Six years ago, when I had itches of entrepreneurship to scratch, I was lucky to be introduced to Matt Mohebbi, a young man who--though coming from a much different background and expertise--was sniffing around the same problem: how to use technology to bring people better health.
Matt had just left a dream job at Google, where he was thoroughly schooled in the quantitative approach to the workplace and, most significantly, the holy combination of objectives and key results, or OKRs--a method to measure what a company aims to achieve and how an employee could measurably and meaningfully contribute.
After interviewing each other's former colleagues (a step I highly recommend to any prospective co-founders), Matt and I decided to join forces as co-founders of Iodine.com. And frankly, though I was CEO and Matt was CTO, Matt was much better versed in the vocabulary of setting goals and calibrating progress, on a company basis and an individual basis.
The thing about OKRs, as practiced at Google, is that they are precise. Every nuance is factored in, and the ultimate set of OKRs is shared widely with universal buy-in. Everyone understands how his or her work contributes to meeting a goal. The Google workplace is a highly engineered system (as you would expect). OKRs are built in layers: Company OKRs are written by the leadership team, team OKRs by the senior vice presidents and vice presidents, and so on down the ladder.
But most startups are not Google. In a typical startup, things are much less holistic and much more dynamic. So how should the everyday entrepreneur think about goal-setting, for the enterprise and for its employees?
At our startup and at the company that acquired us, GoodRx, Matt (who now serves as vice president of R&D) has brought process and protocol into the setting of useful targets in environments that are far less analytical than Google's (that is, anywhere else). And he's come up with three factors that contribute to effective goal-setting.
Make sure to get goals from the top before getting them from the bottom. And make sure people understand why some objectives were chosen and why others were not. Sometimes understanding what not to focus on in a quarter is more important than what to focus on. "This sounds very simple and obvious," Matt says, "but it's amazing how many organizations skip the company or team OKRs yet still ask people to put together their own personal goals."
Make your goals as specific as they need to be--but don't force specifics when they aren't there yet. Putting something down is better than nothing, especially at a smaller, early-stage enterprise. "Many startups don't know exactly what they are building even as they are building it," Matt says. "I've found that goal-setting is even more important when the runway is shorter and what you are building more uncertain."
Know the difference between stretch goals and must-hit targets. Ideally, company goals will be difficult but achievable, with each objective or key result assigned to an owner, and each owner armed with what he or she needs to achieve it (resources, knowledge, and so on). "Be sure to set some objectives that inspire, that may take years to achieve, and that will provide a consistent direction for the different parts of the company," Matt says. "You don't want much daylight between your goals and your mission."
It's important to remember that OKRs and performance reviews are different; when OKRs are challenging, it's possible to have low scores but good performance reviews for individuals. It's important to know why a goal was missed, and to move forward, together.