The beginning of OKRs were a management philosophy called MBO (management by Objectives) created by Peter Drucker in the fifties based in the realisation that there were significant benefits to leading with objectives instead of tasks.
This new way of management quickly became a new standard for many large American companies.
Andrew Grove, the legendary CEO of Intel, took this framework one step further and connected the Objectives to key results to make them measurable as well as instituting a framework for working with goals inside an organisation, all presented in the management literature classic High Output Management (recommended reading!).
With this background, how did OKR become relevant today? The first major step outside Intel was John Doerr, previous employee of Intel and now venture capitalist who introduced the framework early on at Google. He came down to their small startup-office of 30 people and ran a short inroduction to the framework followed by the now classic reaction by Sergey Brinn ‘Well we need to hav some organising principle. We don’t have one, and this might as well be it’. This then became the starting point of OKR adaption all over Silicon Valley and beyond that, the rest of the world.
Since its implementation at Google, the framework has often been aknowledged by its founders as a cornerstone of the company’s unprecedented growth and success. OKR has been with Google all the way from this small 30 person startup to the giant it is today – stil making and following up on OKRs on strategic and team level as well as individual.
OKRs showed themselves to be very effective for technology and product organisations and was picked up by known names such as LinkedIn, Zynga nad Amazon. It did however not stop there, with all the impact of OKRs in the tech world, other kinds of organisations started to pick up the framework and realised it could have as great an impact for them as well. Sears (retail), Anheuser-Busch (brewery) and GoPro (consumer electronics) are just some of the examples of companies outside tech that have successfully implemented OKRs today.
OKRs are having a very interesting moment right now. With more and more success cases being spread from organisations who have benefited from the framework, we see a strong growth in interest to learn and try out implementations. In the light of this development, a full eco-system of learning resources, books as well as tools to make the most out of your OKR implementation have emerged.
It has also given rise to a debate on what OKRs actually are, and what they are not. With no clear original scripture such as ‘The Agile manifesto’ has acted for the SCRUM methodology, it becomes very much up to each company or individual to make their own interpretation and try out what works in their context.
This is a challenge in an implementation, different individuals will come filled with different expectations and there are some aspects of OKRs that can be interpreted or followed very differently between companies. At the same time, there are parts of an OKR implementation that needs to be thought about not to miss out on benefits of the framework while there are other parts that can be selected to leave out to get a more focused implementation.
One of my personal objectives is to be a guide in this. To support implementations and spread the word on what OKRs are and what they are not. But also to create interest around the framework itself – I believe the great impact not only on performance but on engagement and individual development makes it well worth the effort to spread 🙂
Learn OKRs from the bottom up with these 9 articles.