Creating your best life through Personal Strategy & Personal OKRs. Imagine via Midjourney from an author prompt.
Personal OKRs and Personal Strategy may be the two best ways to maximize your impact you’re not yet using
“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”George Bernard Shaw
Once in a rare while, people come along who manage to accomplish great things, and successfully decode the First Principles behind their approaches into easy, proven, and actionable methods.
There’s no better example of “walking the talk” than two industry thought leaders who have not only had tremendous success, they’ve generously shared their insights in clear and repeatable ways.
We’ll meet both of these great thinkers and their approaches, and by the end of this article, leave you with actionable takeaways to inspire you to target new levels of personal and professional effectiveness, and the tools to get you there.
Personal OKRs — Christina Wodtke
“Your OKRs exist to protect the dreams you’re afraid you’ll abandon.”Christina Wodtke, Personal OKRs, 3 Years Later
Christina Wodtke had a long and successful Silicon Valley tech career across numerous roles, including General Manager of Zynga.com at Zynga, General Manager of Social at Myspace, Principal Product Manager at Linkedin, and Senior Director of Design at Yahoo!.
Over time, Christina burned out on the relentless pace of tech startup life, and took time off. At a low point, she turned to the OKR framework she learned at Zynga, and started applying OKRs to her own life, a journey she chronicled on her personal blog here initially, and revisited on Medium three years later here.
Objectives and Key Results (“OKRs”)
Seemingly the hot goal-setting “fad” of the moment, Objectives and Key Results actually go back 70 years.
They were originally formalized by Andy Grove at Intel in the 70’s and 80’s as a way to carry out Peter Drucker’s Management By Objectives (MBO) model from the 50’s. Andy captured his approach in his timeless 1983 classic, “High Output Management,” as well as in this short video.
Objectives and Key Results consist of two parts:
- A Qualitative, Aspirational Objective
- 3–5 “Key Results,” metrics-focused measures of success
Christina Wodtke’s Journey
What makes Christina’s journey so extraordinary is that at her burned-out, bored, riddled with health issues lowest point, she set this as her initial personal OKR:
Objective: Be financially stable while preserving health and doing work I like to do.
KR: earn X over three months doing work I’d do even if I wasn’t paid
KR: have a manageable budget to predict expanses (sic)
KR: zero acid reflux, zero back painChristina Wodtke, Personal OKRS
I’ll invite people to put aside any judgment on these OKRs, and instead focus their attention on what Christina ultimately achieved by pursuing them.
Christina, 3 Years Later
Summing up all she’d achieved through her personal OKRs:
“To say OKRs have changed my life would be an understatement. They have made my life possible. They are the backbone that holds my life together.”Christina Wodte, Personal OKRs, Three Years Later
Christina found a job as a professor she loved, gave talks around the world, and wrote “Radical Focus,” the breakthrough book that introduced OKRs to broader audiences outside of Silicon Valley for the first time.
Regular Check-Ins & Accountability Make the Difference
One key Christina credits for her success with Personal OKRs was to take her four-quadrant “four square” format (which I broke down in a series of articles starting here), and translated it into a weekly email to friends in her “accountability group.”
Here’s an example of one of those emails, starting in the top-right quadrant:
O: Model life as a professional author
KR: Rough draft of Continuous Feedback to Alpha reader list (and Cathy) with actionable feedback 5/10
KR: Working with Pictures V2 on Amazon with 4 five star reviews 5/10
KR: Product-Market Fit book (Creative Founder) interviews complete with essays at 2K views each or higher 5/10
Teaching: Stay on top of grading and class plans GREEN
Body Health: Watch for stomach and back issues: YELLOW
P1: Run 2x this week DONE
P1: Grading catch up (all caught up by sunday) DONE
P1: WWP at 50 pages. DONE(ish) 50 pages outlined
P2: Finish a Creative Founder blog post ND
P1: Finish a Creative Founder blog post
P1: Food diary kept daily
P1: 50 pages WWP filled in,
P2 WWP 10 more pages outlined.Christina Wodtke, Personal OKRs, 3 Years Later
The need to be accountable to her friends on a regular basis kept Christina on track in extraordinary ways, and she believes it was the biggest factor in her eventual success.
Health Metrics — What to Protect while you Push
Another key insight Christina shares is the notion of “push” vs. “protect,” which I also wrote about here.
For Christina, achieving success is meaningless if it comes at the expense of achieving a complete, balanced life. To achieve that, Chirstina emphasizes the importance of Health Metrics — the things you want to make sure stay on track and “healthy,” even as you strive for your moonshot dreams.
In the example above, note how, Christina uses her Health Metrics to highlight potential risks across both teaching and health:
Teaching: Stay on top of grading and class plans GREEN
Body Health: Watch for stomach and back issues: YELLOWChristina Wodtke, Personal OKRs, 3 Years Later
For Christina, aspirational goals that lead to long-term lasting change must always be balanced with the things you refuse to compromise on.
In this example, neither her teaching job, nor her personal health could be sacrificed on her journey to experiment with life as a professional author.
I find it amazing and inspirational that two of the books I recommend most to people I coach came directly from Christina Wodtke’s Personal OKRs noted above.
I strongly believe “Radical Focus (Second Edition)” is the single-best book to understand the OKR framework. And Christina’s “The Team That Managed Itself” is a major contribution to understanding the challenges women face in tech leadership, and what it takes to build and sustain great teams. Both books are beautifully-written combinations of deeply personal parables, followed by distilled instruction in applying the concepts.
Christina is reportedly writing a Personal OKRs book, which, given her other excellent writing, and years of success with the framework, would definitely be something to look forward to.
Important Note — Personal OKRs Are NOT Individual OKRs
Note that Christina set her Personal OKRs for herself outside the boundaries of her professional life, and they should in no way be confused with Individual OKRs.
For the framework to be effective, I would recommend keeping your Personal OKRs… personal.
If you like, share them with your own “Mastermind” or accountability group. Keep aiming high, check in, adjust, and continuously iterate.
We now turn from personal goal-setting through Personal OKRs, to Personal Strategy as another approach to personal effectiveness management.
Roger Martin and Personal Strategy
Named the world’s #1 management thinker by Thinkers50, I’ve written extensively about Roger Martin and his “Playing to Win” Strategy Framework.
Roger Martin was Dean of Toronto’s Rotman School of Business for 15 years, and recently shared the details of how he applied his strategy framework to achieve outsize impact in that role.
How Roger Martin defines Strategy
I’ve seen a number of different definitions of strategy, and feel Roger L. Martin’s definition creates a clear distinction from what most people believe strategy is — a form of planning.
For Martin, strategy isn’t a plan, but a set of choices:
“…strategy is choice. Strategy is not a long planning document; it is a set of interrelated and powerful choices that positions the organization to win.Roger L. Martin, at RogerLMartin.com
And there’s a simple, proven framework for making those choices — the Strategy Choice Cascade.
Roger Martin’s Strategy Choice Cascade
For those not familiar with the Strategy Choice Cascade, you can read this article which goes into it in depth.
At a high level, the Strategy Choice Cascade involves making a set of five integrated choices:
- What is your Winning Aspiration (“WA”)?
- Where to Play (“WTP”)
- How to Win? (“HTW”)
- What Must-Have Capabilities will you need to be in place? (“MHC”)
- What are our Enabling Management systems? (“EMS”)
What distinguishes the Strategy Choice Cascade is how every crucial component of Strategy is built into it, from the Winning Aspiration, representing the Qualitative goal, through the “Core” of Strategy — the Where to Play and How to Win choices — matched closely to what people would consider strategy’s “execution” component, encompassed by the “Must-Have Capabilities” to win, and the “Enabling Management Systems” to maintain and continuously improve those capabilities.
Roger L. Martin’s Approach to Personal Strategy
In an extraordinary piece entitled “Being ‘Too Busy’ Means Your Personal Strategy Sucks,” Roger Martin goes deep into his process of applying his Strategy Choice Cascade in creating the Personal Strategy that allowed him to succeed in a challenging academic role.
For Martin, the two limiting factors in personal strategy are the unique capabilities each person brings to the table, and the limited number of hours available in any given day.
The way to “win,” or meet your challenges and consistently succeed, is to create maximum value for each hour spent:
“…to have an effective personal strategy, you need to be deliberative about choosing where to deploy your limited available hours in tasks that your particular set of capabilities enable you to generate a win by creating disproportionate value for your organization.”Roger L. Martin, Being ‘Too Busy’ Means Your Personal Strategy Sucks
Among the many challenges Martin walked into at Rotman was an underfunded, underachieving institution where professors were far more interested in research than in teaching students.
Becoming a First-Time Dean
You might think Roger Martin came in and fired everyone on staff, to rebuild the team in his own image.
In fact, he did nothing of the sort, and kept most of the previous team intact.
What Martin did spend most of his time doing upon taking the role was to dig deep into understanding how the previous Dean spent his time, and university management’s expectations for the role.
Martin quickly understood there were parts of the job (Financial Management and Recruiting) which he was expected to do where he felt he wasn’t as strong.
He identified people already on his team who excelled in these two areas, and onto whom he could delegate this work.
This allowed Martin to cut his time spent on Financial Management and Recruiting down from about 100 days a year the previous Deant spent, to just ten.
“You need to think carefully about the Where to Play/ How to Win (“WTP/HTW”) choices that will best fulfill your Winning Aspiration and will guide you in choosing the Capabilities in which you invest through both formal education and practical experience, and the Management System choices that will help keep your capability-building on track.”Roger L. Martin, “Your Personal Playing to Win Strategy”
With the time he freed up, Martin was able to match his “Must Have Capabilities” to things that would both powerfully shift the school’s intellectual property (“IP”), as well as inspire his research-focused faculty to teach:
“With the time I recovered from activities others could be doing better and/or I shouldn’t have been doing at all, I was able to write eight books while serving as Dean, including ones important to the School on Integrative Thinking and Design in Business, plus a few hundred articles, helping to raise the IP profile of the School…
I taught.. as many as seven (courses a year) — even though Deans have a ‘teaching load’ of zero, because I wanted to lead other professors by example…”Roger L. Martin, Being ‘Too Busy’ Means Your Personal Strategy Sucks
Not just academia — winning strategy on a global scale
It should also be noted that during his time as Dean, Martin also became Procter & Gamble CEO AG Lafley’s personal Strategy consultant, working closely with him on the strategies that led P&G to become a Strategy-led organization. Their collaboration can be traced directly to P&G doubling their sales, quadrupling profits, and increasing their total market value by $100 billion.
Not bad for a “part-time” role.
(The partnership between Martin & Lafley, the evolution of the “Playing to Win” strategy framework, and the actual winning P&G strategies that grew out of it are all documented in their book, “Playing to Win.”)
The Rotman School Turnaround
The result? Under Martin’s leadership as Dean, Rotman went from being known as the “Faculty of Mismanagement,” not even among the top business schools in Toronto, to global top-ten business school status.
Martin left the school in 2013 after 15 years as Dean, and has continued writing and consulting, as well as teaching the IDEO U course, “Designing Strategy,” with Jennifer Riel.
Summary and Takeaways
Personal OKRs and Personal Strategy represent two systems of personal effectiveness perfected by two preeminent thought leaders.
Christina Wodtke’s approach to Personal OKRs stands out as a simple, repeatable method:
- Target aspirational goals
- Check in on them regularly
- Have a group of accountability partners
- Identify and keep close track of your “Health Metrics” to protect as you “push” to achieve your moonshot goals
Roger L. Martin’s Personal Strategy, while simple and straightforward, is in no way easy:
- Understand and learn the five choices of the Strategy Choice Cascade
- Research and understand the role’s expectations and time demands
- Match your strengths to areas you can create exponential value for every hour you work
- Delegate areas where you may be less strong to others who are more capable or better-suited
- Keep constant discipline around how to use your time most effectively
Interestingly, while Christina Wodtke’s Personal OKRs led her to a deeply personally enriching role in academia, Roger Martin’s use of Personal Strategy allowed him to not only succeed in the Rotman School Dean role, but led to that school’s complete turnaround, transforming it into a major player in international business academic circles.
Final Note — Aim High with Personal OKRs, use Personal Strategy for effectiveness
The main learning for me in researching this story is how the two approaches can be used together.
Use Personal OKRs to set aspirational Moonshot Goals and achieve life-changing shifts.
Then map out and continuously revisit your Personal Strategy to match your strengths against the demands of your new role.
In this way, to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, you can continue to effectively create yourself.
Have you used Personal OKRs? Interested in trying Personal Strategy?
Let me know your experiences in the comments.
Christina Wodtke on her personal blog, “Eleganthack”
Personal OKRs, Three Years Later
Christina Wodtke on Medium
Radical Focus — Second Edition
The Team that Managed Itself
Your Personal Playing to Win Strategy
Roger L. Martin on Medium
Being ‘Too Busy’ Means Your Personal Strategy Sucks
Roger L. Martin on Medium