Knocking Down Doors

Smart start-up lessons for smart start-up people

How We’re Holding Every Team Member Accountable for Company Growth

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Last June, a long-time customer and all around great guy, Ben Lamorte, emailed us a Google presentation that he thought we would really enjoy. I quickly glanced at the video and saw that it was over an hour long…really? The topic looked interesting though, so six months later, over the holidays, I finally took the time to watch it. It was all about OKRs – Objectives and Key Results – which was a (new-to-me) management system recommended to Google in their first year by John Doerr. Doerr originally got the idea from Intel. I’m not sure where Intel got the idea, or if they developed it internally, but that’s irrelevant.

The basic idea behind OKRs is for companies to create and communicate annual and quarterly objectives at the company, team, and individual levels. Each objective (usually a company has a handful of them)  should have 3-5 corresponding key results that are measurable and help you to quantitatively assess how close you come to meeting that objective.

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When I watched this video, we had just finished celebrating our 15th year in business, and it was by far our best ever. Record web traffic, revenue, growth rate, profits, hiring, new office space… we even played more Ultimate Frisbee matches than ever before. Things were clearly going well. So why try something new? Why rock the boat?

For starters, I think being open to new things has been crucial to our success. Resting on your laurels in the tech space is a recipe for complacency and eventual doom. More specifically, my impression of OKRs was that they built on progress that we had already made. We’ve always believed in goal setting and measuring success, but I knew we had plenty of room for improvement. So I shared the video with all of our team leads to watch. The first one or two of them to respond did so enthusiastically, and honestly, that’s all I needed to know that we at least needed to give them a try.

So what exactly is it about OKRs that really appealed to me? Well, they help us improve in several areas:

1. Regularity

I tend to be somewhat haphazard in my goal setting. Forcing me—and everyone in the company—to set, review, and grade our results at quarterly and annual intervals creates habit and consistency. Both are very good things.

2. Communication

We’ve collected our company-wide, team, and individual OKRs in a living, online document, which everyone in the company can access. The fact that OKRs are published online for everyone to see means that everyone is easily positioned to always know what our most important goals and tasks are, and they always have something to refer to in case they forget – and need help prioritizing tasks. We’re a team, and with this level of communication, we’re all on the same page.

3. Collaboration

I’ve always been a fan of including others in the decision making process, especially when it comes to prioritization. Using an OKRs system welcomes and encourages feedback from everyone. It guarantees that every employee has the opportunity to be heard and have their points considered. Dialog is a wonderful thing; it often results in a more balanced approach to planning. And this helps everyone to feel better connected to the mission, and hopefully working with greater purpose in their day-to-day work.

4. Measurability

All key results must be in a measurable form. It’s a requirement of the OKR model, with no exception. By only using clearly measurable results, OKRs force us to be as objective as possible and attempt to use data where we can to inform our decisions.

5. Focus

As new ideas arise (and they always do), OKRs give us an easy framework for determining whether to act on them. If the new idea does not support an OKR, then in most cases, it will not be worked on. Making an exception forces you to recognize that you are altering your strategy and focus for the quarter/year. A change in your objectives should not be taken lightly; OKRs force you to be deliberate.

We’re about a month or so into the OKR process. Ryan, our COO, has become the owner of OKRs and making them successful. We agreed on company and team objectives for the year, as well as first quarter-specific objectives. Each employee also developed individual OKRs, keeping our team objectives in mind. We reviewed progress in our February Team Leads Meeting. We’ll do so again in March, before we grade ourselves on Q1 in early April and discuss company-wide at our April All Hands Meeting. I’m sure we’ll have plenty of tweaks to make along the way to make this effective. In fact, some aspects – particularly the individual OKRs – were a struggle and we have a few sections that remain incomplete. I expect that once we have the first quarter under our belt, it will become easier.

If you’re not constantly improving, you’re being left behind. Even though we clearly had some of our goals right in 2014, it’s never safe to assume that you have everything figured out. Initiating an OKRs system is our way of making sure that as Capterra continues to grow, we are able to remain nimble. OKRs ensure that we’re all coordinated and in-tune with the bigger company mission. It’s a framework for showcasing every employee’s important place in our future. My hope is that by the end of the year, we’ll wonder how we got along fifteen years without it.

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About the Author

Michael Ortner

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Mike started Capterra in 1999 as the first website dedicated to helping people find the right software for their business. Today, Capterra lists over 30,000 software companies, displays more than 250,000 software reviews, and receives over 3,000,000 monthly visitors. He's been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Fox News, and Inc. Magazine, among other publications, where he's spoken on topics ranging from the business software industry to running and growing a business in the 21st century. Mike received a business degree from Georgetown University and a philosophy degree from the University of London. He lives in McLean, VA with his wife and six children.

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A year in, are you still using OKRs? Do you have examples of the kinds of individual OKRs you use?

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