Published on 04.06.2019
Cascading goals from the top-down align teams but over-alignment can stifle creativity and individual motivation. Organizations need to find a balance between collective commitment and creative freedom. This is where bottom-up OKRs come in.
Since OKRs are transparent throughout an organization, they don’t all have to strictly flow down an organizational chart layer by layer. OKRs can skip some layers for efficiency, going from a CEO straight to a manager or individual contributor.
In organizations, like Google, where enough trust has been built between management and employers, top-level OKRs can be presented by the company’s leadership once and the rest of the organization is free to set their own OKRs. There is no need for individuals to wait for the layers above them in the organizational chart to set their OKRs first.
Former Google Head of People Operations Laszlo Bock explains how that works in his book, Work Rules! “We have a market-based approach, where over time our goals all converge because the top OKRs are known and everyone else’s OKRs are visible. Teams that are grossly out of alignment standout.”
Healthy organizations aim to have half of their goals come from the bottom-up. In practice, that means every contributor is free to set some of their objectives and most importantly all of their key results. This increases engagement and motivation at all levels.
Another byproduct of bottom-up OKRs is innovation, which starts on the ground. Those working closely with the people who are actually building your products and providing services directly to your customers will have a better feel for upcoming shifts and trends in the industry. Or as John Doerr says, “those closest to the problems,” are better able to understand them.
You only have to look at Google’s “20 percent time” rule, that frees engineers to work on side projects for the equivalent of one work day per week, to see how bottom-up OKRs can result in innovation. Game-changing services like Gmail originated as 20 percent time projects.
In Measure What Matters, John Doerr uses the example of the fictional Sand Hill Unicorns Football Team, whose top-level OKR is to win the Super Bowl, to explain bottom-up OKRs. In the example, the team’s physical therapist learns of a new regimen at a sports medicine conference and makes the implementation of the new therapy one of her own OKRs. Although this goal does not directly align with the team’s top-level OKR, it does contribute to its overall objective.
Here are more bottom-up OKR examples:
Let’s revisit the car dealership form our previous cascading OKR example, whose top-level objective is to become the leading electric car dealership in the region. A service technician at the dealership hears that other dealerships in the nation are starting to offer mobile servicing. So, the technician comes up with the following OKR:
O: Run a month-long mobile servicing pilot
Provide mobile servicing for 50 customers
Survey all customers in the pilot
Now imagine a media start-up whose top-level objective is to operate like a top-tier media company. A social media editor at the media start-up is the first to realize that a new video-based platform is generating double the web traffic than other marketing campaigns. So, the editor sets the following OKR:
O: Launch campaign on a new social media platform
Schedule 2 posts per day
Test posts for audience reach and engagement
Bottom-up OKRs will foster engagement and innovation inside your organization. Learn more about OKRs by reading Measure What Matters or exploring more FAQs, Stories, and Resources right here at WhatMatters.com.
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