Three Ways OKRs Benefitted the Gates Foundation, From “Measure What Matters” by John Doerr

Companies new to OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) all face initial challenges. Setting Objectives is easy; introduce a new product, meet your sales goal, secure X number of new users. However, are these the right goals? Will these goals inspire your teams, your organization? Perhaps not. In his best-selling book “Measure What Matters”, author John Doerr uses Bill’s and Melinda’s Gates Foundation to illustrate best practices in implementing an OKR methodology. We’ll discuss three ways the Foundation used OKRs to drive superior execution.

Initial funding for the Foundation was an astounding $20 billion. Gates’ question to the Foundation’s senior management, “How do you want to change the world.” An incredible opportunity which carried an awesome responsibility.

Setting the right Objectives

An aspirational Mission is not enough. To be successful, you need definitive goals (Objectives) and a system to measure performance (Key Results).

Every Objective required a well-defined Key Result

Every grant considered by the Foundation required a Mission, an Objective, and a logical way to measure success, a metric, a Key Result.

Track and measure performance.

Address the problems, adapt strategies where necessary, discard those goals that were not productive and replace them with new goals.

OKRs are not static, they are not set in stone, and they certainly are not set them and forget them. The Gates Foundation was fanatical at tracking progress against their Objectives and Key Results. The practice allowed them to be ambitious in their Objectives, yet instilled discipline. Tracking and grading OKRs kept them on focus and provided forward momentum. When a goal proved to be impractical or impossible capital was reallocated to a more productive initiative.

With a Mission as ambitious as “vaccinating every child everywhere” you need a system to set the Objective correctly, determine the correct metrics to be sure you measure the right Key Results, and monitor, track, and grade performance.

Do you manage a company or teams (either as a CEO, a senior executive, a middle manager or even a front-line manager)? Do you set and track objectives? Does aligning employee performance to business goals matter, and are you responsible for driving results? If so, please check out a live demo of Atiim OKR & Goals Management Software and we’d love to hear what you think about it. Thank you!


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