How does Google Manage Growth?
When Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded a company called Backrub, which fortunately they renamed Google, they had an audacious mission: “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
Over the past 2+ decades, they’ve delivered on that mission. You may be wondering, “How did Google manage its massive, rapid growth?”
When an advisor, John Doerr, introduced the process of OKRs to Google in 1999, Page and Brin responded, “Well, John, we’ll give it a go. We don’t have any other way to manage the company.” They quickly adopted it across their whole team (only around 30 employees at that time). Since then, OKRs have been an integral part of the Google culture. Larry Page believes they have been the key to managing Google’s growth.
“OKRs have helped lead us to 10x growth, many times over. They’ve kept me and the rest of the company on time and on track when it mattered the most.”
Since becoming popular at Google, OKRs have been adopted by many other tech-driven companies, including Airbnb, LinkedIn, Spotify, Twitter, and Uber. They’ve also spread into mainline companies like Dun and Bradstreet, Walmart, Target, The Guardian, and ING Bank.
What Are OKRs?
The OKR process is a powerful way to set the collective cadence for your organization because it ensures that people are going in the same direction with clear priorities.
The “O” in OKRs is your Objective ― the overall outcome you are aiming for and when it will be achieved. The “KR” refers to a Key Result ― the final fruit of a series of tasks, which can be expressed qualitatively or quantitatively.
One of my clients, CEO Corey Waite, stated one of his Objectives in this way: “Team dashboard designs are completed and operational.”
His Key Results included:
- Configuration of each team member’s dashboard is agreed upon.
- Final Dashboard beta is delivered.
- Beta is rolled out.
- After initial use, feedback is received and analyzed.
- Dashboard Format is finalized and implemented.
Once you have defined a set of OKRs, you then decide how you are going to achieve each Key Result. The how is typically a checklist of tasks ― the specific actions you will take to achieve your Key Result.
Executing these tasks are where the ‘rubber hits the road’ and real results begin. You do not need to identify every task from A to Z, but you do need to be crystal clear about your Next Step and focus sharply on executing it.
A few years ago, I collaborated with David Allen, founder of “Getting Things Done.” David is widely recognized as the world’s leading expert on personal productivity. We quickly found that we had similar views on the need to identify the next physical action you will take to achieve your Key Result.
David discovered this in his work with thousands of clients over many years. He found that 90% of his clients’ Task Lists were incomplete inventories of still-unclear things. That’s why knowing one thing ― what to do next ― is essential. It’s like a bookmark. You don’t need to mark every page as long as you mark where to continue when you put the book down.
Mountain climbing provides a powerful metaphor for Next Step focus. Your Key Result is clear ― reach the summit. There is no ambiguity about the need to get the Next Step right. If you don’t, you may not reach the top. Even worse, Next Step failure could be catastrophic.
The Next Step discipline is simple: always identify and act on the Next Step required to achieve your Key Result. That is how you get things done.
LELAND RUSSELL is the Founder of GEO Group Strategic Services.
Leland is the co-author of the highly acclaimed strategy book, Winning in FastTime™ and the author of an ongoing series of GEO Knowledge Bytes™ about Adaptive Leadership.
As a hands-on Senior Leadership Advisor, Leland has helped hundreds of leaders in a wide range of organizations meet their toughest challenges.