How and why Spotify ditched individual OKRs

The other day I came across this post on Spotify’s HR blog: Why individual OKRs don’t work for us. It’s an interesting read, especially when it comes from a company as successful as Spotify.

It’s a short read and I highly recommend that you read it, but here are some of the parts I found particularly interesting (emphasis mine).

 

OKRs are about the how. Our focus is on the why.
We are in hyper growth and our business moves at breakneck speed… … So we focus on setting priorities, making sure that everyone understands where we are going and why. Based on that, our teams and individuals handle the how themselves.

While I don’t know anything more about OKRs at Spotify than what was in that post, this is something that we have encountered time and time again with our customers. In my opinion, OKRs are not about how, but about what. And mission and vision are about why.

To put it more structured:

  • why – mission
    e.g. Give people access to all the music they want all the time – in a completely legal & accessible way (reference)
  • what – OKRs
    e.g. Objective: Make jogging more pleasurable with Spotify
  • how – tasks
    e.g. Create an upbeat morning jogging playlist

Some time ago I wrote a more elaborate post on this topic, with the main idea that OKRs are a link between goals and effort.

 

OKR is not a task – task is a specific unit of work, such as “Write a blog post on anatomy of OKR” or “Implement push notifications feature”. OKRs are not meant to be an elaborate to-do list.

 

Another interesting part in Spotify’s post was following:

 

We make sure everyone knows exactly where we are going and what the current priorities are, and then we let the teams take responsibility for how to get there.

 

Even though Spotify is saying that they have ditched individual OKRs, I find this a rarely eloquent description of how individual OKRs should work. It would appear that Spotify has merely abandoned the formal, top-down approach of managing OKRs and instead went for the bottom-up approach, which we’ve described in this post. The way we look at this is perhaps best summarized with the following infographic.

Three ways of setting OKRs in an organization
Three ways of setting OKRs in an organization

 

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Wildly successful companies such as Spotify often find bottom-up approach most suitable, because – they are able to attract top talent. Just as Google (with the countless stories of overqualified employees)  or the almost mythical Netflix organization, Spotify is in position to let people basically manage themselves – and as we see, they are doing rather spectacular work.

All of these companies are setting objectives and priorities and they carefully measure how well they execute against it. One thing that makes them stand out is the fact that their people are so good that they can decide on their own how to achieve an objective.

Or, perhaps, it is because people have such degree of autonomy is what makes those companies amazing?