Wednesday 19 July 2023

Data-Driven OKR Success 

Power BI and lessons from Google

Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) are appealing to any company wanting to focus their people on achieving meaningful objectives. However, not everyone who sets out to implement OKRs does so effectively. As one of the original OKR success stories, Google abounds with insightful lessons, including that OKRs are driven by data.

What are OKRs?

OKR stands for objectives and key results: the objective being the big, aspirational thing to be achieved, and key results being the measurable steppingstones to get there. 

One of the most famous objectives ever set was by John F Kennedy:

"I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth." 

As big, hairy, audacious goals go, this was right up there. Kennedy made his speech in May 1961, putting NASA behind schedule before they got started. But NASA defined their key results in a specific, measurable, and time bound way. They put data at the heart of every step, analysing every success and failure to provide the understanding they needed to progress. In 1969, with the world watching, Armstrong and Aldrin walked on the moon, before being returned safely to earth. 

Not all objectives are as huge as putting a man on the moon, but using data to measure success and failure, is relevant to any goal.

OKRs at Google

In his book, "Measure What Matters," John Doerr explains the OKR system, and how he introduced it to Google. There was already a data culture at Google, so OKRs made a lot of sense to them. What OKRs added, was a framework to enhance Google’s performance.

Data Isn’t Useful without Communication

Data, analysis, and effective communication lie at the heart of successful OKRs. Merely setting an objective isn’t enough; leaders need reliable data and a robust way to communicate it. Otherwise, there’s no ability to learn from failure, and no motivation to improve. 

And as remote work becomes more prevalent, creating a culture of improvement becomes even more important. Rigorous and intentional data-driven communication becomes essential, as John Doerr points out.

Leveraging Microsoft Power BI

Fortunately, modern data technologies make data management easier. Microsoft Power BI, with its ability to connect to various data sources and powerful visuals, helps leaders monitor and communicate key results efficiently. Its versatility makes it suitable for addressing both simple and complex problems. The fact that Power BI Desktop is freely downloadable empowers leaders with a tool that can kickstart their data journey. While it might not mark the end of their data exploration, it allows proof of concept projects to get everyone started. 

Empowering More Leaders

The success of OKRs at Google demonstrates that data is an integral part of the OKR system. By harnessing the power of data and effective communication, companies can unlock their full potential. Microsoft Power BI offers a robust solution to support this process, as well as being accessible to a broader range of leaders.

Sunday 16 July 2023

Making OKRs Actually Work

As a goal setting methodology, Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) have increased in popularity. Super successful companies like Intel and Google have credited OKRs as being central to their growth. Whilst these companies were certainly in the right place at the right time, there were other companies with similar ideas who did not do so well. Both Intel and Google excelled at using OKRs to focus their staff’s efforts on their most important objectives. Which I guess makes the idea worth a try.

But now that OKRs are relatively well known, why do some companies still struggle to make them work? To quote John Doerr, “Ideas are easy. Execution is everything.”

Just like ideas, the objective is only half the work. Key results, that is the execution half of the OKR, is all about figuring out how to measure progress, and putting effective communication tools in place. It’s arguably the more powerful half of the OKR. 

John Doerr also says that when Andy Grove used OKRs at Intel, he “demanded rigor, commitment, clear thinking, and intentional communication.” Of course, not every manager can be an Andy Grove or Sergey Brin. What John Doerr is telling us is that any manager can follow the OKR recipe to improve results. That recipe is something like:

  • Apply rigor in figuring out what data you need to get the best results.
  • Be committed to use that data to measure, monitor, and analyse what’s happening.
  • Find a way to intentionally communicate. Make the results and analysis highly visible, and allow everyone to have input into why things are going well or going badly.

Clear thinking sounds trickier, but actually improves by following the other steps.

I can think of many companies where managers play lip service to whatever goal-setting framework they are using. They set objectives, then forget about them almost as quickly. “Set and forget” is the very opposite of what OKRs require to actually work in practice. 

Are you using OKRs? Or another goal setting framework? Is your company guilty of “setting and forgetting”? Or are you benefitting from intentional communication?

Saturday 1 July 2023

Do Highly Effective Managers set Goals?

In theory, goal setting is an important part of business management. That’s what the management books say. Indeed, that’s what research says.

In practice, it’s a hit and miss ideal that is too often done by sleep walking through the process. 

Annika, a manager in a large global company told me:

“Yes, we set goals, but they tend to be reactive rather than strategic. There’s no formal reporting, they are just discussed one to one in meetings.” 

Patrick, who has worked in a (different) large global company for many years said:

“Yes, we have goals. But they don’t last long. They get forgotten and new goals are set. No one explains why the goals changed, and no one notices whether the original goal was met or not.”

Sally works in a (very) large public sector organisation, and she told me: 

“Yes, we have annual goals, but they don’t really matter.”

Is this typical? Or are there managers out there using goals in an intelligent and effective way?

In theory there’s no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is. Apart from this being one of my favourite quotes, when it comes to goal setting the gap seems wide and deep. 

So, what’s the reason? Have managers been scarred by trying to set goals that no one will get behind? Have they worked hard to create goals that at best don’t produce the desired results, and at worst actively harm the organisation? Or do goals seem to be easy, but in practice are complicated little beasts?

I suspect there are some good reasons why people find goal setting – and goal achievement – difficult in an organizational setting.

First, let’s just review what research tells us is a “good” goal:

The goal is important. Oddly, people don’t like making an effort for goals that don’t matter. 

The goal is difficult. What is commonly referred to as a stretch goal. However, it also has to be achievable. People don’t go above and beyond for something they don’t believe is possible. 

The goal is measurable. Which implies you have a way to measure it. This isn’t always easy.

In the context of a busy division or department, when people are trying to work smart to get routine work done, you can see how goal setting doesn’t get done. Or if it does, it doesn’t get done well and everyone loses heart. 

Whether you are setting KPIs, or it's modern cousin the OKR, careful thought and work is needed to both create the goal and follow through with a good measurement sysem. 

So, is the reason that managers don’t set goals is that the process is difficult? And risky?

Would managers be more effective if they could set important goals, and follow through with accurate  reporting that allows everyone to see where they are, and what they need to do to be successful?

What do you think? Do you manage a team? Do you regularly set goals for your team? If so, how well does the process work? And how often do you follow through so that everyone can learn from the process?