When John Doerr introduced the goal and performance management method Objectives and Key Results (OKR) to Google in 1999, the company was less than a year old and employed 40 people. And Google still uses OKRs today with around 70,000 employees. This shows the sustainability of this management philosophy on the way of the small organization to the admired pioneer of digitization.

Meanwhile, start-ups as well as medium-sized and large companies such as LinkedIn, Zalando and Spotify are working successfully with OKRs. An insight into Google’s OKR philosophy shows what is crucial when using this method of target management. 

Visual of Google OKR philosophy

How are OKRs defined at Google?

John Doerr's OKR concept is based on setting goals on a quarterly and yearly basis. A maximum of 5 objectives are assigned to 4 key results per quarter. The key results should above all be measurable and serve to achieve the qualitative goal. E.g. For the presentation on the introduction of OKRs at Google, John Doerr set himself the goal of developing a workable model. The punctual completion of the presentation, a sample set of OKRs and the approval of the management for the establishment of an OKR process system for 3 months were measurable key results. These Key Results should serve to achieve his objective. Rick Klau, partner at Google Ventures, gives insights into the introduction of OKRs at Google in a video that is well worth seeing and talks about how goal management can be used efficiently.


Intrinsic motivation

An important part of Google's OKR philosophy are inspiring and ambitious goals. These are intended to drive employees and can also cause a certain level of discomfort. As with stretch goals, it is not about achieving the goals 100%, but rather developing independent teams with commitment to the goal and the ability to self-motivate. If OKRs are consistently 100% achieved, the goals have not been ambitious enough. Therefore, a target achievement rate of 80% is already considered excellent by Google.

Focus through Objectives and Key Results

Compared to traditional goal management methods such as MBO, OKRs are set in shorter cycles. These extend over 2 to 4 months and are structured by measurable key results. On the one hand, the method helps to work out main goals and to check the usefulness of one's own activities in achieving the goals. On the other hand, it should be possible to consistently pursue your own and team goals in the context of corporate goals. Especially goals that can be measured by quantifiable key results converge with Google’s data-driven attribution and are a reason for the company's success.

Transparency

As one of Google's core values, transparency is also part of the foundation on which OKRs are built on. Therefore, every OKR can be viewed publicly by every employee. In this way, the contribution of the individual to the company's success can be consistently traced. The aim is not to denounce failure in the OKRs, but rather to make strategic issues of the company visible at all levels of the organization.

Voting like Google

In order to be able to participate in the company's success, both individually and in the organization, OKRs are defined on a personal, team and company level. At Google, each OKR is first set by the CEO and then synchronized downwards. For this purpose, teams develop around 60% of the goals bottom-up. These objectives are then compared to the company's goals. In addition to the vertical alignment, synergies and conflicts at the interfaces of the teams can be identified through coordinated and transparent work.

Despite Google’s clear philosophy behind the OKRs, there are no fixed procedures and practices when implementing the goal management process. For example, various OKR tools such as Google Sites, Wikis and Google Spreadsheet are used across departments at all company levels. The exact time horizon or the exact number of objectives and key results should also be considered in the respective company context.

Exchange ideas on similar success stories with the thought leaders of the OKR community at the next quarterly event. Exciting lectures, workshops and many networking opportunities with like-minded people await you.

Summary

OKRs are used to implement strategic topics in the organization. They consist of ambitious objectives that should be achieved through measurable key results. The concept of OKRs is deeply rooted in the strategic organization of Google and is based on its corporate values such as transparency and a culture of efficient self-organization.