The Idea

One normal and sunny day at work, I saw Roberto approaching my desk and the first thing that came to my mind was, “OMG, what crazy thing am I gonna listen to now?”

  • Roberto: Do you remember what we’ve talked about people’s objectives? I think that OKRs might work for us just as for other companies.
  • Me: Sounds good. I’ll take a look at them.

At that moment I was not buying the idea and thinking of a bunch of reasons why it wouldn’t work for us. Nevertheless, I decided to give it a try.

I started with Rick Klau’s video, Startup Lab Workshop: How Google Set Goals: OKRs. After listening to it, it sounded like a good and simple idea that might work for us.

Baby Steps

First, I started a pilot by myself.

I defined my OKRs for the quarter right away and “I saw that OKRs were good.” My intention was to later spread the word if they worked for me. I wanted to be able to answer people’s questions, and specially their objections to the process and why it would not work for them.

Based on Rick Klau’s video, I put together a presentation and started giving talks to small groups of 8-10 people. I revisited our vision and strategic goals and then asked, “What are you doing about these?” I never got a clear answer. That was my Eureka! moment.

Even though we had gone through a very inclusive process to define our Vision, most people didn’t know how their day-to-day activities related to it or if what they were doing impacted our annual goals in any way.

I had identified a huge problem, but mostly I was thrilled that we had found a mechanism to do something about it.

Hierarchy of Goals, Not People

Nearsoft is a flat organization and there are no predetermined “top” or “bottom.” In order to function in such an organization, the key is to define, explicitly, a governance structure that everybody can understand and abide by.

In our case, our governance structure includes our five-year Vision, as well as our Noble Cause, Values, and Principles.

Based on our Vision, every year we define strategic goals to help us advance towards it.

And this is what drives the OKRs, in our context.

At the end of my “pilot,” I finally gave a talk to everybody in the company about OKRs and how they had worked for me. I was fully expecting to hear a big Aha! from the team. A standing ovation would not have surprised me.

But it didn’t happen. No Aha! moment (and no standing ovation).

The rest of that year, only 5% of the company created OKRs. Worse, zero percent of them actually followed up, updated progress, or rated their results.

So, I changed my strategy.

The New Strategy

I listened to Klau’s presentation again and I noticed I had missed a (big) step: if we were serious about this, everybody had to do it. No exceptions.

To make things easier we created several documents to clarify the process, how to do it, etc. We also deployed 7Geese to make it easier to define and track these metrics.

We know that we are all busy with our “real work,” but we needed to go the extra mile and do this right. In the end, as individual, it would help each of us grow and, as a team, we’d be that much more likely to meet our strategic goals.

How Tos

Here are some of the key points on how to implement a similar program,

  • Start clean each quarter and make sure you have your strategy ready. In a flat organization like ours, these were derived from our Vision (see sidebar).
  • Based on your strategy, define the top OKRs. Explain how they relate to your strategic goals and Vision and, also, explain how they will be measured.
  • Make sure the top OKRs lead to behaviors and actions you want to promote in your environment (e.g., participate in at least one 360 peer review, participate in N interviews, etc.)
  • Do not make exceptions, every single person in the company no matter the role should be in. Make them mandatory, period. We decided to do it this way due to the low adoption we had in our first try and Klaut’s advice. We are all busy and sometimes we need a little pressure to do the right thing.
  • Limit the bottom up OKRs to three. Provide a list of alternatives or examples, this will help especially those of us who are not used to defining goals. Encourage people to define challenging goals.
  • Do not use the results to punish people. By definition, people are not going to reach all their goals. If they do, they are not challenging themselves. Remember, the whole purpose of this is to learn as individuals and as an organization.
  • Define a deadline for everyone to have their OKRs defined—again, no exceptions. If someone does not meet the deadline, work with them and act proactively to make this happen. We held group workshops, and worked with people 1-on-1 people, as needed.
    Select a tool where OKRs will be published, updated, and rated. Make sure you provide training.
  • OKRs should be public (e.g., we uses 7Geese). This is very important.
    You need to have at least one champion to get things going.
  • Provide regular feedback. At the end of every month, we publish the stats, and important achievements.
  • Provide more feedback. At the end of every quarter present the progress towards the strategic goals, and feature the contribution that resulted from the OKRs.

Looking Ahead

We are at an early stage of our implementation, about to complete the first quarter. We’ll continue to publish what lessons we learn during this journey.