Measure What Matters By John Doerr

If you’ve read the autobiography of Andy Grove (pretty thick at that), you’d know why the world reveres him as one of the most iconic management gurus. 

Turning around Intel may be something anyone would do, but the manner in which he handled this behemoth was something spectacular. 

In the wake of this job Grove left behind some interesting concepts for us to ponder and apply. 

Take the OKR method: the Objectives and Key Results that are so well presented in John Doerr’s book. 

Larry Page, who wrote that one rare foreword for this book vouches for the impact John Doerr has had through the OKR on Google’s massive growth. It’s a collaborative goal setting protocol which can be used by organizations, people and teams alike. Doerr derives his clues from his earlier stint at Intel where he learned the basics from Intel boss Andy Grove. Especially that one piece of advice given by a psychologist Edwin Locke to Grove – “hard goals” drive performance more effectively than easy goals. Second, specific hard goals “produce a higher level of output” than vaguely worded ones.

Andy Grove looked to apply manufacturing production principles to the “soft professions,” the administrative, professional, and managerial ranks so that he could “create an  environment that values and emphasizes output” That would mean scrapping Peter Drucker’s productivity trap which stressed that output is the key to increasing productivity, while looking to increase activity can result in just the opposite.

What are Objectives and Key Results (OKR’s)

Simply put, a set of clearly put objectives and key results expected to meet those objectives. However, Grove had laid down certain principles for how these OKRs must be

  • Make the objectives extremely well chosen
  • Set goals bottom up
  • No dictating- collective agreement works best
  • Stay flexible- especially when an objective seems unattainable at some point or loses relevance.
  • Dare to fail- lofty goal setting is required when you expect peak performance from yourself
  • And lastly, that OKR is a tool to measure your own pace, not a weapon with which you punish yourself. 


What are the ‘Superpowers’ one needs

On the way to accomplishing your objectives through key results that you’ve set for yourself, one needs some superpowers to do that. 

i. Focus and commitment to priorities – well framed objectives can be accomplished with three or four Key results. Grove says that the art of management lies in the capacity to select from the many activities of seemingly comparable significance the one or two or three that provide leverage well beyond the others and concentrate on them. It could be as simple as just three for entrepreneurs:

    1. Solve a problem
    2. Build a simple product
    3. Talk to your users

ii. Align and connect for teamwork: Share your OKRs with the team. Studies show that more than private goals, those made public or shared with others have a higher rate of being accomplished. Lateral, cross-functional connectivity, peer-to-peer and team-to-team makes it possible for all energies to congregate in order to achieve the Key results. That even holds true for publishing your exercise regimen on apps where you’re motivated to achieve your own set goals because everyone else is seeing it. 

iii. Track for accountability: Track so that they can then be revised or improvised as the need be. There are three stages in a lifecycle of the goal- the setup, the mid cycle tracking and the wrap up. Mark how you achieved and how you’d do different the next time so that you are accountable not just for the results but also for the process. 

iv. Stretch for amazing: Again reminding us that the higher the goal, the higher the probability that it will be accomplished. Stretch yourself so that it challenges you everyday to do more, to accomplish more. As it is elucidated, work expands to fill the time you have at hand. So when you know you need to accomplish more, you stretch yourself more than when you would had the goal been small and easy. Being uncomfortably excited about something leaves you with more than reasonable energy to do it. 

How OKRs have changed the way we look at performance reviews

By making them redundant. Using a simple tool called CFR- Conversation, Feedback and Recognition, that manage to do more than just reviews- they reinforce measuring what matters! Adobe did away with annual reviews and instead replaced them with continuous feedback that became less overwhelming and more objective. 

What more is needed to achieve the results

Better discipline, engagement, transparency, teamwork, conversations and better culture too. And not to forget better leaders!

Key takeaways

  1. The book shows with plenty of real examples that having a clear cut objective and a few demarcated key results needed to accomplish that objective works wonders towards success.
  2. Doerr has dipped his hands in the mud and so he knows what works and what doesn’t. It is his first hand success of implementing most of these concepts at large companies that lends an air of authenticity. 
  3. On the way towards achieving, you need a few superpowers, which are not difficult to gain. 

Why I recommend this book

Amidst the flurry of self help books and helicopter motivation, I found this book relatable for the simple reason that this advice has been proven. It is how large companies manage to succeed continuously, not because they’re plain lucky but because they make success an outcome of a systematic approach. This, when followed, never fails to yield desired outcomes. Rather than a moon-shot, which is not bad either, knowing how you’re going to reach that elusive moon helps you come closer to it. 


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