on-week?
- Were we to rewrite the goal, what would we change?
- How are we going to use our learnings to change our approach for the next cycle’s OKRs?
Check out our blog that answers the most frequently asked questions about writing and using OKRs.