This is an abridged version of a blog, “How Google sets goals and measures success” by Don Dodge, Developer Advocate at Google and appears here with Don’s kind permission. It originally appeared on his blog, “Don Dodge on the next big thing“.
This blog is part of a series management insights and tips from successful companies such as Zynga and Walmart. I wanted to write about Google, because internally they use a tool called Snippets, which is similar to Teamly. It’s a way for Google employees to share what they are working on with their team-mates. Over to Don:
Google sets impossible bodacious goals…and then achieves them. The engineering mindset of solving the impossible problem is part of the culture instilled in every group at Google. Tough engineering problems don’t have obvious answers. You need to invent the solution, not just optimize something that exists. Every quarter every group at Google sets goals, called OKRs, for the next 90 days. Most big companies set annual goals like improving or growing something by x%, and then measure performance once a year. At Google a year is like a decade. Annual goals aren’t good enough. Set quarterly goals, set them at impossible levels, and then figure out how to achieve them. Measure progress every quarter and reward outstanding achievement.
OKRs are Objectives and Key Results. I submitted my Q1 OKRs with what I thought were aggressive yet achievable goals. Not good enough. My manager explained that we needed to set stretch goals that seemed impossible to fully achieve. Hmmm…I said “This is just a 90 day window and we can predict with reasonable accuracy what is achievable. Why set unrealistic goals?” Because you can’t achieve amazing results by setting modest targets. We want amazing results. We want to tackle the impossible.
Failure is not an option – A while ago I wrote a post about the culture of “failure is not an option” and how, taken the wrong way, that actually conditions people to set modest achievable goals that they are certain they can achieve. Because if they fail…they are fired. Taking great risks, pushing innovation, and striving to achieve the impossible will never happen at companies like that. Google’s culture seems to follow the Thomas Edison approach which paraphrased is “I haven’t failed, I’ve just found lots of approaches that don’t work, and I am closer to the solution”.
Achieving 65% of the impossible is better than 100% of the ordinary – Setting impossible goals and achieving part of them sets you on a completely different path than the safe route. Sometimes you can achieve the impossible in a quarter, but even when you don’t, you are on a fast track to achieving it soon. Measuring success every quarter allows for mid course corrections and setting higher goals for the next quarter.
Every company has a process for setting goals, measuring success, and calculating rewards. It is not that Google’s process is significantly better…it is the mindset and culture that is totally different. There is an energy force field that you can feel when you are surrounded by top achievers. It is exhilarating, and inspires you to achieve more than you thought possible. It feels good!
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Teamly is a SaaS based people management and productivity tool which automates the process of priority setting, and provides an easy way for employees to identify what’s important, commit to it, share it, and track how well they’re doing.
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