Be Your Own Boss

by Lisa Shufro

Be Your Own Boss

by Lisa Shufro

Using OKRs Even When Your Boss Doesn’t.


Published on 10.05.2018

You’ve read about Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) and how industry leaders like Susan Wojcicki, Sundar Pichai, and even Bono have used them to align, connect, and track company success… but what about when you’re not the top boss?

What if your senior leadership doesn’t use them? Can you still use OKRs for getting things done?

No matter what your job title is, or what kind of work you do—media, government, nonprofit, healthcare, etc.—you don’t need to ask for permission to use OKRs for yourself or your team.

Leadership can happen from any place in your organization. It all starts with the question, “What’s my rallying cry?”

Back in October 2013, when HealthCare.gov was in crisis, former U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer, Ryan Panchadsaram, and his newly assembled team quickly set their goal: make sure as many people as possible could enroll in health insurance.

Three weeks after a disastrous rollout, it was still up for debate whether it was best to save or scrap the website. The small team knew that focusing on the right objectives was their best chance to turn things around.

Together, they came up with a simple goal: to fix Healthcare.gov for the vast majority of users.

They never asked for permission to use OKRs. And they never used the words “OKRs” with colleagues, contractors, or other government employees. But they did set clear benchmarks for success:

  • Make sure that 8 out of 10 people were able to apply using the site (up from 3)
  • Reduce response times to less than 250ms
  • Get the error rate below 0.1%
  • Improve site uptime from 42% to 99%

At first the data they needed to measure progress wasn’t easily accessible. But the tools they built gave them critical insights about how true progress was going.

“Every decision and every bug fixed had to let more people get health care,” said Ryan. “It was an awesome way to focus on what mattered most.”

And while nobody else may have called them OKRs, they used them to frame discussions and prioritize the work.

WHAT are you measuring? WHY does it matter?

What’s your story? Reach out! Email us or comment on our Facebook page.

Lisa Shufro (@lshufro) is WhatMatter.com's Chief Storyteller, an international conference curator, and former Managing Editor of TEDMED.


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Get exclusive guidance from John, Ryan, and the What Matters team by signing up for our weekly newsletter, Audacious. You’ll learn week-by-week how to sharpen your OKRs and stay on track to reach your goals.