Leading Change With a Culture of Experimentation

Rick Klau, California’s chief technology innovation officer, offers insights on creating a culture of empowerment using OKRs and a shared language of organizational goals.

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Leading With Impact

In this series, author and organizational coach Chris Clearfield talks with leaders who manage technology-driven teams at innovative organizations across the world. The series will examine universal big-picture challenges as well as specific lessons on sparking ideas and accelerating innovation.
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Many leaders will be familiar with objectives and key results (OKRs), a collaborative framework for aligning goal setting with strategic planning. Originally developed by Andy Grove at Intel, OKRs were later introduced to the founders of Google by John Doerr, a protégé of Grove’s and a leading investor in Silicon Valley.

Organizations use OKRs to set and communicate goals, track milestones, and achieve results. When employees can see how their work contributes to big-picture outcomes, they understand why their efforts matter, and their motivation increases — something that Rick Klau, who spent more than 13 years at Google, witnessed firsthand.

In February 2021, Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Klau to serve as California’s chief technology innovation officer, where he has focused his attention and energy on COVID-19-related initiatives, including deploying a digital vaccine record system. I spoke with Klau about his transition from the private sector to the public sector during a global crisis, and how to create a culture of empowerment through a shared language of organizational goals.

MIT Sloan Management Review: When you were a partner at Google Ventures, you gave a talk about OKRs. I probably watched it eight times when I was starting my own journey with OKRs. Much of the purpose of using this type of framework is about setting yourself on a course and then being open to what actually happens, right?

Rick Klau: OKRs were part of the air we breathed at Google. It was how the company thought about the work it did and the decisions it made. This approach provides teams with focus, discipline, and the ability to prove ideas. That’s how OKRs conditioned the organization: Hypothesize, learn, and iterate.

One of the beautiful things about OKRs is that they let your organization be both tightly coupled and loosely coupled at the same time. It’s not rigid.

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Topics

Leading With Impact

In this series, author and organizational coach Chris Clearfield talks with leaders who manage technology-driven teams at innovative organizations across the world. The series will examine universal big-picture challenges as well as specific lessons on sparking ideas and accelerating innovation.
More in this series

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