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[YS Learn] John Doerr, Google and Amazon’s early backer, shares secrets of setting and achieving audacious goals

In his book ‘Measure What Matters’, Silicon Valley investor and venture capitalist John Doerr, talks about ‘Objectives and Key Results’ (OKRs) and how they can help set and match audacious goals.

[YS Learn] John Doerr, Google and Amazon’s early backer, shares secrets of setting and achieving audacious goals

Wednesday August 05, 2020 , 5 min Read

Larry Page, Google Co-founder in the foreword of the book by John Doerr ‘Measure What Matters’ says, “As much as I hate process, good ideas with great execution are how you make magic. And that is where OKRs come in”. 

“Ideas are easy. Execution is everything” is a mantra John Doerr has been following for decades now. Doerr has been an early investor and venture capitalist in organisations like Google and Amazon. He is the one who gave the “gift” of OKRs to Google that helped the search engine giant to scale to large proportions. 

YS Learn: Measure what matters

(L-R) Sergey Brin, John Doerr, and Larry Page. Doerr is the author of the book 'Measure What Matters'.

A rather common exercise, OKRs were first developed by Andy Grove in Intel and are believed to have led to the company’s phenomenal growth and success. However, what are OKRs? It is a simple process that helps drive organisations forward. 

OKRs are a management methodology that helps you ensure that the company focusses efforts on the same important issues throughout the organisation. But why are OKRs so important and why did Doerr feel the need to write a 300-odd word book on it? 

Simply put, OKRs are a collaborative goal-setting protocol for companies, teams, and individuals. In his book, Doerr emphasises, “Now OKRs are not a silver bullet. They cannot substitute for sound judgement, strong leadership, or a creative workplace culture. But if those fundamentals are in place, OKRs can guide you to the mountaintop.” 

And why that is important is because productivity is enhanced by well-defined challenging goals. The need for these challenging and well-defined goals is there now more than ever. More highly-engaged work groups generate more profit and less attrition. As per a report by the management consultancy firm Deloitte, issues of retention and engagement have taken second place in the minds of leaders after they faced the challenge of building global leadership. 

How do you build engagement? The consultancy firm’s report said that the single defining and impactful factor is, “Clearly defined goals that are written down and shared freely… goals create alignment, clarity, and job satisfaction. This is where OKRs help”. 

In his book, Doerr defines the four OKR superpowers - focus, align, track, and stretch.


Superpower #1 - Focus and commit to priorities 

Doerr says high-performance organisations home in on work that’s important and are equally clear on what doesn’t matter. OKRs impel leaders to make hard choices. They’re a communication tool for departments, teams, and individual contributors. By dispelling confusion, OKRs give us the focus needed to win. 

The focus here is on ruthless prioritisation, and less is more. A few but well-chosen objectives give a crystal clear message on what we say ‘yes’ or what we say ‘no’ to. Most OKRs thus need to be limited to three to five per cycle. This brings super sharp focus on the whole organisation to choose what genuinely matters. 

This is basic objective setting which is simply what is to be achieved - no more and no less. Objectives, by definition, are significant, concrete, action-oriented, and inspirational. Now these need to be tied to key results. These are the benchmarks and monitor how you get to the objectives. These are specific, time-bound, aggressive, and realistic. And most importantly, they are measurable and verifiable. 

Superpower #2 - Align and connect for teamwork 

Once you decide on the three to five objectives, make the OKRs transparent and everyone’s goals - right from the CEO down to the intern. As Doerr puts it - individuals link their objectives to the company’s game plan, identify cross-dependencies, and coordinate with the teams.

When you connect each individual contributor to the success of the organisation, you bring in meaning to work. By deepening people’s sense of ownership bottom-up, OKRs focus on building innovation and engagement. When the frontline employees see how their work aligns with the company’s overall goals, they not only thrive but also find meaning and purpose. 

Superpower #3 - Track accountability 

Accountability is what ensures that the big audacious goal you set is achieved. Every organisation’s OKRs are driven by data. Doerr adds that they are animated by periodic check-ins, continuous reassessment, and objective gadding. All of it done in a spirit of no-judgement accountability. By being accountable, you can track how far ahead you are in achieving your goals, revising, improving, or even possibly replacing them. 

Superpower #4 - Stretch for amazing results

While writing down the goals and building objectives can be a power exercise in itself, adding the data and OKRs to it is what motivates people to excel by doing more than they thought was possible. The OKRs test an individual and an organisation’s limits and give one the freedom to fail. They release our most creative, ambitious selves. 

But as Doerr puts it - goal setting isn’t bullet-proof.  

“When people have conflicting priorities or unclear, meaningless, or arbitrary shifting of goals, they become frustrated, cynical, and demotivated. An effective goal management system - an OKR system - links goals to a team’s broader mission. It respects targets and deadlines while adapting to circumstances. It promotes feedback and celebrates wins, large and small. Most important, it expands our limits. It moves us to strive for what might seem beyond our reach.” 

Edited by Javed Gaihlot