Key takeaways from Goal Summit 2016

 On April 14th Betterworks hosted the second edition of its Goal Summit in San Francisco, and the event was fantastic, with a great lineup of speakers.

The conference grew a lot from the first edition, from 300 to 800 attendees, showing the expanding interest in OKR and other Agile management practices such as continuous feedback.

Bellow, I list my key takeaways from the event and links to additional material:

John Doerr and Kris Duggan

Kris Duggan, Betterworks CEO, opened the event by sharing relevant data on goal setting including this one from Josh Bersin (see below):

“Organizations that have employees revise or review their goals quarterly or more frequently were 3.5x more likely to score in the top quartile of business performance.”

John Doerr gave a tribute to Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel, who passed away in March. Grove’s High Output Management is considered by many — myself included — as one of the best business books of all time, so if you haven’t read it, do so.

Doer told the story about how he introduced OKR at an all-hands meeting at Google, with a couple of dozen people gathered around a ping-pong table.

To this day, at every quarterly all-hands meeting, Larry Page gets up there and reviews the OKRs of the organization. For the longest time, he read, individually, all the OKRs of all the engineers.

In the Q&A, Doerr reinforced that companies can choose their OKR cadence. Some use OKR in 6-week sprints while Intel did them monthly: “There is nothing sacred about quarters, pick the frequency, adapt the system to your organization.”

There is nothing sacred about quarters, pick the frequency, adapt the system to your organization.

Doerr and Duggan also explained that not all OKRs should be stretch goals (where you strive to reach 60–70%). Financial and sales targets, for instance, are supposed to the achieved 100%.

Josh Bersin

Josh Bersin is a thought leader in the evolution of performance management and HR. His talk was “The New Organization: Different by Design” and three of his quotes stuck with me:

Culture and leadership are 3X more important than salary in employment brand.

You don’t have to be a California Tech company to have a great culture.

#1 trend is Organizational Redesign, but only 14% have any idea how to do it.

Kim Malone Scott

Kim Malone Scott is a former Googler and her talk was: “How to be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity or Crushing Your Team”.

Scott is the author of an upcoming book called “Radical Candor.” She described her framework for providing guidance and feedback, which is divided into two axes, “Care personally” (the “give a damn axis”) and “Challenge directly”. Radical Candor exists in the top right quadrant:

The Radical Candor Gauge™, check for more.

She explained that, although children usually all give direct feedback, we’ve been taught to avoid it: “No wonder it’s so hard to give honest feedback, we’ve been trained to avoid it since we were eight years old.”

No wonder it’s so hard to give honest feedback, we’ve been trained to avoid it since we were eight years old.

You can read more about Radical Candor of watch one of Kim’s talks on the subject. Highly recommended.

Don Sull

Professor Don Sull from MIT presented on “Goals: The Missing Link Between Strategy and Execution”. Sull shared great insights from his research on goals and execution, which surveyed 8,265 respondents across 305 organizations. Clearly, there is a lot of room for improvement on how companies traditionally set goals:

On the quality of goals

Although 92% responded that their goals were specific, only 44% received regular feedback and only 35% set ambitious goals.

Goals should align execution to strategy

67% of the respondents developed their goals with their bosses and 65% claim that their goals link to their unit’s goals. But only 46% said their bosses explained how the goals support the company strategy, and only 42% know the company’s top 3 goals.

Goals should guide iteration

Although Sull said that “You have to have an iterative approach to deal with uncertainty,” most companies fall short on this dimension:

  • Only 50% of the executives surveyed revise their goals more than once a year.
  • Only 34% met regularly with their boss to discuss progress.
  • Only 28% consistently analyze variance from goal.
  • Only 27% discuss difficult issues openly and honestly.

Adopting OKR would help those companies.

Using goals for coordination

In most organizations, cross-team alignment is a distant dream. 35% of the respondents said their key partners understand their goals but only 21% can learn their colleagues’ goals and only 12% can learn colleagues’ performance.

In most companies, the external partners know more about an executive’s goals than his peers.

Goals want to be transparent

At the same time, in an anonymized analysis of Betterworks client data, Sull found out that “75 percentile of companies have 90% of goals public.” There is hope for goal transparency.

Sull also delivered some great quotes:

If a strategy falls into a company and no one understands it, does it make a difference?

No tool is better than its users. Dropping a tool into your organization and expecting it to solve your problems is hopelessly naive.

Goals are for alignment, not assignment.

Conservative goals narrow the search and lead to incremental improvements.

You can read more about Professor Sull’s research on Harvard Business Review.

Prasad Setty

Prasad Setty, Google’s Vice President of People Analytics and Compensation gave a great talk on “The Science Behind Effective Teams at Google”.

He shared data on research they did at Google trying to understand what made teams more effective. One of the main conclusions was that “WHO is on a team matters less than HOW the team works together”.

WHO is on a team matters less than HOW the team works together

The research also discovered the five dimensions of great teams — Psychological Safety, Dependability, Structure & Clarity, Meaning & Impact:

Psychological Safety

Psychological safety “describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves”.

You can find more data on this research at re:Work, Google’s website for sharing “practices, research, and ideas from Google and others.”

When asked about how to create cross team collaboration, Setty gave this great quote:

One of the ways teams bond is by blaming other teams. Collaboration across org boundaries is what you need to work on.

Patty McCord

Patty McCord, former Chief Talent Officer at Netflix, was probably the most popular speaker of the event. Her talk was “Challenging Everything You Know About HR”, and she delivered as promised, with great quotes that tried to bring some common sense to HR:

Do you know why we have to empower people? Because we took all the power away.

Best practice is code for what everyone else does. And the very opposite of innovation.

Go into work tomorrow and question what you do. If it doesn’t work, don’t do it. If it feels weird, it is weird!

McCord also told the story of a talk she gave with Scotty Bowman, the winningest coach in the history of the NHL. The presenter asked them both how they handled feedback and performance evaluation:

Bowman: After each ten games I sit down with each player, review his statistics with him, discuss the feedback we collected from the teammates, and then we create a plan on how to improve for the next ten games.

– And how about you Patty? What is your recommendation?

Patty: Do what he said!

OKR Geeks

I would like to congratulate the Betterworks team on organizing such a great event. Besides the talks and the networking opportunities, it was also a great chance to catch up with the other “OKR Geeks”:

  • Christina Wodtke’s book on OKR, Radical Focus, is out and if you haven’t read it, you should.
  • Ben Lamorte teamed up with Paul Niven (renowned author on the Balanced Scorecard) to create a new book on OKR due in the next semester. I am looking forward to it.
Christina Wodtke, Ben Lamorte, myself, and David Rosenthal.