How Google Uses OKRs & Why OnStrategy’s Approach is Better

Jul 08, 2021

The world’s favorite search engine popularized OKRs (objectives and key results), making them the top of every organization’s wish-list during the strategic planning process. It’s the promised land and grassy meadow of organization-wide collaboration, alignment, and agility—right?

Well, sort of.

At OnStrategy, we love OKRs. They’re great. They’re agile. They make it easier to accomplish the fundamentals of any strategic planning effort.

But the truth is your organization probably isn’t Google or Google-sized. “Doing” OKRs the same way Alphabet does them probably won’t work for your organization. Google has access to resources and infrastructure most organizations can’t and won’t possess.

The great news is you CAN use OKRs in your organization with a little adaptation from Google’s approach. We’ve developed our approach to OKRs from our work with clients and guidance from John Doerr’s Measure What Matters book on OKRs.

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Our approach is far less resource-intensive. We focus on simplifying Google’s OKR approach and making sure that your OKRs are aligned to your long-term direction! These recommendations come from our experience. You might need to adapt them to fit your organization and learnings.

Google’s OKR Practices vs Our Real-World Recommendations

The Google Way: Everyone has objectives and key results.

Our real-world recommendation: We believe your organization should create “shared” team/department objectives. Then, individuals create Key Results aligned to these shared objectives.

Reasoning:

  • Shared department objectives help create alignment. If everyone creates OKRs, the result is a bunch of objectives and key results that don’t align to your organization’s direction. It just creates a lot of OKRs in puddles.
  • It is simpler and easier to manage. Trying to align individual OKRs to Team OKRs, then Team OKRs to Company-wide OKRs can get complicated. It eliminates some of this stress.

The Google Way: Dedicated project managers drive the process.

Our real-world recommendation: Find an OKR software solution to automate reporting and progress check-ins.

Reasoning:

  • Dedicated project managers are too resource intensive. Even enterprise-level organizations should spend the resources to have a dedicated OKR project manager for every team.
  • An app can eliminate the administrative headache of OKRs. A good OKR app sends automated reminders for individual to provide a progress check-in, automates the reporting, and visualizes the data for you. Check out our app here.
  • Don’t manage this in spreadsheets. Trying to manage OKRs and performance updates in spreadsheets doesn’t work. It gets unruly in a hurry.
OKR App: Choosing One to Manage Your OKRs

The Google Way: Everyone creates quarterly OKRs.

Our real-world recommendation: Create annual companywide objectives aligned to your long-term vision. Then have supporting shared department objectives and individual key results you review and refresh quarterly.

Reasoning:

  • It’s too challenging to try to manage everyone creating new Objectives and Key Results every quarter. Instead, have your team just refresh their KRs. Keep department objectives shared and the organization-wide objectives annual in nature.
  • Don’t overburden the process. Keeping it light means you’ll be more likely to stick with it quarter-to-quarter.
OKR App: Choosing One to Manage Your OKRs

The Google Way: OKR development is self-directed.

Our real-world recommendation: We recommend your leadership team set the companywide and department objectives and ask your team to create key results that align to those objectives. We also recommend training and adhering to a consistent structure for writing key results.

Reasoning:

  • OKRs need to align to a long-term direction. If everyone creates new OKRs every quarter, they won’t always align to where you want your organization to be in the future.
  • You want your plan to look and sound consistent. Creating standards for how your team is expected to create and write their key results is how you accomplish this.

The Google Way: Use scoring with your OKRs to create accountability.

Our real-world recommendation: We recommend using a consistent review process for collaboration and accountability instead. Our experience with scoring is it focuses everyone on the score and not the strategic performance of the team and organization. Use scores if you choose, but we recommend focusing on the actual results, not an aggregate number.

Reasoning:

  • Scoring creates competition. Now it doesn’t always create competition, but it can.
  • You can create accountability with intention through a consistent review cadence. Focusing on creating a consistent review process in a collaborative environment is a better approach to accountability.

OKRs are Possible if You’re Not Google!

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The most important thing you can do is not be intimidated by trying to right-fit Google’s approach to OKRs into your organization.

Simplify and adapt their approach to make it work in any sized team. But, above all else, make sure that your OKRs are aligned to your long-term direction!

Need help building your OKRs? Get the free guide on creating OKRs and our OKR Essentials Cheat Sheet!

Free Guides & Resources

OKRs that work
Setting OKRs that Work

A FREE downloadable guide and canvas to build Objectives and Key Results.

SWOT
SWOT Assessment Guide

A FREE downloadable guide and canvas to complete a SWOT analysis, synthesize it into Competitive Advantages, and then use your SWOT to create SMART goals.

KPIS
Guide to Create KPIs with 100 Example Metrics

A FREE downloadable guide to learn the basics of Key Performance Indicators with 100 example metric sources for ever department of your organization.

SMART Goals
Free Guide for Writing Better SMART Goals

Download the FREE guide to learn how to create goals that have impact in your organization.

Growth Strategy
Free Guide to Build a Growth Strategy

A FREE downloadable guide and canvas to create a growth strategy that clearly defines where you play and how you’ll win.

Goals and OKR Cycle
Goals/OKR Cycle Guide

A FREE downloadable guide and canvas to establish a quarterly rhythm for OKRs and Goals.

OKR Essentials
OKR Essentials Cheat Sheet

Download the free cheat sheet to guide you through building and refreshing OKRs.

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