Achieving Success With OKRs – Like Google, LinkedIn & Zynga Do

OKRs, Objectives and Key Results, has been one of the most successful features in our weekly progress reporting tool. It’s a simple and straightforward management method for setting and tracking objectives. It consists of a list of objectives, under each 3-5 measurable key results, like shown in the picture:


In recent years, OKRs popularity has shown a great increase. We’ve seen companies big and small, from churches to Fortune 500, implementing it with success. As the world gets increasingly more integrated, OKRs are a simple way to create structure for companies, teams, and individuals.

Have a look at the slides that give you a quick OKR introduction, some OKR best practices and the OKR history.

The surprising aspect of OKRs is that it really suits everyone, regardless of their industry or size. Each team can find it’s optimal way for implementation. Keeping this in mind, it’s always fascinating to learn how successful corporations are using OKRs. Here are 4 case studies that provide insights:

How Google implements OKRs, Objectives and Key Results

Perhaps the most famous and well known case study of OKRs comes from Google. They implemented this management technique already in 1999 and have been using it ever since.

According to Klau, partner at Google Ventures, Google does OKRs on an annual basis and on a quarterly basis. The annual OKRs are big goals that might change as the year evolves. The quarterly ones, on the other hand, never change.

Setting up objectives and a number of key results that are quantifiable help them hit the mark. Having OKRs at a company , team, managerial and personal level, Google is able to work together and keep the company on track.

Every Google employee should have around 4-6 OKRs per quarter. Having more than that, might get you fired. Each of these objectives are measured at the end of the quarter on a scale of 0 – 1. Most employees at Google aim for 0.6 – 0.7. If you’ve gotten a 1 on any particular key result, then you’ve created it too simple. But if you get under 0.4, then you’re doing something wrong. Therefore, keeping the evaluation process simple, Google employees are able to spend more time to work on their goals rather than on worrying about the grading procedures.

All the OKRs at Google are public. Even Larry Page shares his goals. This helps the community to understand what everyone’s working on. But these OKRs aren’t used to determine promotions. Rather, their for the purpose to keep an eye on what the employees have accomplished. With these systems in place, Google gets a short list of objectives to work against, which increases focus and productivity. Keeping it simple and straightforward is the key to success.

Using OKRs at Zynga to defeat the competitor

2011 was a year of great change for Zynga. When Kenton Kivestu joined the Zynga team, their mobile poker franchise was getting trounced by a competitor. Everything the competitor had was better: their UX was better, they had 5 times more features and they were nailing the appstore rankings. Using the OKR, the Zynga team set the objective to become #1 iOS poker game. After 6 months, the objective turned into result.

We live in a world of many constraints. The only way to execute an ambitious objective is to focus. Focus everything on the best leverage point. In the Zynga team, this meant they needed to focus on the objective that was:

– measurable. Although in their case it wasn’t explicitly quantitative. Nevertheless it offered the team the chance to evaluate their progress at the end of the OKR period. The iOS Top Grossing rankings was the measuring stick. They were either ahead or behind.

– focused. That meant having just a limited number of objectives and key results. Fighting against the temptation to set 10 good OKRs, the Zynga team set just 1, which was to climb the iOS top grossing rankings.

– worth doing. This was the sanity checkpoint forcing them to answer one simple questions: “If the company were a person, would it put the successful completion of this OKR on its resume?”. Basically, it was to check that empty OKRs won’t end up dictating resource allocation.

For the Zynga team, the OKRs truly drove focus and relentless execution. This in turn, produced this incredible result by overtaking the competitors place.

Making OKRs more than an acronym at LinkedIn

Another great case study comes from LinkedIn, who uses OKRs to connect employees to company’s mission. How?

Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, defines OKRs more broadly. He makes the OKRs more personal and about something you want to accomplish over a specific period of time that leans toward a stretch goal rather than a stated plan. He encourages his team to set challenging OKRs, which aren’t easily achievable. The preferred amount of OKRs is 3-5 in any given quarter.

In order to keep up with the progress, Weiner meets with his team once a week for 3 hours and every 6 weeks for a full day. Weekly meetings have a purpose to get an update how everyone’s doing on their OKRs. He always starts the meeting on a positive note by going around the room and asking each of his team-mates to share one personal victory and one professional achievement from the previous week. This infuses the meetings with positive energy from the start.

These simple tactics have helped the CEO and his team to stay focused and on track.

How Swipely managed rapid growth with the OKRs

When Swipely went from a team of 30 to a team of 80, they faced the struggle to move forward as a team. To keep everyone moving in the same direction Swipely CEO, Angus Davis, decided to use OKRs. But to make it more than a goal-setting system, he served it as a layer of communication that holds the company together. Elevating its game at the same time. This strategy, in return, helped him hit a record $1 billion in sales.

In Swipely, the spirit of OKRs is less about action items and more about collaboration. They serve as a layer of communication that holds the company together.

OKRs consist of high level objective, a more detailed description of the importance of that objective and a summary how the objectives align with team and company goals. Connecting personal objectives with the company objectives, is what makes the employees inspired to produce great results.

Like in Google, Swipely also keeps everyone’s OKRs public. According to Davis, public goals force different types of thinking and changes the way people ask for help. Swipely’s implementation of OKRs is all about bringing this type of dialogue to the fore.

At Swipely, OKRs aren’t only a quarterly affair. Davis checks in every week and shapes his management meetings around them. Encouraging everyone else to do the same. Davis believes people should be held publicly accountable for failing to regularly update their OKRs.

Overall, he emphasis that measuring OKRs should be as easy as possible. It’s the formulation of objectives, where people should spend more time.

How can you implement OKRs?

You could use an excel sheet or a google doc, but I believe the easiest way to implement OKR’s in your team right now is to sign up for a trial of Weekdone. Give it a go.