“OKRs may be called a tool, or a protocol, or a process. But my image of choice is a launch pad, a point of liftoff for the next wave of entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs.”
– John Doerr, Measure What Matters, p. 241
John Doerr has spent decades pitching the benefits of the Objectives and Key Results (OKR) leadership paradigm to businesses willing to listen. Doerr saw how effective it was at Intel when his mentor, Andy Grove, introduced it in the seventies – and has seen it succeed in guiding plenty of other Businesses You’ve Heard Of to success since then.
Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs is Doerr’s pitch, supporting examples, and tips for implementing it in the real world – all distilled into a bit less than 300 pages. It explains what OKRs consist of, how he came to embrace them, and what makes them effective when done right. It contains myriad first-hand accounts of how OKRs have helped big dreaming companies harness the creative energy behind the dream and temper it into real-world results.
That’s a big problem to solve for most businesses. Managing your brightest people requires a careful balance of guidance and trust. When they solve a problem, you can trust that they solved it fully and completely – you just have to make sure the problems they’re working on are the ones that are worth focusing on. This book shows how OKRs (and a company culture that embraces them) are a tried-and-true format for getting a bunch of talented, creative people focused on the same thing, and making sure the focus is worthwhile.
Before I read this book, I saw a mediocre review of it on Amazon that struck me. The reviewer was unimpressed by the fact that the core concept could be summed up in just a few words: Set a goal, outline tasks that would achieve this goal, and make sure those tasks are measurable.
It’s true that this is the concentrated essence of OKRs. If all you need is a definition of what they are, there’s always Wikipedia.
This book is more than that, though. As mentioned earlier, it includes the book version of the same pitch Doerr gave to Google and other growing companies. If his pitch was just the book reviewer’s summary, the audience would be left with a bevy of questions, such as:
- “Sounds great, but how does that work in the real world?”
- “Is this just a new way to do performance reviews?”
- “We already set goals and no one cares about them in day-to-day business. How is this any different?”
The book answers these questions with thorough explanations and real-world examples. It’s an introduction to the mindset that OKRs facilitate as much as it is a description of what they are. It also points out some traditional process in business that should be revisited as part of OKR adoption, specifically annual performance reviews tied to raises and bonuses. Don’t worry – Doerr outlines alternatives that work especially well with OKRs.
The last section of the book is the one I can already see myself going back to time and again: a compilation of resources for those seeking to implement or improve their own OKR process. If the rest of the book is a well-supplemented pitch on OKRs, the resources section is the how-to guide. There’s even a summary of the main points made in the rest of the book, formatted in a bulleted list for easy reference.
Overall, Measure What Matters introduced me to a simple-sounding concept and showed me how it could lead to a more connected, focused business environment that encourages risk and the rewards that come from it. I would recommend it to anyone looking for insight on how to lead creative teams and get the most from each team member’s talents.