By the Book: Measure What Matters

Marcia Ellett
July 2019

Measure What Matters
John Doerr

About the Author

Legendary investor John Doerr is chairman of the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, which he joined in 1980. He has invested in some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs and companies, including Amazon, Google, Intuit, Netscape, and Twitter. In doing so, he has been instrumental in creating more than 425,000 jobs.

In a Nutshell

In 1999, venture capitalist John Doerr, who cut his teeth at the Silicon Valley juggernaut Intel, took a chance on a technology startup whose founders had boundless enthusiasm and ambition but not a well-formed business plan. Doerr invested nearly $12 million in their vision and introduced them to the business goal-setting system of Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), the basis for which he learned at Intel. With OKRs as the bedrock of their management practices, the startup grew into the $600+ billion company known as Google.

Measure What Matters is a blueprint for OKRs, for getting organizations laser-focused on what is most important, and for translating goals into actionable steps to achieve those goals.

Doerr writes, “An effective goal management system links goals to a team’s broader mission. It respects targets and deadlines while adapting to circumstances. It promotes feedback and celebrates wins, large and small. Most important, it expands our limits. It moves us to strive for what might seem beyond our reach.”

An objective is simple. What is it that you want to achieve? “By definition, objectives are significant, concrete, action oriented, and (ideally) inspirational,” says Doerr.

Key results benchmark and monitor the journey to the objective. They are “specific and time-bound, aggressive yet realistic. Most of all,” says Doerr, “they are measurable and verifiable.”

He explains, “Objectives and key results are the yin and yang of goal-setting — principle and practice, vision and execution. Objectives are the stuff of inspiration and far horizons. Key results are more earth-bound and metric-driven. They typically include hard numbers for one or more gauges: revenue, growth, active users, quality, safety, market share, customer engagement.”

Doerr is also quick to say that OKRs are no silver bullet. “They cannot substitute for sound judgment, strong leadership, or a creative workplace culture. But if those fundamentals are in place,” he says, “OKRs can guide you to the mountaintop.”

OKRs are based on four main principles, or what Doerr calls “superpowers”:

  1. Focus: This is where you figure out what matters, commit to priorities, and make sure everyone involved knows exactly what those priorities are.
  2. Align: This stage is about being transparent and making the connection between everyone’s goals and the organization’s objectives. This is how you become one team in which everyone has a stake in the company’s success.
  3. Track: No-judgment accountability is achieved through regular check-ins and consistently reassessing the state of a key result, so you know if action needs to be taken to get it back on track, or if the better move is to revise or replace it.
  4. Stretch: Testing limits, stretching to achieve beyond what you thought possible with permission to fail ultimately produces your most creative and ambitious self.

An additional layer to the OKRs system is continuous performance management, or what Doerr has coined “Conversations, Feedback, Recognition” (CFRs).

  • Conversations: An authentic exchange between manager and contributor aimed at driving performance.
  • Feedback: Bidirectional communication among peers to assess progress and guide improvement.
  • Recognition: Expressions of appreciation to deserving individuals for contributions of every dimension.

Doerr writes, “Like OKRs, CFRs champion transparency, accountability, empowerment, and teamwork. As communication stimuli, CFRs ignite OKRs and then boost them into orbit; they’re a complete delivery system for measuring what matters.”

Keys for Camp

OKRs have goal implications far beyond helping tech giants churn out bigger better hardware/software and a larger market share. They can also be instrumental in culture change.

Case in point: Bono’s (of Irish rock band U2 fame) ONE Campaign is an international, nonprofit, nonpartisan, advocacy organization that fights extreme poverty and preventable diseases (particularly in Africa) by raising public awareness and persuading political leaders to support programs and policies that save lives and improve futures (ONE, 2019). Doerr writes, I was struck by Bono’s passion for ‘factivism,’ or fact-based activism. In ONE’s hardheaded, analytical, results-oriented environment, OKRs were an easy sell. For the last ten years, they’ve helped clarify the organization’s priorities.”

Those priorities included success in achieving a fundamental culture change — “from working on Africa to working in and with Africa.” This is how an entire nation can be empowered to develop on their own.

What about camps? While they should and do have financial goals that are important benchmarks in their ability to provide quality camp experiences for their campers, with priorities in the realm of culture shifts and changing the world, it is easy to see how a structured system for setting priorities and measuring key results could serve as a good tool in the pursuit of achieving camps’ collective mission of bettering the lives of the children and young adults they serve.

Campers, too, could use OKRs to define their own goals and how to get there, be it reaching the top of the climbing wall, learning to swim, or overcoming a fear of public speaking by performing in the camp talent show.

Camps are often catalysts of change in young lives, offering defining moments that spur them to dream big and put inspiration into action. OKRs are one way for camps to ensure the opportunity becomes reality.

References

Doerr, J. (2018). Measure what matters. New York, NY: Portfolio/Penguin.

Forbes. (2019). #56 John Doerr. Retrieved from forbes.com/profile/john-doerr/#77dfc21926c5

ONE. (2019). ONE. Retrieved from one.org/us/

Marcia Ellett is a professional writer and editor. She is currently the assistant editor of ACA’s Camping Magazine.