Worshipping at the Altar of OKRs

After compiling my monthly KPI stats and writing about where April 2018 ended up, I spent the better part of today pretty unhappy with myself about how badly this part of the business underperformed for the month. 

It’s not like I sat around and cried or felt sorry for myself, I just was a bit frustrated and needed to figure out why that happened.

Remember, one of the secrets to being successful is that you live by the rule of, “Everything that happens to my business is my fault.”

With that in mind, I needed to figure out why was I not meeting the targets I was setting for myself and in general, with that part of the business, I just wasn’t getting good enough results.

I took my son to his soccer game and while they were playing, I just tried to unpack what was going on and work out how I could get myself back on track with Casual Marketer.

One of the biggest problems that I have is that with everything else going on in my life, sometimes the Casual Marketer business ends up taking a back seat – my regular job, family life and our other online businesses all eat up a fair bit of time, so when you’re time poor, you need to be more focused and I think that’s been a big part of the problem.

While I was standing there watching the soccer, looking out onto the city over Berrys Bay, I remembered that someone had recommended a new book to me by John Doerr the Kleiner Perkins venture capitalist that was all about proper goal setting.

If you’re not familiar with John Doerr, he’s a legend in the venture capital world and he started out his career working under Andy Grove at Intel in the 1970s.

Grove is a legend.  Most people who know anything about technology know of “Moore’s Law”  named after Grove’s predecessor as CEO of Intel, Gordon Moore.  What people don’t realize is that while Moore was an engineering genius, Intel probably wouldn’t have survived the transition to the personal computer in the late 70’s and early 80’s had it not been for Grove’s management abilities.

Grove used a system of actionable goals that he called “Objectives and Key Results” – objectives are the strategic imperatives and the key results are the measurements that drive the outcome.

Doerr learned about OKRs from Grove and in 1999 while working for Kleiner Perkins, Doerr oversaw the single largest investment of his career up to that time ($12.5m) in little company you’ve probably heard of called Google.  Kleiner Perkins took a 12% stake in Google and Doerr took up a seat on the board.

Because of the size of his position, Doerr needed Google to succeed so he took an interest in them and one day, at an all-hands meeting at Google that included people like Sergey Brin, Larry Page, Marissa Mayer, Susan Wojcicki (current CEO of YouTube) as well as the other founding 30 or so staff from the company, Doerr showed them OKR.

Larry Page decided that Google would use OKR as their means of driving productivity and measuring their success.

Nearly twenty years later, Google still uses OKR across the entire business and Doerr describes it as a part of their organisational DNA.

Not only does Google still use OKR, but when you listen to Doerr or other management experts talk about their use, they’ve taken it beyond even what a management colossus like Andy Grove could even achieve.

I’ve spent the entire day devouring the Doerr book, “Measure What Matters” and reading tons of stuff about OKR.

I knew when thinking about it that this was what was wrong with what I’ve been doing with Casual Marketer over the past few months.

Let me explain…

In January, I set some objectives for what I wanted to achieve in Casual Marketer over the course of 2018.  The high-level aspirations for the business are based on a two-year cycle and to drive performance in 2018, I created some KPIs to measure myself.

The problem was that those KPIs are not really actionable in a timely fashion – they are too high-level in and of themselves.  As a result, they don’t map back well to tangible things to drive the right behaviour aggressively enough.

I had this epiphany while listening to the Doerr book on Audible.  They were talking about Jim Lally who worked closely with Grove and was a disciple of OKR – Doerr credits Lally with creating the idea of “AMB” or “as measured by”.

To me, it’s the secret sauce of OKR.

You can have audacious objectives and set key results, but the trick is how your actually measure the success of those key results and that’s the nut that Lally cracked with “as measured by”.

Here’s an example:

  • Objective for 2018: Double the size of my email list
  • Key Results for this month: Improve lead magnets as measured by producing three new short reports
  • Key Results for this month: Improve optin conversion rate as measured by increasing conversion to X%
  • Key Results for this month: Generate more leads from Facebook as measured by sharing 1 lead magnet per week to the FB Group audience

Objectives are longer term, say like a year and key results are short-term sprints to get things done that drive you closer to your objectives.  The “as measured by” portion allows you to quantify your target but also determine a binary “success or failure” state at the end.

For me that “as measured by” piece was totally missing from what I’ve been doing over the last four months or so with Casual Marketer – I had numbers and an idea around how to get to those big-picture numbers, but the execution has been lacking because I’ve not broken those things down into smaller quantifiable chunks.

The funny part is, I know this stuff cold.  I’m normally really good with setting objectives and then planning out the milestones that get you there, but for this part of the business, I’ve been a bit undisciplined with this and it’s stung me.

OKR is something you should learn about for sure.  There’s are whole framework and structure around focused execution and stretch targets that make up the entire OKR way of managing, so I highly suggest you throw yourself into learning about it.

The upside for me is that I now know why I haven’t been succeeding in achieving my KPIs over the past few months.

My plan is to use the better part of tomorrow to revisit the objectives for the year and then map out the key results and measurements for the rest of May.

It’s invigorating when you figure out what’s been holding you back and put a plan in place to remedy it.  I’m feeling much better about the situation and looking forward to cracking into it tomorrow.

I’ll update you on my progress in the May Monthly Review.

Before I go, I highly recommend you get the John Doerr book, “Measure What Matters” and give it a good read, it’s really helpful.

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