rules of OKRs

Google CEO Broke the Rules on OKRs – Why It Worked

Workflow and organizational frameworks are always in hot debate and, truly, there is no one-size-fits-all solution or approach. Different approaches have served different companies in different contexts well, and even when an industry starts to generally settle on one framework in particular, there will be those who successfully go against the grain. Google’s push against rules on OKRs is a prime example.


OKR Breakdown and Flexibility

OKRs, short for Objectives and Key Results, is a framework that breaks down larger goals and directions into actionable, tangible checkmarks. It’s particularly popular among startup businesses because of how concrete it can make strategy feel, especially while the brand is still settling into its image and mission. Without a defined legacy to believe in, workers need to be able to connect to the business values and statements, and OKRs bridge this gap quite well.

Another key benefit of OKRs is the flexibility. Committing to long-term objectives can not only be a difficult thing to visualize and plan for, but it can also be a difficult mistake to correct if things don’t pan out. In such a dynamic industry, businesses need to be able to adjust and pivot quickly if necessary. Long-term goals make this difficult to do—that is, of course, if they aren’t broken down into more digestible results. The OKR framework lets business evaluate more often and more precisely, allowing for course correction before misalignment takes its toll. Technology can help take this evaluation even further.


Google’s Controversial Move

Being able to self-evaluate and pivot seems like a key to staying alive in this constantly changing market, so why would anybody do anything different? The simple answer is that when it comes to strategy, absolutely everything is contextual. We already said that there is no silver bullet to workflow frameworks, so it’d be silly to present OKRs as the perfect solution.

In 2019, then-incoming Google CEO Sundar Pichai took a step away from OKRs, stripping away the quarterly goals and focusing on annual ones. Despite seemingly flying in the face of the traditional short-term evaluation framework, it’s hard to make a case against the tech giant’s performance. However, focusing on these long-term goals is far from the norm within the popular and professional discourse, so why did this work? At the risk of being too blunt: not every business is Google—or Alphabet.  


Nothing is Written in Stone

More precisely to the last point, Alphabet and Google are simply in a different position than most businesses, and certainly more than most startup businesses. For small and growing businesses, the market, and industry, and practically everything can seemingly turn awfully volatile at any given moment. The “right” and “wrong” moves can change overnight, and with relatively little-to-no capital and legacy to lean on, staying ahead means constant self-evaluation and adjustment.

Google, on the other hand, is such a household name that it’s a common verb. In other words, they aren’t trying to find their brand. They aren’t trying to navigate the market or even compete. For Google, strategy does mean long-term goals, and overarching direction to further solidify the brand’s legacy. Short-term evaluations served the brand well once upon a time, but that time is over.

Now, most businesses aren’t at the point to make the same decision that Pichai took, but there’s another lesson to learn here. Nothing is written in stone. When we talk about how much things change, this includes best practices. For Google, it meant successfully “abandoning” the strategy that built their legacy. For your brand, it’ll mean something different. Playbooks are nice, but following a framework just because of its namesake is the opposite of strategy.

Living Pono is dedicated to communicating business management concepts with Hawaiian values. Founded by Kevin May,  an established and successful leader and mentor, Living Pono is your destination to learn about how to live your life righteously and how that can have positive effects in your career. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below or contact us here. Also, join our mailing list below, so you can be alerted when a new article is released.

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