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Week 27, 2022 — Issue #211

Thoughts on OKR: Target Results, Reward Effort, and Analyze Process

Each week: three ideas to help you build great organizations. This week: three ideas to help you get more out of OKR.

Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash

What’s more important? The decisions you make, the effort you put in, or the results you achieve? Here are three ideas to help you get more out of Objectives & Key Results (OKR) — the goal-setting method used by companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon:

1. Target Results

OKRs are, as the name suggests, results-focused; they ask us to make clear what results we want to see before we think about the effort needed to get there. The ends justify the means, so to speak. If there’s a smart-not-hard-way to get something done, OKRs encourage us to find it. John Doerr, the venture capitalist who popularized OKR, likens this way of targeting results to an organizational superpower.

For more on this, watch John Doerr’s TED talk.

2. Reward Effort

Google CEO Sundar Pichai made headlines recently when he said that organizations should reward effort, not results. That might sound like heresy given Google’s track record with OKR, but that’s actually not the case. Goal setting and rewards are two different things! We should aim for results but reward effort. If we don’t — if all we do is reward results — we’ll invariably stymie risk-taking and innovation.

For more on this, listen to Sundar Pichai on View from the Top.

3. Analyze Process

Physicist, entrepreneur, and author Safi Bahcall provides a third perspective. To maximize learning, he suggests that we focus not on results or effort, but on process. Why did we make this decision? Who was involved? And what information did or did we not have available? If we examine the reasons for our reasoning, we can get at deeper truths with wider applicability — especially if we examine both success and failure.

For more on this, listen to Safi Bahcall on the Tim Ferris podcast.

When working with OKRs, do focus on results, not effort. But don’t make the mistake of tying OKR to compensation. It’s OK to reward effort, not results. And once done, be sure to examine your decision-making process. You will learn more by focusing on inputs rather than outcomes.

That’s all for this week.
Until next time: make it matter!

How can we build better organizations? That’s the question I’ve been trying to answer for the past 10 years. Each week, I share some of what I’ve learned in a weekly newsletter called WorkMatters. Subscription is free. Back-issues are published to Medium after three months.



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Andreas Holmer

Andreas Holmer

Designer, reader, writer. Sensemaker. Management thinker. CEO at MAQE — a digital consulting firm in Bangkok, Thailand.