How does Google set Goals? An Insight into the OKR Framework

It is that time of the year when organisations start reviewing their teams and set goals to achieve this year. While setting goals is a great way to get teams to focus, prioritise tasks and tangibly show for individual efforts, it is important to set goals that are clear and challenging enough.

Most organisations follow a specific framework to set internal goals. Companies like Google, LinkedIn, Twitter and Zynga follow Objectives and Key Results framework, abbreviated as OKR.

Google’s rework site outlines how the company follows OKR in setting highly ambitious goals. This framework is designed to set goals that might seem very challenging and can often supercede the realms of what is possible to achieve. The idea behind setting such ‘stretch goals‘ is to help people achieve great results, even if they fail to hit the target that was originally set. Google finds that, more often than not, setting over-ambitious goals do help people to contribute to exciting work environments.

So, how does Google use OKR?

Google starts off by setting 3-5 objectives with three possible outcomes from each objective. They take into account several suggestions for OKRs regardless of them coming from top-down or bottom-up. This approach allows employees from all levels of the organisation to have a say in what is worth their time and the best way to channel their efforts.

How can you implement OKR in your organisation?

It is important to stick to 3-5 objectives since the framework is intended to stretch employees and help them keep their focus. The goals should have clear and tangible endpoints. As for tracking key results, it is key to monitor the impact of employee activities and not the activities themselves. Any measurable outcome would have to come along with credible evidence of goal completion.

The following video shows a partner at Google Ventures, Rick Klau, delivering a presentation on using OKR framework.

The OKR framework could be used in many different ways but to ensure best outcomes, the focus should be on overarching organisational goals. This would help employees to focus on goals that contribute towards achieving the bigger goals and stay in alignment. It is important for team-level goals to be connected to at least one of the organisational OKRs. A list of OKRs is also not meant to be treated as a to-do list. It should be used to define the measurable outcomes a team is looking to achieve.

For sample OKRs, please refer to rework resources.