Ever have books that hang around in your book pile for way longer than would seem rational?

The book’s premise was obviously interesting enough to find its way into the pile in the first place, but repeatably fails to be interesting enough to make it the next step and actually be read. I don’t know how long Measure What Matters has been in my possession, but it has been a while.

Of course, as is often the case when finally getting around to reading a long overdue book, one thinks the book is great. I suspect my reticence is to do with the books subject matter: goal setting. I have a complicated relationship with goal setting, or more precisely with goal setting as it is usually described to people in the business world. I’ve often found that systems of formulaic goal setting overly burdensome and lacking in coherent structure. However, how can one not be intrigued by a book that describes Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) as soulless numbers!

Measure What Matters touts a system of Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) which are used in multiple different formats by companies such as Google, The Gates Foundation, and Bono’s One Charity. What soon becomes clear, however, is that what Mr. Doer is proposing is a culture shift in how companies measure performance and direction. It also has the acceptance that with OKRs there will be failure. In fact, if there is not failure, team members are probably not setting ambitious enough goals. What also resonates is the duality of goals for leaders of teams, but with the teams themselves setting their own goals on how the team can get there. A mix of top down and bottom-up objectives.

The culture shift in Measure What Matters is pervasive, extending into employee reviews and relationships between teams, supervisors, and leaders. The book is also honest about implementation and change management – steps often overlooked in this kind of book. Filled with examples for what works and does not, Measure What Matters is almost a spiritual partner to that most revered of business books (well by me anyway) Traction by Gino Wickman. (I have never reviewed Traction for my site due to being just too intimidated by it.)

A great example of “honest” OKRs rather than the “soulless” KPIs is the example given of an objective of reducing office cleaning costs by 25%. At its most basic, the simple measure of whether the costs went down by 25% could mean that the goal was achieved. However, Mr. Doerr not only suggests ways of measuring the quality of cleaning, but also suggests that to be a true OKR the person responsible for this OKR should have their office in the area being cleaned – thereby being directly affected by the key results of the objective.

This is not a book of cold and soulless analytics. This is a book that reminds us that there is more to business objectives than math. That the way to achieve greatness is to have greatness as the objective. To be motivated by failure as much as by possibility.

For once, I am excited about a book about goal setting and goal setting in general. Having a road map helps, but understanding that emotion and intuition also have their place helps more. Measure what matters is a bible text for the modern manager.