Most venture-backed startups use OKRs. John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins VC famously created them as a goal-setting methodology for Google.
Company founders of the belief that the “devil is in the detail” love OKRs, and there now exists a whole ecosystem pushing this methodology. Personally, I have always found them clunky, unwieldy and time-consuming and I am relieved that I have found a viable alternative.
I first heard about Traction at the Fast Growth Icons London where I heard three Series-C CEO’s mention Traction by Gino Wickman, so I sent our senior team a copy and we started working through it.
Traction is based on the EOS – Entrepreneur Operating System – broken down into:
Before you roll your eyes: Gino does not come across like a startup version of Tony Robbins (whom I passionately dislike – a charlatan IMO). Instead he comes across more like a Jim Collins, Author of Good to Great – a truly worthwhile read for those trying to build a sustainable and healthy growing business.
The realisation embedded within Traction is that most successful businesses, once their process is analysed and compartmentalised, operate the same way, regardless of the complexity of the product or the particularities of the industry. Applying this clarity in practice, we need to ask ourselves questions like:
- Can your whole team articulate the Vision and Company Values?
- Can you find simple values that your team uses across all aspects of running the business?
- Do you hire and manage well, putting the ‘right person in the right seat’?
- Do you, the CEO, get a Weekly Scorecard with 5 to 15 key metrics?
For us this meant taking the foot off the gas (only slightly) to bring the team together and ensure total alignment around our vision, and consciously articulating the values that are already present in Kandidate as well as the values we want to solidify within our company.
A small time investment in process may well mean pushing back on your investors who will, no doubt, have ever-widening, hot dog-eating appetites for weekly data, reports and detail. Go tell the Peloton-pushing, Matcha-drinking VC to “go shine your Gilets”! While they’re waxing their waistcoats, company founders will be free to align values and process, theory and practice – Traction is right for any stage of business. At seed stage it forces you to articulate your plan, while at Series B or C it will streamline your whole business to help it grow. And for founders it will give you a level of visibility that really will help you sleep better. But, and this is just my opinion, Traction is simply far more effective for Startups in particular, than OKRs.
Whilst the OKR framework is a useful tool for aligning a team around a company objective, and enabling high levels of autonomy for your workforce to achieve their own unique objectives, it does not help define exactly what those objectives they’re working towards are or should be.
And yes, whilst OKRs may enable you to create a trickled down goal setting system where one person’s Objective is a departmental Key Result, like some sort of hyper efficient champagne tier with KPI-filled bubbles that somehow ends up trickling down the front of your startup’s nice clean shirt, OKRs fall short in providing a complete framework to define the vision you’re working towards, the values which define your company, who exactly is going to be working towards these specific objectives (or in Traction’s case, ‘Rocks’), and how progress towards these goals will be measured.
Traction encompasses this part alone in a chapter, not a book, and is far less clunky and admin heavy than OKR (imo).
Which brings me to my final point, and it is that it is not that OKRs are necessarily ‘bad’ (although I am glad to be leaving them behind me; way, way behind me), but rather incomplete and out of sync with a startup’s unique needs; they’re really maximally effective once you already have process implemented, a long-term team you can rely on, and have reached a certain mass where the company is so large providing high levels of freedom is simply the only way to operate and not drown.
During the early, fast growth stages of a startup, processes are still being implemented, and ‘controlled freedom’ is key for any Pre-Series D startup, where ‘relative’ levels of autonomy is desirable. Set the bar high and give people freedom, yes. But let people work without a clearly defined vision, values, and accountability structure in place? Rather you than me.
Steve Jobs said “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” And this makes sense, once a company has a clearly articulated vision, consciously defined values, the right people in the right seats, and a reporting process in place.
As I write this we are now 1 session away from finalising phase one of integrating Traction into Kandidate, and I already believe we have a more united and transparent business because of it.
If any founders out there feel the same way about OKRs as me and would like to hear my take on Traction in more detail, feel free to connect on LinkedIn and drop me a message!