When was the last time you really thought about what you wanted to accomplish in the next 12 months? Most of us will take part in the somewhat dated ritual of coming up with New Year’s Resolutions, but do we really know what they mean? 12 months is a long time, and many people stick to a New Year’s Resolution for less than a month before they drop out.
Often times, New Year’s Resolutions are just subtly veiled attempts at fixing what you don’t like about yourself. I’m overweight, so I should resolve to go to the gym every day. I’m depressed, maybe I should try mindfulness. It’s easy to get caught up in the Christmas sugar rush and the New Year’s buzz and think that resolutions are going to be easy-peasy. But history will tell us that New Year’s Resolutions are some of the hardest things to accomplish.
Enter John Doerr and the concept of OKRs, or Objectives & Key Results. If someone sits you down and asks you to to describe your long term objectives and key result areas, would you know how to respond? Likely not, but by starting to think in this way you might start to develop an appreciation for the hard work that goes into forming long terms goals, and how much strategic thinking goes into coming up with the best ways to reach those goals.
John Doerr is a venture capitalist from Kleiner Perkins in Menlo Park, California who often speaks about the importance of setting far reaching goals tied to specific tactics and actions. In his TED Talk on the real secret to success, Doerr outlines how powerful setting specific goals and targeted actions can be to achieving long term success.
I’ve long been a fan of the OKR method, both for its simplicity and its effectiveness. If you don’t know much about it, the fine people at Google have put together a fantastic overview of how to set OKRs.
Now, if you’re looking for ways to develop more far-reaching goals for yourself or your organization, check out these four ways to identify the perfect OKRs:
1. Develop an annual outlook
Don’t try to stretch too far when you set your OKRs. Start with objectives that you can reach in a year in a stretch, rather than objectives that you MIGHT reach in 3-5 years. Breaking down objectives into the perfect size is often an art, as you don’t want to go too short (one month) or too long (2-3 years).
Goals that are too short term run the risk of not being inspiring enough to drive action, while long term objectives are harder to grasp.
“The greater danger for most of us isn’t that our aim is too high and miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.” – Michelangelo
2. Focus on the purpose, mission and vision
Spend time asking yourself what the main thing is you’re talking about in this situation. What is the topic at hand? Perhaps more importantly, what is in scope, and what is out of scope? Make sure the objective is something that inspires you and your team, rather than just you.
Imagine standing up in front of a group of people and talking about the same topic, over and over again, over the space of a year. If the idea of this doesn’t excite you, it’s best to choose a topic or a theme that is better suited to your interests.
3. Break down the vision
Once you’ve defined your vision clearly, determine what it will take to get there. Take your time on this step. Define and agree on the results and the actions that are required to reach that long-term objective.
Outline 1-3 key actions and results which will drive success of the objective. If there are over 5 key actions necessary to reach success, it may be necessary to break out that large objective into multiple smaller objectives.
“We aim above the mark to hit the mark.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
4. Create a culture of check-ins and catch-ups
Get into the habit of having weekly and monthly check-ins so that people are aware of the progress being made on each objective. This is a good opportunity to get other people involved and interested in what you’re working on and share what you’ve been excited about in recent weeks. The hard part about this is maintaining consistency and making sure you don’t miss a week or two.
The power of OKRs is incredible if implemented correctly, and I would recommend them to anyone who has previously (successfully or unsuccessfully) attempted to adopt a New Year’s Resolution for the betterment of themselves and their team.
How are you going to make sure you stay on track with your resolutions for this year? Share your thoughts and advice for others below!
What Les Misérables Taught Me About Our Values
Who am I? The ultimate question many of us try to answer. When I think of values, I think of Victor Hugo’s 1862 book, “Les’ Miserables”. In Hugo’s book, Jean Valjean, is used as a protagonist to highlight the power in redemptive love and compassion. Valjean goes into prison for stealing a loaf of bread, entering as a simple and decent man. His time in jail seems to have an unrepairable effect, where he emerges from the chain gang as a tough, bitter criminal who hates society for what it has done to him. (more…)
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It’s excruciating when we know what’s killing us but we can’t do anything about it because as you know, it is not easy to pull the brake on a high way. According to Napoleon Hill, “remember this always – the best (and one might say the only) way in which old habits may be removed is to form new habits to counteract and replace the undesirable ones”. (more…)
Why Do We Have An Unconscious Bias and How Can We Manage It?
When I hear someone using my name once in a while throughout the conversation we are having, I cannot stop myself thinking “this person must have read Dale Carnegie’s books or must have been influenced by someone who read them…” Have you just recalled a similar moment and it felt nice?
As Dale Carnegie famously said, “Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and the most important sound in any language”. Why did Dale Carnegie highlight the importance of an individual’s name to that person in his “How to Win Friends and Influence People” book published in 1936?
Each and every one of us wants to feel special and unique. I guess he recommends using the person’s name in the conversation because that is one of the easiest ways to grab that person’s attention so that we can enhance the chances of getting our point across. However, I am more interested in this from the other side; hearing our names directly addresses our individuality, our need or desire to feel special and unique.
Let’s park this one for now and we will come back.
Categorization is essential to our survival
There is countless scientific research telling us about how our brains recognize similarities and put things into categories, which has been crucial to our survival in evolution and still helps us with a lot of things from learning new things to coping with the continuous influx of massive amounts of information through our senses.
The continuous influx of information is mostly handled by our subconscious mind rather than conscious. It is estimated that our brains receive about 11 million bits of information every second through our senses, of which only 40-50 bits can be processed by our conscious mind. We process more information than we are aware of. The magic here is the subconscious mind.
An example is when you are at a very loud party where you hear a lot of words flying around without you recognizing each one of them, then suddenly, you immediately catch it when you hear your name. Your subconscious had been processing all of those words, without your awareness, but informed your conscious mind when your name was out there because it was relevant to you.
In order to most effectively process this much information and inform the conscious mind with only the relevant ones, our subconscious employs categorization as one of its strategies.
When our ancestors encountered some deadly predators in the African savanna, their subconscious prompted their conscious mind to immediately fight or flight by categorizing the information gathered through their senses into “predator / life threat / take action”. Most probably we are not descendants of the ones that were frozen rather than fighting or flighting!
Although it is a completely different situation, the same strategy applied in remembering lists. Let’s look at the below two lists.
- lion, eagle, shark, leopard, hawk, whale, panther, falcon and dolphin
- lion, leopard, panther, eagle, hawk, falcon, shark, whale and dolphin
The second list is easy to remember because it is reordered into relevant groups even though the content of the both lists are identical.
Subconsciousness is the magic and categorization is one of its key strategies. It is essential to our survival, learning new skills and processing information as well as bringing back the information we had processed and stored.
This amazing skill has its drawbacks
As a result of our brains’ categorization strategy, we also categorize people, especially if we don’t know them as well as our closest ones.
Imagine I am sitting at the table next to yours while you are having your favorite coffee and working on your computer or reading your novel at your neighborhood coffee shop. I stand up, very calmly grab your bag, and start walking away. Your reaction might be quite different depending on my outfit. It could be much more vocal and harsh if I have a dirty T-Shirt and a pair of torn jeans on. However, if I have some navy colored, 3-piece suit and well-pressed white button up shirt on, you might even say something like “Excuse me, you might have picked up my bag by mistake”. (There is an experiment done by social psychologists which reported similar results)
Similarly, I would not be surprised to hear that my co-worker’s spouse is very skilled and knowledgeable in English grammar and literature because he is an English teacher. However, I would not expect it from my co-worker herself because she is an outstanding chemical engineer.
This is defined as unconscious bias or stereotyping, as a result of our subconscious brain’s categorization strategy. The outfit I have at the coffee shop impacts your response to my action, because it puts me into a different category in your mind depending on my outfit. My co-worker’s and her spouse’s backgrounds make me put them into different categories, which might mislead me sometimes.
Just like we categorize things, it is very natural that we categorize people.
The key question here for me is; how do we truly treat people as individuals so that they feel unique, just like as they would want, while we know that our brains categorize people?
We can overcome unconscious bias
Leonard Mlodinow, in his enlightening book “Subliminal”, suggests that “if we are aware of our bias and motivated to overcome it, we can.” That doesn’t mean that we need to fight our brain’s categorization strategy. We just need to employ our conscious mind more when we are working or dealing with individuals.
Our unconscious bias might tell us scientists are bunch of technical nerds who cannot understand abstract concepts that marketers are talking about or it might say that marketers are some daydreamers who need to be grounded by scientists to the real world all the time. I am an engineer and I love thinking in abstract terms and I worked with quite a lot of marketers who thought primarily in factual and concrete terms.
Spending some effort to learn more about individuals will help overcome unconscious bias. Gathering more information and qualities about them will make it easier for us to treat them as individuals rather than a member of the category we put them in our minds.
The moral of the story here is to recognize the fact that our brains do categorize, and it is essential; but also, to recognize that every individual wants to feel unique. When we appreciate these two and keep reminding them to ourselves, we are one step closer to figuring out our own way to overcome unconscious bias and treat people more like individuals.
What was the most interesting part of this article for you? Share your thoughts below!
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