Let’s start with a little bit of history. In 1990’s John Doerr, one of the early investors in Google and a current member of Board of Directors meets Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel. When Doerr joined the company, it was during the transition from a memory company to a microprocessor one. This situation made Grove search for a solution, enabling his employees to focus on their priorities. This is why, with the help of Doerr, Intel introduces OKRs - the strategy of setting Objectives and defining the Key Results.
In early 2000, Doerr introduces OKRs to Google, tests them for a few quarters and finally modifies the formula. Results? Today OKRs are used by thousands of organisations in the Silicon Valley.
Personally, I’ve decided to introduce OKRs system in our recruiting teamwork at BeeTalents about a quarter ago. Today, as three months passed, I’d like to share with you my insights on how OKRs influenced the quality of our work.
But let’s start from the very beginning.
Objectives and Key Results
OKR is an abbreviation for Objectives and Key Results. What do they mean in practice?
The objective is basically nothing but an aim. What’s important, objectives are always qualitative and broad. To make things clearer, let’s set an exemplary objective:
Objective 1. We want to earn a lot of money.
Is the objective true? Yes, it is. But at the same time, it’s also non-specified and absolutely immeasurable. So what shall we do to measure our efforts? To do so, we need to define the Key Results.
Unlike objectives, Key Results are specified, quantitative and measurable. They describe the particular activities/ milestones needed to reach the set objective. So now, let’s define the exemplary KRs for Objective 1:
Objective 1. We want to earn a lot of money.
KR 1. Earn XXX $ in MMM months.
KR 2. Hire YYY employees in MMM months.
KR 3. Close ZZZ projects in MMM months.
Brilliant! First OKR set! But, wait a minute… How exactly should one measure the results?
Measuring OKRs’ effects
For calculating the effects of OKRs, Google uses the 0 -1 scale. I know what you’re probably thinking now. Failed to meet the goal? - It’s 0. Goal met? It means 1 on the scale, huh?.
Well, in case of OKRs, nothing could be more wrong.
First of all, you never set your Objective as the goal that you really aim for. Instead, you set it higher than that, which means your Objectives are always a little bit uncomfortable and (over)ambitious.
So now, how to estimate your success?
OKRs purpose is just a frank feedback - this is why, while evaluating, you rate yourself. Thanks to that your final result is less likely to be fake or fetched. There’s no need to in pretending, if the only person to judge you is … well, you.
The “sweet spot” of OKR scale is 60%-70%. So, if you’ve reached 0,6 on the scale from 0 - 1, it means you clearly met your goal. If your result is lower, it means you didn’t manage to meet your goals properly. Finally, if your result is >1, your objectives were probably quite preservative, and you should aim higher next time.
Setting your objectives higher than you really aim is not to make you feel guilty because you did not reach your 1 on the scale. It’s to keep you still motivated while you exceed your real-life goals.
You want to hire 10 people in 6 months. After a quarter you realise, you just hired the sixth one.
What happens if 6 people is your “100% goal”?
You probably stop searching for new employees.
But what happens, if 6 people is your “60% goal”?
You feel you’re doing fine, but still, you can do better. As a result, you hire a few more people during the next 3 months and exploit the 6-month-period to its extent.
Believe me, the difference is pretty huge.
Team goals vs. personal goals
OKRs strategy is suitable for both team and personal goals. So, for better results, it’s good to define both. One thing that you just need to remember about is to coordinate your personal and team goals, so as they do not interfere. To succeed in it, it’s crucial to define the team goals collectively without dividing it to sub-goals for particular team members.
Here comes how it works in practice:
Your 3-person team goal is to recruit 12 people. You assume that makes you responsible for 4 recruitments and set it as your personal goal. During the month one of your colleagues manage to close 5 processes and is almost done with the 6th one.
What are you likely to feel?
So how are you likely to behave?
You would probably try to make the candidate willing to apply for the recruitment that you are responsible for. That drives you closer to your personal objective and doesn’t charm the team objectives, right?
In fact, this is the straight way to chaos and destructive competition.
Instead, your team should rather support each other and be happy for your colleague's great success. It brings you all closer to your collective objective, so what he deserves is a big “thank you”. There’s no point in dividing the team objective to particular team members. A team is a team, and when it works as one, it doesn’t matter who closes the process - the rest probably supported him/her the entire time, so they also have their impact on the final success.
Let’s just admit it gives more sense than a rat-race, which makes your overall goals vanish in the fervor of meeting a personal result.
Setting the balance
OKR strategy lets you choose a few Objectives, each of them with a certain number of Key Results. So, If we choose 5 team goals, each of them with about 3 KRs, that gives you 15 Key Results to meet (and these are only the team ones, so when should you find time for your personal objectives?...).
To avoid KRs overload, I recommend setting no more than 3 objectives, and a reasonable amount of their KRs (in our case, also about 3).
And this is not what I just made up. It’s what we’ve all learned in a process. Speaking of with, let’s move forward to our “what we’ve learned” list.
OKRs in recruiting: key learnings
When trying out the new approach, it’s hard not to make any mistakes. Here is what I feel we improved since the day one of our OKR journey:
Too many objectives. - As I wrote above, too many objectives are just no good. In the very beginning, we started with 7 objectives, each of them with several KRs. Soon we’ve realised this was just too much. We had too many KRs to aim for, not to mentioned that there was no time for personal goals during the workday. That made is care for them at home, which gave us about 10h of work altogether. Not the best way to stay efficient... So we modified the list to make our goals more realistic. We’re still doing progress, but this time, there’s no breakneck pace included.
Not enough transparency. - After a few weeks of realising OKR strategy, I’ve noticed one thing: We were working together and supporting each other in our team objectives, while personal ones were just reserved for ourselves. We estimated how we performed last week and we were not aware of the personal objectives of other team members. So what we’ve missed on the way? Transparency. We decided to change the strategy, and let everyone know what our personal objectives are. Results? Now, it’s easier for each of us to realise not only our team objectives but also personal ones. Whenever we’ve got a spare while, we just support each other and help them reach their personal goals. +10 for effective teamwork, +100 for time-saving. With such approach, each of us has much more time to focus on our team goals. Small change, and a huge win-win result.
Tracking consistency. - As we’ve declared, we were evaluating our work-week OKR results every Friday. Or, let’s say we were supposed to do so. In fact, every now and then we met Monday with no evaluation from the last week. Consistency is something that you just need to learn and internalise, if you want to follow OKR. Does it take too long for you to do the weekly tracking? Just optimise it, share your doubts, find a better way. But leaving the tracking part aside is never a good way. After some time we just got used to our Friday routine. It takes not more than 10 minutes and gives a lot of insights for the entire team.
Do OKRs bring value to the recruiting process?
Since we introduced OKRs, our effectiveness boosted by far. Although first months were not ideal (see the list above), we’ve managed to improve both qualitatively and quantitatively. Here’s where we can see an obvious progress:
Teamwork: At Bee Talents, we always supported each other and worked as a team, but OKRs took it all to the next level. Our work is much more integrated, just like a set of gearwheels, which makes the entire machine work smoothly. Needless to say, we all just feel we improve day by day. And this is sweet as pie.
Effects: As the objectives are higher than the real goals, we keep aiming high and thinking big. And for us, it really works perfectly. During last 3 months, we met the grade of 0,55, so it’s a great result as for the first quarter. How did we do it? We worked with ambition, tracked our progress, shared thoughts. Also, we’ve improved our…
… Transparency. After a few weeks, it just got normal that everyone knows what the current focus of other team members is. When we face some delays, have problems or just need a feedback, we simply talk about it. Paradoxically, it boosts the overall pace and helps us solve our challenges faster than ever.
Self-discipline. OKRs require consistency and self-frankness. This is what we needed to work on (as everyone probably does), but it was worth an effort. Looking back, it just unable not to notice how much we improved in evaluating our work regularly. And this is just the first quarter:)
Implementing OKRs is a great way to make the processes smooth, transparent and highly efficient. Taking up a challenge was the best thing we could do at Bee Talents, and we will surely continue the strategy further. If it brings so many good things to our team in a term of 3 months, we are just excited to think how it may influence our work in a long-run. A half of Silicon Valley can’t be wrong, anyway ;)