Knowing our OKR’s: How a ragtag team is utilizing Google’s most transformative tool to win
I have the distinct privilege to serve as the President of the Inter-Fraternity council on my campus which is commonly referred to as IFC. For readers that are unsure what the Inter-Fraternity Council is, it is the governing body of all fraternities on campus. While there is never a shortage of issues at hand it is rewarding work and I consider it a honor to serve this community.
One of the largest issues this organization has faced is its culture. I often reflect on when I initially told upperclassmen that I admired that I was considering applying for IFC and they laughed in my face. Many individuals that I looked up to encouraged me not to apply. I heard quotes that stuck with me such as:
“That organization (IFC) is such a joke. You and your work will spin in circles until you decide to quit”
Regardless, after hearing these opinions I still saw the awesome potential of IFC and applied. I was then appointed to the position of VP of Scholarship. As I served in my initial year on IFC I soon discovered the multitude and magnitude of these culture issues such as low transparency and accountability. Now serving as the President of IFC with the help of an amazing executive team we are in a position to change this culture and take this organization from good to great.
This leads me to the catchy title and subtitle that caught your eye as you scrolled through your LinkedIn page. To change the culture of IFC and influence the entire fraternity community I knew it would take more than merely utilizing the teachings of Dale Carnegie and John Maxwell. I knew an issue of this importance required proven successful methods. This led to using a tool successfully implemented by company’s such as Intel, Google, and the Bill Gates Foundation. Which led us to using the process of Objectives and Key Results, commonly referred to as OKRs.
I first heard of OKR’s over winter break when I read John Doerr’s powerful book titled, Measure What Matters. In the book, Doerr breaks down the power of the OKR system and offers multiple stories of organizations utilizing this method and achieving amazing results. One of my favorite stories is of NUNA, a healthcare technology company, successfully developing a cloud database for Medicaid. The kicker is that they developed a database that could support 70 million Americans and they were able to do it in one year. I feel this story best showcases how OKRs can lead to amazing results. Influential global organizations such as Google and Intel have reached their level of success thanks to the simple management methodology that ensures the organization focuses efforts on the same important issues throughout the organization. When you break OKR’s down into their simplistic form like that it seems almost too easy!
To sum OKRs up briefly they consist of two components; objectives and key results. The objectives are simply put, what we want to accomplish. You can view objectives as being the direction you see your team moving and they eliminate fuzzy thinking and planning by being action orientated, concrete, and significant. The key results on the other hand are how you are going to get your objective done. Doerr compares them to the milestones on your way to accomplishing your objective. Key results must be specific and realistic but most importantly they must be measurable. As OKR founder, Andy Grove, describes, “At the end you should be able to answer them, did I do that? Yes. No. Simple.” Put these objectives with strong key results together and you have a tool that leads to excellent execution.
With this newfound knowledge and appreciation for OKR’s, I decided to implement it with IFC. With the sense of trust and comradery we established during previous retreats I felt our team was ready to roll out OKR’s. In the initial stages we first set three objectives for the organization and developed key results for each to ensure we were progressing towards them.
With this tool we are able to focus and commit to priorities and then track for accountability. This is an area that previous administrations of IFC and many student organizations in general have failed in. Due to the constant turnover in IFC (one-year terms) there would be sporadic improvements. Good work was being done but the organization had no clear goals or vision to aim and work towards collectively. The organization’s crippling detail was not that there weren’t motivated members or that no progress was being done. The key issue was that there were no clear priorities that they could focus and commit to.
Looking back on my first term in IFC I distinctly remember instances where team members could have aligned and connected through teamwork to reach extraordinary results. By implementing this process,we were able to “horizontally” align goals of team members but also align goals “vertically” with our university’s goals and our governing body: the National Inter-Fraternity Conference. This was a big step for our organization that has created ripples of positive effects that are influencing all of our chapters on campus.
I have an unshakeable belief in our OKR’s. Through well-developed priorities, teamwork, and accountability our IFC team members can truly stretch for amazing results. With this strong faith in our goal setting system, I can confidently say we are on track to achieve unprecedented execution and results that would not only rival our female counter-part the Panhellenic Council but also every student organization on campus.
I personally have seen an organization before and after OKR’s implementation and I can tell you the difference is astonishing. OKRs allow you to develop a culture that creates a circle of safety for your members and ultimately empowers your team members to perform at their best and bring your organization to new heights. The transformative power of this tool when properly utilized is amazing.
John Doerr brings up a thought in his book that I have become obsessed with. How powerful would it be if every organization was able to surface primary goals through objectives and channel their efforts and coordination through key results. If we could do this not only would businesses thrive but individuals would feel a sense of purpose at work and be much more engaged. This is exactly what happened with our ragtag team of fraternity leaders and if we can do it so can you and your organization.
Some may view it as altruistic, I view it as the future.