Let's Kick Off The New Year with OKRs!

Let's Kick Off The New Year with OKRs!

Maxwell Ryan
Jan 9, 2017

Tomorrow we begin our first Monthly Report process of the new year. It will be slightly truncated, avoid duplicating all the navel gazing we've already done and look forward at the next two and a half months. As you begin this work, I wanted to share some thoughts about how to bring yourself to the work, both individually and as teams.

At our company retreat just last month we created something brand new: an award, voted on by the entire company, for The Game Changers of 2016. It was inspired by a small passage in The Lean Startup, in which Eric Ries talks about rewarding for what you want to promote within your ranks. While we have many metrics that mean a lot to all of us, from revenue to traffic, it is absolutely essential, as a fast growing company in a fast growing space, that we protect and reward for disruptive, creative and innovative behavior peacefully operating within our ranks.

I was so proud not just of being able to call out Annie and Amanda's names at our dinner that fabulous night, but I was even prouder of the roar of the whole hall as they walked up. Everyone in the room was responsible for that moment, not just department heads, and two people were singled out who absolutely inspired us all in the past twelve months. That was a victory not only for Annie and Amanda, but for all of us in that room, and this has continued to stand out as a small turning point in our culture that I want to continue to promote.

As Eric Ries says, the only way to get the type of behavior you want to grow is to point out, honor and reward it.

But what does "Game Changing" really mean? In the survey Vanessa sent out it was put like this:

"This year we would like to take some time to recognize those individuals in the company who have truly stood out as a risk-taking, innovative, and integral part of our team in 2016. This person not only helped the company go above and beyond, but they also brought ideas to the table that truly changed the game."

The three key pieces here are "risk-taking, innovative," brings new ideas to the table AND is "an integral part of our team." This means that while we're all getting the job done, we keep our minds open for real opportunities AND dangers that others may not see and bring them into our group thinking in a way that everyone can (eventually) understand and get behind.

We are not in a static business. It is changing every day, which is why having this DNA inside of our ranks is paramount, and everyone, in some way, will participate. While we're over a decade old, we all need to remember that maintaining the speed, agility and questioning of a startup is who we need to be even more in this new year.

(Image credit: NY Mag)

The Washington Post is an OLD paper, but their remarkable turnaround speaks to exactly this type of behavior. Listen to this description by Shailesh Prakash, CIO, of how compensation rewards have changed at the Post in the last five years:

SP: [Jeff Bezos] also made some very strong changes in the compensation model. The number one criteria that grows our compensation used to be operating income. Did you or did you not hit the operating income target that was agreed upon at the beginning of the year?...

When Jeff [Bezos] bought us, within about six months, he threw that out. Now there are three other criteria. It's basically: How fast do you move? It's very subjective. The second one is that there are no sacred cows, to push experimentation. The third thing is debate, but commit. So you can argue all you want, but once we agree, then there's no undermining. Those are the three things that now very subjectively drive the compensation.

Via Columbia Journalism Review

Welcome to a new year!

We are now shoved off into the first quarter with our regular work and our OKRs lined up and expecting action. Now is the time to get a jump on the year and set the momentum. We should all be looking out for game-changing moments along with maintaining our speed and commitment. Twelve months goes very fast and every week is precious.

Do good work, and don't be slow about it or put things off til next week or not do something until you can meet with five other people which may take a month. Be quick to do things and quick to ask for collaboration, feedback or a simple response. I want all of us to move with great momentum and speed, iterating small changes all the time. That's why we've adopted this simpler, small batch three month OKR process.

But it's not just about each of us as individuals, it's also about teams.

(Image credit: SF Chronicle)

This weekend I was reading deep into the back of Lean Startup, and I was struck by how the concept of game-changing and innovation doesn't just apply to individuals among us. It also applies to our teams. There's a great bit in the "Innovate" chapter about how companies often take teams OUT of the company to protect them so they can innovate, take risks and operate independently. Think about how Steve Jobs established a completely separate secret team in a different part of Palo Alto when he returned to Apple in 1997 after a twelve year hiatus [Ries calls this the Black Box method]. His goal for the new team was to compete with the Macintosh dominated Apple which was floundering and "destroy it." In other words, he wanted to forcibly innovate. Jobs was successful, but Ries points out that this is a dramatic, risky and unfortunate point to get to. The real goal is to always foster teams that can innovate WITHIN the company. This he calls "Innovation Sandboxes," which is exactly what I believe we're ALREADY doing with our SQUAD concept.

Listen to how he describes the Innovation Sandbox:

- The challenge here is to create a mechanism for empowering innovation teams out in the open.

- One team must see the whole experiment through from end to end.

- No experiment can run longer than a specified amount of time [for this we use the three month OKR cycle].

- Whenever possible, the innovation team should be cross-functional and have a clear team leader... It should be empowered to build, market and deploy products or features in the sandbox without prior approval. It should be required to report on the success or failure of those efforts by using standard actionable metrics...

- I strongly recommend that startup teams be completely cross-functional, that is, have full-time representation from every functional department in the company that will be involved.... Handoffs and approvals slow down the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop and inhibit both learning and accountability.

- The sandbox also promotes rapid iteration. When people have a chance to see a project through from end to end and the work is done in small batches... they benefit from the power of feedback.

Every department we have is practically an Innovation Sandbox, but our Squads around our OKRs certainly are. These Squads are the tasked with the most difficult work and our highest aspirations. They help set the standard for our innovation and our ability to change.

You will all be watching our OKR Squads this quarter and hearing about their progress. You will all be deeply involved in your departments, and Council will be tracking all of your progress weekly.

I couldn't be more excited to see what this quarter brings as we kick off the Year of the Reader, and I wish you all the very best. See you tomorrow.

January 16, 2017


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