In a recent webinar co-hosted by Andreessen Horowitz and GGV Capital, former Google president Margo Georgiadis, WorkBoard CEO Deidre Paknad, and GGV Capital Managing Partner Jeff Richards gathered with leading CEOs and founders for a discussion centered around a common and pressing challenge: How can organizations stay fast and nimble at scale?
Margo, a WorkBoard board member, first felt the power of OKRs as a core part of a business operating rhythm during her Google days, Deidre works with senior leadership teams at some of the world’s largest companies to clarify, align and drive strategic priorities with greater speed and agility, and Jeff is a former founder and CEO who is passionate about leadership, culture, and team building.
Together, they offered ways for leaders of fast growing companies to build stronger alignment muscle, tighten their organization’s operating rhythm and raise their OKR game. We’ve made the full conversation available here, but we could not resist sharing just a few highlights.
At Google, OKRs provided “a way for the leadership team to debate and discuss what the company would focus on, what metrics would measure success and how everyone was aligned and moving toward those together,” said Margo, who spent eight hyper-growth years as president of the Americas at Google before becoming CEO at Ancestry.com.
Now, advising businesses at every stage of growth, Margo sees first-hand how the methodology provides executive leadership a way to build velocity into their business and decision-making.
“The Nirvana part comes not just in alignment on what the organization is trying to achieve, but having a common language for describing what great outcomes look like,” added Deidre. “This gives people the clarity that makes it possible to have accountability for achieving a strategy and driving it forward.”
OKRs are part of - but not the entire - operating rhythm of a business. The operating rhythm of any organization comprises the set of activities they use to align on strategy, focus efforts, drive accountability month-to-month and zoom in week-to-week to de-risk what is blocking strategy achievement and optimize what is going well, Deidre said.
Deciding and focusing on just a few “Northstar metrics” as Margo calls them, was critical to maintaining Google’s innovative pace.
Early in the development of YouTube, for example, Googlers debated over whether to measure success by the absolute number of users on the platform or the minutes per session each viewer spent, she said. Clarity on that question was key because product and engineering requirements were dependent on the answer going forward.
An OKR framework provides the discipline for making the choices that are necessary and the language for communicating them throughout the organization.
“It forced everyone to really think about getting to what may sound super obvious now, but was not then,” Margo said.
When teams know what they are trying to accomplish “it completely changes the rhythm in the company and when teams get into it, it’s just an incredible feeling because it simplifies everything,” Margo said.
Micromanagement - a word no one likes to hear - also lessens when teams have clarity on what they are trying to accomplish and why their work matters.
“With alignment,” Margo said, “You have very few issues kicked upstairs.”
With the organization aligned on outcomes and working in a system that provides everyone transparency into what teams are trying to achieve - and their progress - everyone is empowered. “Teams work on fewer things harder and faster,’’ Deidre said, “and there's less scattering drift in the team.”
Leaders then can spend less time in meetings to get the state of the state, and more time on making decisions based on the state, she said.
“You don't need to micromanage,” Jeff said, “if you have great insights into what is happening in the organization and you are spending your time and conversations with people about the path forward and how to be successful.”
Curious to hear more from our panelists? Check out the full conversation here.
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