Art of Focus – Set Audacious objectives

What do Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Bono and Steve Jobs all have in common? They have all learnt to say “No” to the things that are not important. They have an objective focus on a goal and work towards that through targeted key results. With so many distractions bombarding us each day our ability to filter out the noise and focus on what is important is key.

Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Bono and Steve Jobs have all learned to focus on key objectives.

Measuring what matters…

Measure what matters” by John Doerr is a philosophy that has achieved popularity more recently by Google and Intel. It comes out of a combination of management techniques from Peter Drucker’s Practice of management to Geroge Doran’s “Smart Way” and Kaplan and Norton’s balanced scorecard, all led to the development of Objective Key Results (OKR).

Where you have a clear focus everything else becomes just noise and the measurement in the light of that objective gives a clear indication of priorities.

Bono’s One organisation is using OKR technique to achieve two very specific objectives for some of the poorest countries in the world.

  • Debt Cancellation for poorest countries in the World
  • Universal access to anti-HIV drugs

Being passionate about a project is not enough, you need a way to put that passion into action, I like the way Bono summarises it:

“If your heart doesn’t find a perfect rhyme with the head then your passions means nothing. The OKR framework cultivates the madness, the chemistry contained inside it, it gives us an environment for risk for trust where failure is not a fireable offence. When you have that kind of structure and environment with the right people, then magic is around the corner.”

Bono speaking on the OKR framework.
Bono on OKR

Set an audacious objective.

I think it is very easy to complain and and say you are too busy or the problem is too hard. But in some ways having a seemingly impossible challenge is the exciting thing about the most difficult projects. It takes a series of steps each day, where we need to focus on that one key thing to accomplish and make sure that it get’s done.

The question also becomes how do you inspire other people to work with you on that goal. When John F. Kennedy set the goal of putting a man on the moon, it was not because it was easy, but because it was difficult and choosing to accept something which is hard, pushes our abilities and makes us achieve something greater as a team that we could not accomplish as an individual.

Objective and Key Results or OKR’s for short have been key to organisations like technology companies and governments to develop their key projects and product lines.


“Where do I need to go?”

Objectives are statements that inspire and set direction.

Should not be measurable.

Key Results

“How do I know I’m getting there?”

Key results measure progress toward an objective.

Should be measurable.

Once a quarter senior management decide what the objective is for the quarter. To know where you are going it is key to also know where you do not want To go. Focusing on the key objectives means that you don’t focus on anything that is going to waste your time.

Have practical checkpoints.

The top down approach also needs to have a bottom up approach. This was also pioneered by Google who allow an engineer to spend up to 20% of their time on personal projects that they want to develop. Notable successes in this approach have been project “Caribou” which later developed into Gmail which is one of the most popular email clients in the world.

To successfully implement this approach there needs to be

  1. Only a handful of organisational OKR’s at any one time
  2. A clear time frame
  3. Quantifiable results

Quality and quantity

In order to stay on track then it is important to have monthly reviews. The public review of progress to the rest of the team helps people to be focused. Human nature dictates that if the goal is public then people are more likely to achieve it and feel accountable towards it.

At each meeting then four actions can be taken:

  1. Continue – the objective is on track and makes sense to continue
  2. Update If external conditions have changed and it makes sense to update accordingly
  3. Start a new OKR which may be relevant
  4. Or stop an OKR that is clearly not going anywhere

Colour coding your results.

That leaves the final question how do you measure what has been delivered. Google uses the following approach:

  • 0 to 0.3 Red no progress has been made
  • 0.4 to 0.6 Amber significant progress has been made but key result is unmet
  • 0.7 to 1.0 Green Key result is being met.
  • Blue result has exceeded expectations
Example colour coded results

If key results are always green then you are setting results too low. Set challenging goals and make yourself accountable to deliver them. Learn how to fail gracefully and accept the failure but then learn from the mistake and move forward with greater wisdom to set your next objective.

Benefits of Objective Key Results.

The OKR strategy serves to motivate and empower people within an organisation. It gives teams autonomy to decide the direction giving them a voice and driving engagement. Making it a great place to work for everyone.

The simplicity of having clear objectives and key results creates clarity and transparency and most importantly drives focus of what is important.

It also helps everyone in the organisation align around common objectives giving a clear structure that is data-informed in driving the business success.

How do you set goals and measure what matters? Do you agree with the above approach, I’d be interested to know what you have found to work in the comments below.

Measure What Matters – John Doerr

2 Responses

  1. June 2, 2020

    […] added business value that is tangible. Do this by starting small and demonstrating a proof of concept that adds value immediately to the company’s bottom line. This helps get buy-in from senior stakeholders early […]

  2. June 27, 2021

    […] of the greatest characteristics of highly effective people is the ability to stay focused on the most important activity. They have learned to say no to everything else and just focus on what is important. That takes […]

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