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The Ultimate Guide To Objectives and Key Results – OKRs

16. OKR Case Studies and Success Stories

OKR Case Studies

 

OKR Google

The most referenced OKR Success story is Google as they’ve used OKR from having a few employees. Today, Google sets annual and quarterly OKRs and has company-wide meetings quarterly to share and grade OKRs.

OKRs & Google Chrome

The Chrome team at Google had what was at the time thought of as an ambitious OKR:

Objective: Develop the next-generation client platform for web applications

  • Key Result: 20 million seven-day active users

They ended up needing many Quarters to achieve this OKR so it would have rolled over many times. As far as the number of To-dos that would have been created, we will never know but if we were to suggest thousands, it is believable.

Just incase you’re wondering how far that ambitious and single-minded OKR got them. Chrome now has nearly 70% of the browser market. 

Google is obviously not alone in being totally committed to OKR to deliver their strategy and achieve growth. Facebook, Salesforce, Spotify, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Airbnb and pretty much all fast growing tech and agile working companies are using OKR.

LinkedIn OKR Case Study

The Management Framework that Propelled LinkedIn to a $20 Billion Company

 

Before Jeff Weiner took the top spot at LinkedIn, he asked founder and then-CEO Reid Hoffman three questions:

  1. “How do you want to handle decision-making?
  2. What decisions would you like to make?
  3. What decisions should I be making?”

Hoffman responded: “That’s easy. It’s your ball, you run with it.” A simple exchange, perhaps, but it kicked off one of the most successful CEO transitions in Silicon Valley history. Hoffman knew that to make it work, a company needs to give its leader clear and singular decision-making power over the day-to-day, and he was right.

Weiner led LinkedIn through a blockbuster IPO to a current market capitalization of over $20 billion. After the IPO, he’s come out the other side with several incredible management lessons. 

Wind in the Sails

Most startups begin with a kernel of an idea and a lot of passion. This one idea is what the founding team knows and loves. It’s what keeps them working all day and up at night. But if this small early team doesn’t lay the right foundation — a combination of the right tools, people and protocols — their idea won’t scale, and they won’t be able to deliver on their vision.

It happens all the time. “I refer to it as the ‘wind in the sails’ dynamic… companies that break through and build something that no one else has ever created,” Weiner says. This is just like being on a sailboat under perfect conditions. The wind is blowing exactly the right way. Everything is easy. “When that’s happening, your hull construction, the skill, the strength and endurance of your crew, and the captain’s ability doesn’t matter as much. Everyone on the boat is celebrating how fast the boat is moving, and you can’t see anyone in the rear view. There’s no one else there.”

But perfect sailing conditions can’t last forever. “The wind is going to shift, and other boats are going to appear,” Weiner says. Meanwhile, if no thought was put towards improving the boat or recruiting the best crew, these competitors are going to catch up. “By the time they’re close enough to pass you, it’s too late. That’s why you’ve got to lay a strong foundation in the early days. You’ve got to get the infrastructure, the processes, and the people right.”

Vision is the dream. A company’s true north. It’s what inspires everyone day in and day out. It’s what you constantly need to be aspiring to.

 

‘Mission’ & ‘Vision’ Are More Than Just Words on Posters

Weiner believes getting your “boat” to the best possible destination requires a clearly-articulated vision and mission. These statements ultimately inform and invigorate a company’s strategy and objectives. Perhaps most importantly, leaders need to talk the talk and walk the walk on their professed values to keep the entire company unified and moving in the right direction.

That’s all nice to say — but how does a CEO enact these ideals? Too often, company values are relegated to posters on walls or preachy all-hands meetings. But Weiner believes a good leader can bring them to life — through coaching, a strategy designed to achieve the mission as it is outlined, clear objectives and measured, communicated results.

Many people working in tech use the terms ‘mission’ and ‘vision’ interchangeably, and usually fail to implement them beyond lip service from executives. Weiner is convinced that clearly defining both, and living by them every day is a key defining aspect of building a successful technology company.

“Vision is the dream,” says Weiner. “A company’s true north. It’s what inspires everyone day in and day out. It’s what you constantly need to be aspiring to.” He defines LinkedIn’s vision as “Creating economic opportunity for every professional,” where ‘professional’ refers to every single one of the over 3.3 billion people in the global workforce.

The mission, on the other hand, defines how the company strives to fulfill that vision. For LinkedIn, that means “connecting the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful.” Here the term ‘professional’ is all about the company’s immediate audience of more than 600 million knowledge workers in its network, and the opportunity to change their lives.

Visions aren’t immediately achievable. They’re pie in the sky ideals that may take generations, many partnerships, and many people to achieve — and even then, perhaps only in part. Missions, however, can be defined in terms of concrete objectives, and a company can be measured by how well it achieves them, Weiner says. Most companies, even startups, will only have one or the other. But a vision without reference to what the company actually does is unmoored from reality, and may not serve its purpose to inspire and organize employees.

Weiner uses Google as a prime example of a company with a mission that includes the hallmarks of an effective vision statement: it wasn’t “to be a faster search engine that also offered marginally better first-page results.” It was “To organize the world’s information to make it universally accessible and useful.” The search engine and the company’s other products aspire to fulfill that mission. It’s how Google built a team of missionaries and not mercenaries. It’s how you can get the best people and inspire them to be great, Weiner says.

Putting Words into Action

Once the company has defined its core values, it’s up to leadership to plan the strategy to fulfill them. “Strategy is navigating the competitive landscape to achieve your objectives,” Weiner says, likening it to planning out your next moves in a chess game. You have to anticipate your opponents’ next moves, then decide how to deploy your assets to outplay them.

This umbrella strategy can then be broken into objectives, and great leaders make it clear how everyone in the organization can work together to achieve goals set for each quarter and each year. “As organizations mature, the job of any senior executive is about coaching and strategy,” says Weiner. A strong objective is easily and clearly tied to the company’s overarching mission and vision, culture and values. Weiner says that too often even executive teams treat company values as “Dilbert-like placards throughout the office — something that Scott Adams would make fun of in a comic strip.” But if expressed values become a subject of derision in the break room among employees, then leadership loses credibility and its ability to motivate.

This is why it’s so important to continually communicate values — long past the point where it gets boring for execs, Weiner says. “You have to repeat the vision. You have to repeat the mission. You have to repeat the strategies, objectives, your priorities, and take the time to define who you are and who you want to be culturally.” Only through constant repetition do people start to internalize and understand. And at a rapidly growing company, you’re always inspiring the new faithful, the future torch carriers.

How LinkedIn Use OKRs

LinkedIn manages its teams using a task-tracking system called ‘Objectives and Key Results,’ abbreviated as “OKRs.” First developed by Andy Grove at Intel, the strategy was popularized by John Doerr from Kleiner Perkins. Today, this shorthand is all over Silicon Valley. But it’s easy to dismiss a corporate-sounding acronym as just another leadership trick for distilling people’s work. Nothing about OKRs sounds inspiring. It’s how LinkedIn used them that helped employees connect more to the company’s collective mission.

In Grove’s famous manual “High Output Management,” he introduces OKRs by answering two simple questions: (1) Where do I want to go? (2) How will I know I’m getting there? In essence, what are my objectives, and what key results do I need to keep tabs on to make sure I’m making progress? When you think about it, these questions are very personal, speaking to the core of how people spend their days. It makes sense that everyone within an organization should have their own OKRs every quarter. The important thing is tying these individual OKRs to team OKRs and, ultimately, organizational OKRs. This alignment packs power and efficiency.

Understanding the personal nature and motivating potential of OKRs, Weiner defines them more broadly. They should be about “something you want to accomplish over a specific period of time that leans toward a stretch goal rather than a stated plan. It’s something where you want to create greater urgency, greater mindshare.” For all these reasons, OKRs should become more important the more senior an employee becomes. When you’re in a leadership position, “You are sending the signal to the rest of the organization that ‘this matters,’” Weiner says.

OKRs should definitely not be is easily achievable. Low expectations may seem to yield glowing results, but they eventually stall people, teams and companies in the long run. OKRs shouldn’t be too malleable either. They’re supposed to be quarterly beacons, not shifting from week to week. Along these lines, Weiner prefers that his team members set three to five OKRs for themselves in any given quarter. Anything more than that has the potential to distract from what really needs to get done.

How to Run Effective Executive Meetings

Weiner’s team of executives meets once a week for three hours and every six weeks for a full day. And twice per year for an offsite spanning multiple days. Each tier of meeting takes on a different purpose and scope, with the goal of guiding the company on micro and macro levels.

The weekly meeting is all about general tactical updates, how everyone’s doing on their OKRs, any big changes to plan, etc. It’s definitely not a rehash on everyone’s laundry list of activities. Instead, it’s meant to provide a high level view of what everyone is doing and to ensure that they’re all operating against the same goals and principles. On top of this, Weiner blocks out an hour on both Monday and Friday for strategic deep dives if needed. By separating out tactics from strategy, he makes sure the team stays focused and on track without constantly switching between long-term and short-term contexts.

Weiner also kicks off these weekly staff meetings a bit unconventionally with “wins.” Before delving into health metrics or the business at hand, he goes around the room and asks each of his direct reports to share one personal victory and one professional achievement from the previous week. This ritual infuses these meetings with positive energy from the start. Otherwise, Weiner notes, they have a tendency to devolve into a round robin of complaints.

He’s also discovered that making these meetings as impactful as possible is just as about what he does outside of the conference room. Namely, not having too many meetings, and definitely not back-to-back if he can help it. Weiner says he’s found tremendous value in keeping a two-hour buffer that allows him to connect with his team one-on-one and collect his own thoughts. “As a leader, your key roles are coaching and strategy, and you can’t do either of those well without the appropriate time to process what’s going on around you.

In addition to creating time to think proactively, Weiner believes that success for a manager comes from being ‘compassionate’ rather than ‘empathetic.’ Empathy refers to experiencing what another person does as if you were that person. Compassion is understanding what the other person is experiencing, and maintaining enough objective space where you can act accordingly.

Weiner draws on the example of a bystander observing a man being crushed by a boulder. An empathetic person will feel the same suffocation and be unable to help. But the compassionate observer can understand victim’s pain while also taking action. The skilled leader’s task is to understand things from another person’s perspective, and use that strength to improve the situation.

Adding It All Up

Incredible IPOs don’t come out of nowhere. Despite all the talk around the Valley and in the media about meaningless valuations and the crazy market, it takes great skill to make it to a public offering at all, much less one that people will remember. The day LinkedIn went public, it made instant headlines after beating analyst and public expectations. People still talk about it.

When asked how he made this possible, especially for a less flashy company – one that profits more from beating a reliable drum of utility over flash — Weiner lays out the advice he shared above. Values. Compassion. Leadership around unified goals. The issue is that most companies dismiss these concepts so easily as somehow stale or separate from the work they need to get done day to day to get to that next, coveted level. This is the error, Weiner says — being so thrilled with your full sails that you don’t see that IPO out on the horizon. You fail to take care of your boat, and you’ll sink before you get there.

[First published on FirstRound.com]

Microsoft OKR Case study

Microsoft are another of the high profile enterprise companies using OKRs to drive growth and advantage. In a post on Medium, Microsoft Program Manager, Sandeep Chadda shared his experience of OKRs at Microsoft. His 6 learnings were:
 
  • OKRs Drive clarity : “OKRs helped us in Microsoft to ensure that any one in the organization can get up to speed on what is the top priority of the leadership. This helped drive clarity with all the employees and helped teams or individuals to align with the overall organization objectives.”
 
  • OKRs provide a common language: “OKRs helped the whole organization to speak the same language as far the goals of the organization, product, or team goes. Anyone in the organization could read the OKRs of any other product or team and understand the kind of problems one is going after. “
 
  • OKRs provide purpose: “OKRs helped us find where are those hard problems that would keep us super excited and charged up to come to work each day.”
 
  • OKRs are boundaryless: “With clearly defined Objectives and Key results, the organization or team boundaries start to collapse since all teams are together motivated to achieve the common objective. This helps manage the team dependencies within and across teams since failure of one KR with one team can lead to the overall objective not getting accomplished.”
 
  • OKR force prioritization: OKRs bring some discipline and clarity around prioritization as well since the product team now continues to drive on a common product objective.
 
  • OKRs support a growth mindset: “It is obvious that not all KRs are met and not all objectives are accomplished. Everytime we missed our KRs, the discussion was always around what we learnt and what others can learn from us. Were the KRs aggressive, was the planning not right, did we miss dependencies, some hypothesis were wrong, did an experiment not validate the hypothesis: At the end the intent is to ensure that all teams learn from one person’s mistake. With this mindset we got into celebrating misses and failures to ensure the org stays in a learning zone. As I always say, at Microsoft mistakes are expected, inspected, respected and corrected. “
 

Sears OKR Case study

It can be used for all sectors, including retail, publishing, financial services, and professional services. Sears is another success story. Sears use OKRs for their 20,000 plus employees with attributable and positive impacts on sales and individual performance being experienced. 
 
 

More OKR Success Stories

ZOKRI has helped over 4,000 companies, across a huge variety of sectors, discover OKR to set goals. This scale and variety has helped ZOKRI create the leading platform for OKR and performance management.

At Atlas Cloud we were looking for a platform to implement OKRs in order to provide clarity to our employees on the strategic direction of the business and how they could contribute or influence this. We wanted to inform and also empower our people to work on initiatives that would help Atlas Cloud to achieve strategic objectives, as well as promoting personal development.

Since implementing ZOKRI we have started to see the expected benefits, but also many more that we did not anticipate. ZOKRI facilitates important conversations that people weren’t necessarily having before, removing roadblocks to progress, providing clarity of prioritisation and improving collaboration across our business. This is even more critical for us given the move to remote working during the Covid pandemic, which had limited the ways that people traditionally interacted with each other.

The Wellbeing function has given us unprecedented insight into how our people are feeling, whether is it business related or driven by outside factors such as the continuing lockdown, and our people have really bought into this. This has allowed us to take action to address and reduce or eliminate problems at an individual and organisation wide level where appropriate.

The implementation of the platform itself was very smooth, and the ongoing support provided by ZOKRI has been excellent, including the Knowledge Base and quick response to support requests.”

Michael Conn, CFO, Atlascloud

 

“No book could replicate our path to success…the system brought us clarity, the coaching brought us consistency.

ZOKRI is intuitive, user-friendly, and flexible. Combined with OKR coaching, it has evolved our business in a very short time. We are clear on what we need to action, its impact, and how we can be each other’s support network. Now we are set to capture the market.

The OKR software, insights and on-call support has made an impact in less than 6 weeks.”

Mel Tsiaprazis, COO, Nivaura

 

“ZOKRI is much more than an OKR tracking tool to us. We view the platform as an engine for business transformation. It is really easy to use and enables teams to plan, set goals and then execute effectively.

ZOKRI helps business that are serious about implementing OKRs to create workflows that enable teams to share the right information with the right people at the right time.”

Peter Kerr, Auxin OKR

 

“The process of setting up OKRs for the business and getting buy-in from stake holders can feel quite overwhelming. Although we have read so much about its success with other organisations, we weren’t sure where to start, as you’re required to switch between thinking about the big picture stuff one minute, granular detail the next and how everything fits in between!

It is easy to sign up to a software and give it a good go. It is likely to fumble in the dark for a while though until you get it right. Having very little time to implement ours, we opted to get ZOKRI and the coaching instead and looking back, we are so pleased we did.

The training took us through the process strategically, helping us create our company OKRs and walking us through the steps we need to create clear objectives linked to even clearer key results.

Once we’ve understood the concept of OKRs and how we would like to apply them to our business, ZOKRI helped us navigate through the OKR software, although it is an extremely user friendly software. The software logically sets out the various levels of our OKRs and translates them along with their progress and who they are assigned to into snappy visuals for everyone within the organisation to monitor.

In addition to this, the software has added features such as capturing team engagement, organising meetings and check-ins, tracking team and individual KPIs and maintaining team personal development plans.

Long gone are the days of time wasted on trying to find out what is happening around the business, or looking for meeting notes saved in the least likely folder.”

Chirine Harb, Head of Operations, Capital