Design your strategy like Google

Valentina Bianco
Valentina Bianco
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Google owes its success to OKRs. At least that was what its former CEO, Larry Page, stated. As you may know, Google was not the first search engine, they got pretty late to the game (1996, whereas the first search engine, was introduced six years earlier). So it's worth wondering how they ended up at the top. They definitely weren't running on a new or innovative idea. Their differentiator was in how they executed it.

"OKRs have helped lead us to 10x growth, many times over. They've helped make our crazily bold mission of 'organizing the world's information' perhaps even achievable. They've kept me and the rest of the company on time and on track when it mattered the most." -Larry Page

So what exactly are OKRs, and how have they helped Google's executives make decisions since they were a 40 people company up to this day?

What are OKRs

OKR stands for "Objectives and Key Results," and it's a framework some companies, teams, or individuals use for executing their strategy. It's not only about goal-setting but about carrying them out.

How are OKRs composed?

Every OKR has an objectivekey results, and initiatives.

Each specific objective describes where the company needs to go; they inspire and set direction. They should:

  • Not be measurable (that's for KR).
  • Be aspirational (to go the extra mile).
  • Be inspiring and easy to remember (so they are top of mind for the team).

The Key result is the metric by which you'll measure your progress towards your objective; it's how you'll know you're there. They should:

  • Be measurable.
  • Ambitious but not impossible.
  • It can be a "yes" or "no" question.
  • Not be tasks or initiatives.

Initiatives are the actions we'll perform to achieve those key results, the work we need to do to drive progress on KR. They should be specific, and there should be a responsible person for each one, and they have to be set within a particular time limit. Initiatives are outputs, and OKRs are outcomes; the outputs may have been excellent, and still, the outcome may not what we expected.

Our experience with OKRs

We started implementing OKRs at XmartLabs around 2019 as a framework for organizing our objectives, but it wasn't until this year we put them center stage.

At XmartLabs, we set up yearly objectives that reflect our goals for the forthcoming year, where we want to go as a company, or something specific we want to change. For every yearly objective, we started organizing quarterly OKRs. This meant XmartLab's main stakeholders dedicated one day of the week at the beginning of each quarter, especially to set up these objectives and their corresponding key results. The idea behind this process is to break down those broader objectives into smaller ones and translate them into specific tasks and responsibilities.

Once the quarterly OKRs are defined at a company level, each team develops its own OKRs linked to the general ones. After an initial meeting to define them and break down OKRs into tasks, teams have weekly syncs to comment on their progress with their responsibilities.

Although our experience with OKRs is relatively new, we can see the advantage of setting specific tasks to help teams focus on the long-term strategy. Being a B2B company sometimes means running behind clients' deadlines and adopting their objectives and needs as our own. And, although this is necessary and ensures great outcomes, it's easy to forget our own company's goals. OKRs are an excellent way of dealing with that tension. There's also the obvious advantage of being aligned as a company and having a sense that all teams are working towards the same general objectives.

Some best practices we found helpful when it comes to implementing OKRs are:

  • Have clear ownership of OKRs.
  • Have an OKR ambassador within the company.
  • Set some time apart so that key stakeholders can work on defining OKRs (for example having a retreat day for this, or doing it in a different space, away from the office and distractions).
  • Do weekly sinks with the team to track progress and keep OKRs tasks top of mind.
  • Don't have too many.

To sum up

Although there's a defined framework, OKRs depend on each company (their structure, whether they are B2B, B2C, etc.), and it's something you learn from experience and adapt to your specific case along the way. Like most things, you need time and experience to learn from, but you shouldn't get discouraged.

Comment below if you are using or need help running this framework! Thanks for reading 😃!

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