Tue, Jan 20, 2015
A lot has been said about OKRs (Objectives & Key Results) — the fabled management system used by Intel and later Google which promises keeping your organization not only on track as it grows but to get everyone aligned and producing Google-esque (or Intel-esque) results. You can read up on OKRs here, here, here and here. Recently I found myself in numerous discussions with young founders who were implementing the system — and having worked at the horse’s mouth (Google), I experienced OKRs first hand.
OKRs are a fairly simple and robust tool and you should be using them. There is just one massive flaw in the system — the idea that you consistently aim to reach your goals at a 70% rate (as opposed to reaching 100% — which is what most other systems aim to do). The idea is that you and your team “stretch yourself” and that if you simply go for 100% that wouldn’t happen.
There is an argument to be made that if you can only win if you aim high. And that if you aim high you change your thinking and the discussion (instead of talking about the status quo you might ask question on how to do things radically different).
But there is a flaw. And that flaw is human psychology: First of all — it feels shitty to consistently only reach 70% of your goals (even if the company is okay with it). Basic human needs and feelings. Secondly (and this might be even more important): If you tell people that you are aiming for 70% as the norm — everybody will make 70% the new 100%. Humans are just not dumb enough to not do that. Which somewhat makes the whole point moot.
Again — not saying that OKRs aren’t good and useful. Just be careful when implementing them to not forget that you’re dealing with human beings. And motivation for humans to stretch themselves and do extraordinary work is more than just a percentage number on a sheet or a fancy system you implement.
Leadership is always personal; never a system.