Christina Wodtke on Radical Focus and Living Your Goals with OKRs

Build with Maggie Crowley

Today on Build, host Maggie Crowley sits down with Christina Wodtke, author of the legendary book Radical Focus: Achieving Your Most Important Goals with Objectives and Key Results, which Maggie describes as the best book on goal setting – ever.

In the episode, Maggie and Christina, dive deep into Christina’s experience in product roles at MySpace, Zynga and LinkedIn, her transition out of industry and into academia as a lecturer at Stanford, and of course using Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) as a framework for achieving your team and company-wide goals. So if you’re looking to start 2019 off on the right foot, this episode is for you.

You can get Build on Apple PodcastsSoundCloudSpotifyStitcher or wherever you get your podcasts. Or listen to the full audio version below ?

Like this episode? Be sure to leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ review and share the pod with your friends! You can connect with Maggie and Christina on Twitter @maggiecrowley @cwodtke.

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In This Episode

0:28 – Introduction of Christina Wodtke

0:30 – Christina’s insight about the work on her book Radical Focus, and her background

4:03 – How we live our goals is more important than the goals themselves

6:02 – Goals don’t have to be there from the very beginning

7:03 – A better approach to product development

7:58 – Christina shares some very important insights about the utilization of metrics in your company

8:12 – Experiential learning–in order to get to good guesses, you have to leave space for bad guesses and being wrong

11:02 – The biggest traps when setting OKRs (Objectives and key results), and how to avoid them

13:23 – The Moonshot Approach for OKRs: they are by their nature stretch goals

15:09 – How can we know when are we really truly realizing our potential?

22:29 – The secret to dealing with complex, multifaceted problems is to teach team members how to work together

23:01 – Important things for students to know when entering the job market

26:00 – High-performing teams are all about the ability of team members to interact with each other

26:38 – A lot of conflict within teams arises out of disagreement about, or lack of norms around ways to act, cooperate, and disagree

29:23 – Christina shares some final pieces of advice that she thinks everyone needs to hear

32:03 – Find the way to celebrate what you are accomplishing

32:40 – Commit to the fact that it’s going be hard, but it’s going be worthwhile

Full Transcript

Maggie Crowley: Welcome to Build, this is Maggie. Today I’m really excited because I have Christina Wodtke, the author of Radical Focus, in my opinion the best book on goal setting that I’ve read. Current lecturer at Stanford, she also has a background in product at Zynga, Myspace, and LinkedIn. Basically, she’s been at some of the biggest companies that we’ve had, seem them grow up, and I’m really excited to talk to her today, so welcome Christina.

Christina Wodtke: Thank you Maggie.

Maggie: Awesome. I wanted to start a little bit about your background and how you got to the point where you wrote that book, Radical Focus. Can you tell me a little bit about how you got to the point where you needed to or felt the need to write the book on goal setting?

Christina: Yeah, definitely. It’s interesting because I had worked at Zynga and it’s a John Doerr company, which means that it had OKRs, and I’d gotten really into the habit of just living by our OKRs. There were a lot of things that Zynga did smart, and it’s interesting to think about Zynga because it grew really, really fast, and it fell pretty, pretty hard. It’s hit a stable state now, but it’s very easy to throw the baby out with the bathwater, and I think when I think about what Zynga really did right was the way they used OKRs. It was just so tight.

And then when I left industry, I was helping various startups with this and that, and I just couldn’t believe how they struggled to do the things they said they’d do. When you first meet a startup, they’re really excited, they’re telling you how they’re going to change the world, they have this amazing vision, and then when you get to work with them day by day, they’re all bogged down. It’s always, “Oh look over there, there’s this thing we could do, or should we apply to Y Combinator?” All these things.

They really struggled to live their mission and they had what I think of as mission drift, where if you don’t look at what you’re trying to do every single week, which is what Radical Focus is all about, people start making up stories about what you’re trying to do, and then you get conflict. Some people might think that you’re there to revolutionize healthcare and then somebody else is really all about the cost savings and these stories create tensions and confusion. It’s hard to know what you should actually do with your day when you don’t really know what your goal is.

So, when I first started working with the startups, I started introducing them to OKRs, which the way I’d done it in Zynga, then I started tweaking them and simplifying them based on how people worked with it, and writing about it. It’s a lot like the Eric Ries story. With Lean Startup, he very first started just blogging about the lean methodology and said, “Hey, this thing kind of works. Who else is trying this out? What do you think?” That was the same thing for me, I was saying, “Hey, here’s some things I know about OKRs” and other people would say, “Hey, can you hop on a call? I’d love to talk about what we’re trying to do.”

I accidentally ended up getting a lot of knowledge about OKRs earlier than a lot of other folks because I think in public. So, after that, I thought, “Well, maybe I should write a book.” I’m a big fan of storytelling. There’s a lot of data that shows if you learn things through a story, you’re more likely to retain them. I’m a big fan of 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, one of my favorite books of all time, and so I decided to do a story based on an amalgam of the very startups I’d worked with and what I’d seen them struggle with.

I hoped that that would make it easier to read, more fun to read, but more important, easier to remember. I was just talking to a friend who has a startup and he said when he read Radical Focus, he remembers it because it felt like he was doing a ride along with Jack and Hannah, so he thinks about it still, just because he got really involved in the character’s lives, and I think that’s pretty nifty.

Maggie: Yeah. I agree, and I think it’s probably one of the first books I had read in a business context, that had that relatable story that you could continue to refer back to.

Christina: Yeah. I think there are a handful of really good business fables. Phoenix Project’s another one. But they don’t get a lot of respect, but they get a lot of love. I think if I have to pick between the two, I’ll take the love.

Maggie: Yeah. One question I have on the thing you were talking about with goals at Zynga, is do you think that the goals need to be ingrained in the culture from the beginning? Because I know at least I’ve seen and been a part of a couple of we’re at a point where we need to have OKRs and we’re going to do this big thing, and then we go through this long, drawn out, slow process, and then we stamp them and we have our OKRs, and of course we forget them and never look at them again. It sounds like Zynga, it was ingrained in the culture. How have you seen people bridge that gap?

Christina: It’s really habit building. I mean, the secret is the cadence. I think the cadence is, it’s not even as much about goal setting, which is interesting. One of the reasons I think OKRs are a nice goal setting methodology is because the objective is qualitative and the KR is quantitative and so it unites the entire company. But that’s not what makes the methodology so powerful. What makes it powerful is touching it. I often think of OKRs as a smooth rock in your pocket that you touch with your hand over and over and over again.

At the beginning of the week when you’re setting your meeting, you’re saying, “What are we doing towards our OKRs?” When you write your weekly status, you’re saying, “What did I accomplish towards the OKRs?” When you have the bragging session, “What did we towards the OKRs?” Everybody sets goals, everybody who’s made a New Year’s resolution has set a goal that they’ve immediately forgotten about, I’m sure.

So, the struggle is not, “Can I set a good goal?” And I love smart goals and KPIs and all of those, but the question is how do we live our goals? How do they make them part of our life? I’ve worked in agile companies forever, and I think the ritual is the answer. Just like a daily standup is powerful, the goal setting and the bragging sessions are absolutely vital to the OKR’s ability to not be forgotten.

You asked me a couple of different questions in your one question, very sneaky. But another question is does it have to be there from the very beginning? I don’t think so. I think there is always a point with a company where it’s time for OKRs. It’s interesting, the gentleman I was talking to today, he said, “What do you mean you don’t need OKRs before product market fit?” You can use OKRs to help you focus on product market fit, if you want to, you could say, “Here’s my hypothesis and here’s the three key indicators, and if we don’t get it within three months, it’s time to pivot,” right?

Maggie: Right.

Christina: A lot of startups die because they don’t know when it’s time to change. They just keep going, “One more week, one more week” when they wake up and they’re out of money. But then there’s another point where you’ve found your product market fit and now it’s really important to get everybody pointed in the same direction to execute against it. I see people adopt it then when it’s like, “Okay, let’s make sure everybody understands this is the single most important thing we’re doing this quarter or next quarter.”

And then it gets really ugly when you try to adopt them as really big companies, and that’s been one of the biggest struggles I see. Ben Lamorte, who’s a good friend of mine, and Felix Castro, the three of us are all people without software to hawk, so we always talk to each other about what we’re seeing our clients struggle with.

When you have a big company, there’s an instinct to do exactly what you said which is, “Let’s implement it everywhere.” That’s almost a certain recipe for destruction. All of us have seen the same thing. What the best thing anybody can do is create a pilot, a small, usually a product group, that’s essentially self-sufficient. They have their own engineers, they have their own designers, and then have them start piloting, because there’s so many factors that go into the OKRs being viable.

One is do you even have the metrics? Like, I’m always surprised at how many companies I work with and they haven’t even thought about what metrics actually matter to them. First you have to figure out, what are the numbers that will actually tell us what we need to know? How are we actually going to measure them, how are we going to collect them? How are we going to set a baseline of what our current status is? How are we going to make a guess about what the future can look like?

This is where it gets really tricky because in order to get to good guesses, you have to make bad guesses which means you have to tolerate a period of being wrong. That can be really hard in some companies. There just isn’t tolerance for what’s considered failure. When the reality is, it’s not failure at all, it’s experiential learning. I always tell people you’re going to have a fail cycle first where you’re just so very, very wrong, it’s almost ridiculous. You’re going to laugh.

You’re either going to aim way too high or way too low. You’re going to be measuring the wrong things, but you have to trust that very valuable learning experience because a learning company is a company that can compete in the marketplace. The methodology that goes with OKRs is as much about becoming a learning company as it is about becoming a high performing company, because of the constant checking in, and saying, “What’s working and what’s not working?”

Maggie: Right ’cause you mentioned earlier that it’s about living those goals and living those rituals, and so I think that’s making it more clear to me that it doesn’t even really matter what your first pass is at those metrics.

Christina: Oh, of course it doesn’t.

Maggie: Of course it matters, but at least start somewhere and then continue to learn and iterate from there that that’s the best part about using this, rather than just the fact that you’re “Doing OKRs.”

Christina: Absolutely. No, the first pass genuinely doesn’t matter if you get it right, but it does matter that you do it.

Maggie: Right. Because I think we’re at a stage where we are coming out of finding our product market fit, and aligning on what we want to do, and now we’re figuring out how we can be more efficient and tactical and strategic about what we are doing, so those metrics are becoming much more important to us, and we’re at that point where we haven’t, maybe we can’t measure everything that we want to, but now we’re starting to put the tracking in place that we can into those questions, that we’re at least starting to ask.

Christina: Well, I always point people at Alistair Croll’s Lean Analytics book. He’s a big proponent of figuring out what’s the single most important metric, and because I’m of course, a Radical Focus person, I’m going to be wildly enthusiastic about that. It’s so tempting to hang out those numbers and look at every single little thing, and something moves and you don’t even know, “Should I be excited? Should I be worried? Should I be happy?”

You have to figure out what are the metrics that you’re actually going to pay attention to? You have to create a hierarchy of metrics. When I work with really metrics driven companies, I told you about the ones that aren’t even measuring anything, but there’s the opposite problem, which is you’re measuring absolutely everything.

Then the OKR four-square becomes more an overview sheet and then we go into all the metrics. But it’s really important to have that clarity of, “This is what we’re paying attention to at this moment and if we have to screw every number up in order to get these numbers up, we’re going to make that choice.” It just adds clarity to your execution.

Maggie: Right. When someone comes to you, one of your clients comes to you and says they’re ready to get onboard with OKRs or goal setting in general, what are the biggest traps that people fall into when they first try to do this, that can maybe demotivate them from sticking with it?

Christina: Oh, my gosh. It’s really funny, I get a lot of calls from people who have already tried OKRs once, and it failed and now they’re like, “My company hates OKRs. They never want to do it again. What am I going to do?” Because of exactly what I was saying. They tried to make it this company wide initiative without really thinking it through.

There’s an old saying, I don’t know who said it, it’s, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” That’s what I see happening is they come in and say, “Okay everybody, we’re all going to do this one thing” and people roll their eyes and then ignore it. What I learned, and this was way back at Yahoo days, was nothing succeeds like success. What you need is one group to be insanely successful and then roadshow it, and everybody’s like, “Oh, I want that love. I want that attention. I want those bonuses.”

By creating a pilot team that’s smart and motivated and committed to work in this way, get them some successes, and then point to them in the company meeting and say, “Well, those folks know what they’re doing. Those folks are crushing it” or whatever language your company uses, and then a little bit later you’re like, “We’re looking to expand the program, who’s interested?” You’re going to get people to sign up.

One of the things is you can’t roll it out over night. You’re going to have to think about a full, easily a fully year to get a roll out. It’s going to just have to be slow. The other problem is compromise, which sounds strange, but one of the tensions I know, LinkedIn adopted OKRs after I had left, and I got this interesting story from a friend who still worked there, that some of the company was using OKRs as stretch goals, and others were using OKRs as just easily reachable goals.

It created this tension within the company which is, “Why are we trying to do these amazing, ridiculous moonshot like things, when those folks over in the corner are sandbagging?” And maybe they aren’t sandbagging, but you have to figure out what are OKRs for us? I’m a big fan of the moonshot approach that Google also espouses, which is OKRs are by their very nature, stretch goals. You’re always trying to see what’s possible and if you have the freedom to fail, that’s acceptable.

It’s like, we’re going to aim for the moon, but even if we don’t get there, at least we have tang and velcro, right?

Maggie: Yeah.

Christina: Let’s see what happens along the way, but if you don’t have that culture, you’re going to have to figure out a way to get there. You have to make sure that people are going to be rewarded on what they accomplished, not on what they said they could accomplish.

Maggie: Yeah, I’ve been a part of a team where OKRs are put into place, and it was said at the beginning, “You should only be realistically able to achieve 70 to 80% of this objective that you set for yourself, so that’s good” but then when it came time to measure ourselves, we were color coding aside in green, yellow, and red, and there were a lot of yellows which would bring us to that ideal 70-80% zone, but everyone felt really bad not putting green.

It’s now that you bring it up, culturally we couldn’t figure out how to be okay with the fact that we weren’t hitting the goals that we were setting, so there was a lot of tension around bringing OKRs in, and even though we were saying it was good, being okay with the fact that you actually shouldn’t be able to hit it.

Christina: Yeah. Nobody likes the color yellow. It’s interesting, because if you have a culture that doesn’t have that tolerance for learning and the price that learning costs, then maybe green could have been the 70% and blue stars could have been higher. Something ridiculous, like a once a year celebration. Is there a way to realize that 70% is good?

I think this is one of the biggest tensions in OKRs, in that there is always that question of when are we really truly realizing our potential? In fact, this is the question of capitalism, is can we constantly grow forever? Is that really a viable approach? Can people always be more and more productive? What I like about OKRs is I’m always asking myself, “What else am I capable of?” I’m curious about that.

But on the other hand, you don’t want to drive people into the ground, right? You don’t want to burn out your employees. There is always going to be a question of what does a steady state look like? Where are we choosing to grow? Why have we chosen to grow in that place? What does it look like if we don’t make it?

I think that’s one of the bigger questions about OKRs, because I know a lot of people don’t find out what they’re capable of until they implement OKRs and are setting those moonshot goals. Then you go, “Holy crap, we can do a lot more than we thought we can” but that’s not sustainable forever. That is an interesting tension.

On the other hand, I’m going to argue with myself, one of the things that my clients really struggle with is they don’t realize that when you move from one quarter to the next quarter, it’s not like people totally forgot what happened last quarter. OKRs have an interesting cumulative effect. Let’s say you spent an entire quarter working on retention, you’ve gotten those numbers up. “Now, we’re going to go ahead and spend the next quarter on acquisition.” Well, it’s not like we’ve forget everything we knew about retention.

People are still caring about it, they’re still watching over it, they’re still watching that number, they know a lot about retention. So now they know a lot about retention and acquisition, and then the next quarter maybe you’re focusing on conversion. Suddenly, you have this growing effect, a lot like going to college where you go from the 101s to the 201s to the 301s, right?

Quarter is making your company smarter in this way that’s amazing and powerful, and it can create extraordinary growth.

Maggie: Awesome. That brings up a point or topic I wanted to talk about, which is you are teaching right now at Stanford, and you were mentioning OKRs as a way to figure out the potential of a company and of people, and of setting those moonshot goals, but maybe it’s not sustainable forever. You’re teaching the brightest minds that are maybe going into tech, ’cause I know you’re teaching human computer interaction, so what are you seeing from those students? Where do you think they’re going to take some of these goal setting things in this industry?

Christina: Yeah. I always think of William Gibson who said, “The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed.” Every time I walk into the Gates building, it’s like stepping into a science fiction book. There’s a robot in the lobby wandering around, and there’s conversations about smart showers that can detect cancer, and just I really do feel like I’m living in the future, which is so fascinating.

The students are not what I expected in a lot of ways. I knew they were going to be smart, and I think somehow I’d gotten this idea that they were going to be money hungry, Wall Street types, who just wanted to start the next startup they could sell to Facebook to make a buck, and they aren’t like that at all.

The students I’m teaching care so much about trying to make the world a better place. They even get impatient if they feel like we’re not working on hard enough problems. We opened our HDI course with the problem with lunch and you go out and you observe lunch, and you try to figure out why there’s backup, why things don’t work, and it’s a really elegant, simple project, and I’ve had students rebel going, “This is first world problems. Why are we working on this? Why can’t we do something that really matters?”

I love that. I love that so much. They’re really asking hard questions about diversity, obviously, I mean there’s so much in the news. I would say my classes are over 50% women, so you can imagine that they’re extremely interested in that problem. Most of the men, though, have, “Of course I’m a feminist” stickers on their laptops, too, so the fight for equality is very shared among all the students, which is really surprising and wonderful.

A lot of them are asking hard questions about algorithms, obviously. Tons of them will spend their summers interning for Facebook and Google, and I think there was a time when tech said, “We’re going to make the world better. We know best, we have the technology to fix things” and what I’m seeing with my students is I guess the snapback from that rubber band being stretched too far. They’re saying, “What right do we have to tell people how to live? How do we co-design with our customers to make their lives better? Are we really improving things or are we just moving problems around?”

That degree of passion and caring, I have to say, I need that hope so much right now. I feel like we’re going through a difficult time, and my students are like the balm to my heart, because they’re skeptical about what technology can do, while optimistic about being able to fix the world’s problems. That’s a pretty good combination.

Maggie: Yeah, ’cause I know that probably 10 years ago, we could have said the same thing about the mission for many of those companies is that they wanted to make the world a better place, they wanted to make a positive change, change the world, all that. That theme is the same, but it’s really interesting the reality that it sounds like your students are bringing to that same conversation.

Christina: Absolutely. I try to give them the tools that they’re asking for to think critically. How do we think about ecosystems and information theory? How do we understand that when we do one thing over here, something over there breaks? I think that HDI was originally user centered, right? That survey said, “We’re user centered” and I think the generation of HDI right now is ecosystem centered.

Whether the ecosystem be a society or the Earth itself, there’s a much more profound awareness that everything you do has downstream effects. I’ve got to say, it’s horrible to teach. Like, what a headache to try to figure out, how do you get your head around the problem of unexpected consequences? It’s in the name, it’s unexpected.

I think that’s been one of the most interesting challenges and I try to co-design some of the advanced classes with my students so that we’re all exploring a topic together, where I’m providing tools and they’re providing their passion and their raw thinking power. One class I did, we spent a quarter on fake news, and something as simple as that has so many pieces to the puzzle, the algorithms, the echo chambers, the bots, how do you teach people how to evaluate a news source?

I had an entire class and we had 20 different projects because the problems we’re facing right now are so multifaceted. I think the secret to that is to teach people how to be good team members. Like, we have a lot of bright minds, we have to teach them how to work together. That’s a book I’m working on now.

There are no longer problems that one lone genius sitting up in a garret can solve. Everything takes diverse teams, everything worth working on takes many minds working together, which means we have to solve the tiny problem of the person next to us, if we’re going to solve the problem of the person on the other side of the globe.

Maggie: Right. How do you see those students going through this experience in your classes at Stanford, how do you see them interacting within changing the current working world? Because I’m assuming many of them will go on to found their own companies, but a lot of them will join the workforce and the existing companies that we have. Have you seen them go there and come back for a next class, and how are they interacting with how we are solving problems today?

Christina: Yes. Stanford is expensive, most of them will go on to work for a company. But some of them will go found things. Some of them will go off to work on organic farms. One student went out, worked for tech, said, “Forget all of you, I’m going to go work on a sustainable farm” so people are people. I think what’s really tough for them is they go off to their internships and they come back and they’re like, “But you didn’t tell us about this or that or the other.”

I think for any student, to go into the workforce, the workforces are so heterogeneous. One with uses Git, one uses Atlassian, somebody else is using something else, and the software changes every year. There’s a lot of things you could only learn by being embedded in a company, so there’s all that problem.

The problem that we could get a lot better at solving I believe, and I’m working with my colleagues here, is working with other people. How do you get influence? How do you sell up? I swear, I can’t give a talk anywhere without somebody saying, “How do I convince so and so that [crosstalk 00:24:41] the right thing to do?” I’ve never given a talk without some variation of that question.

I think one of the ways we don’t always serve our students is giving them what’s referred to as soft skills, and they [crosstalk 00:24:56] survival skills, let’s be honest, of how do I work with somebody I hate? It’s going to happen, right?

Maggie: Yeah.

Christina: How do I show authority in my work when I’m only 22? How do I move the ball forward? There are actually answers to those questions, and what we hope to see is incorporating more of those into the classroom. I think there’s hard skill, a very hard skill, and then there’s the survival skills which I try to teach them, with argumentation and persuasion. And then of course, there’s the piece of ethics.

Every time I design a project, I try to make sure that the project will afford lessons in conflict and lessons in ethical thinking, as well as lessons in need finding, or usability or whatnot, because that’s how it’s like in the real world. These puzzles are always tangled up with a lot of other things, and it’s good to be able to negotiate all the different aspects of a problem as they come together.

Maggie: Right. I had a conversation with Richard Banfield today about high performance teams, and one of the things I thought was really interesting, he came to Drift and gave a talk, and he gave this whole talk about what makes a high performing team and what was really interesting was that none of it revolved around the skillsets of the people and how technical they were, how good they were, whatever. It was all about the ability for the team to interact with each other and have that psychological safety and have diverse opinions and diverse backgrounds.

It was interesting, I’m just hearing a lot of similarities between some of the stuff that you’re saying, and how to think about building a team that’s actually effective in the modern workplace.

Christina: Oh, absolutely. One of the biggest problems are that we just put people together and say, “Go for it,” right?

Maggie: Right.

Christina: But what I’ve found with teams is a lot of the clashes come from norms, come from expectations that aren’t spoken, like one teammate thinks everybody’s going to be there at a 10:00 meeting at 10:00 and another teammate’s like, “Of course you’re going to be there at 10:10 ’cause the campus is big. You can’t get across things.”

One person’s going, “You’re a jerk, you’re always late.” The other person’s like, “What’s your problem? This is perfectly reasonable.” There are deeper ones, like how do we make decisions? How do disagree with each other? Is interrupting okay or is it not okay? Because we all walk into the space together with all these unspoken assumptions about how things should be, but they’re not shared, teams have a lot of conflict.

One of the simplest things we can do is go through these elements and say, “Okay, when does a meeting start? How do we make a decision? What does it look like when somebody disagrees? How do we want to be as a team?” And then create a group norm that we can hold each other to. Everybody talks about psychological safety, but I don’t hear enough about what do we actually do to make psychological safety happen?

The norm setting is just one of several tools, much like it’s the exact same thing as OKRs, right? Everybody talks about setting goals but nobody figured out how to achieve them. Okay, everybody says psychological safety. What are the concrete, real steps we can do in order to take a diverse group of individuals who have all these different ideas of how things should work, all these different skills, and actually help them become a high performing team?

I think that’s one of the biggest mistakes that businesses make, is they just put people together and say, “Go for it.” They don’t take that time that you need to let people get to know each other as people, and then set up how they want to work together.

Maggie: Right. Especially when you have people coming in the door who are like you were talking about, these incredibly motivated and incredibly bright people who really want to make a difference, but they just don’t know how. And then you don’t give them that chance to build that trust and that vulnerability with each other so that they actually can achieve that.

Christina: Yeah. It’s amazing, ’cause you see it even in the student groups. You put a group of students and say, “Go build this piece of software and figure it out” and half of the groups explode. The only difference is, when a student group explodes, it’s fine. It’s only been three weeks or five weeks and they can just wait each other out, but at work, you can’t do that. You have to actually resolve your personal problems. They don’t go [crosstalk 00:29:26].

Maggie: Right. Okay, so I wanted to ask as we wrap up, if you had to give a couple of pieces of advice to people who are trying to set goals or be more effective at work and take advantage of always this new thinking we have around psychological safety and building high performance teams, what are the one or two pieces of advice that you just think everyone needs to hear?

Christina: One of my biggest learnings back at Yahoo was slow down to go faster. Sometimes when you’re in a big hurry, you’re like, “Okay, let’s just start working.” You have to put in that time to set up your norms, to discuss how you’re going to work. I think you need to set aside the time to actually go out and get a beer, or have high tea, or whatever floats your boat and get to know each other as people.

Because if you know each other as people, you’re less likely to blow up and try to kill each other when things start going sideways when the tension comes. While there is an urge to go, “Oh, my gosh, we’re on such a short leash, we have to dash forward,” you still have to set aside that time to figure out how you’re going to work together. Because it will increase your speed later, and it’s the same thing with OKRs.

Maybe you want to skip that Monday meeting, or you want to skip the Friday, do we really have to meet on Friday and brag? We’ve got so much to do. But you’re skipping the learning, you’re skipping the part that makes things powerful. You’re skipping the part that makes the psychological safety, so I’d say don’t be in such a hurry that you do things halfway, because the costs compound and later it all explodes.

On the other hand, time box everything. When we first started talking, you talked about there were so many hoops to jump through with the OKRs, like it had to go up to the CEO, and then it had to go back. I heard a story about Yahoo under Marissa Meyer where apparently it took them an entire month to get their OKRs approved, when OKRs are only supposed to take three months to do. So by the time your OKR was approved, you could no longer make it because you didn’t have enough time.

Time box everything. Make the time, but then say, “Okay, we’re only going to spend one week on getting this okayed.” Sometimes you have to trust people. Sometimes you can’t okay and rubber stamp absolutely everything. There’s a sweet spot between going too fast and going too slow. Every team has to find that one out for themselves. Fail, learn, fix. Fail, learn, fix. And then succeed, succeed, succeed. Yay.

Maggie: Yeah. Fail, learn, fix, and then eventually hopefully there’s a success moment-

Christina: Oh, there is.

Maggie: … somewhere in there.

Christina: There really is. That’s why we brag, because it’s kind of depressing to always be … That’s one of the things that some of my CEOs that I work with don’t get, is having moonshot goals is actually depressing. Like you said. You’re like, “Ugh.” So having that Friday bragging session where you feel like you’re surrounded by all these people who are doing extraordinary things, and you’re just so excited to share your win is a morale balancer. You have to find that way to continue to do impossibly hard things, but celebrate what you are accomplishing at the same time.

I think OKRs are one of those things like eat less, and exercise more. They’re really simple, but they’re really hard. You just have to commit to the fact it’s going to be hard. But it’s going to be worthwhile, because you’re going to be healthier as a company.

Maggie: Right. Well, Christina, thank you so much. I really appreciate you coming on the podcast and sharing all of your knowledge and what you’re learning about the future with your students, with us.

Christina: I hope I gave everybody a little bit of hope, because these kids are amazing. They’re going to make a world that I’m going to want to retire in.

Maggie: Yeah. Me too. Well, thank you again, I really appreciate you coming on the podcast, and I hope everyone gives Christina five stars. I’m not even aiming for six stars yet, but five stars for this podcast, maybe eventually we’ll catch up to the other podcasts. But again, Christina, thank you, I really appreciate you coming on.

Christina: Thank you so much for having me. Bye Maggie.