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How employee goals at Google changed after Sundar Pichai took over as CEO after Larry Page

Prachi Bhardwaj
google employees

Stephen Brashear/Getty


  • Google is a slightly different company now than it was in 2015, before Sundar Pichai took over from Larry Page to be the company's new CEO.
  • One of the changes Pichai implemented was a simplification to the goal-setting process, known as Objectives and Key Results (OKRs).
  • Under Page, Google was a startup with employees who wore many hats, but for Pichai, who took over one of the largest companies in the world, employees are probably more valuable when their mission is focused. 

Since the beginning, Google — the brain child of Larry Page and Sergey Brin that's now under the direction of CEO Sundar Pichai — has famously relied on a goal-setting system called objectives and key results (OKRs) to execute on its many projects over the years. 

The system, which involves setting an overarching goal and establishing three to five reachable parameters for a set period of time, has since been adopted by a number of companies, all of which use timelines that suite their unique needs. For Google, an early adopter of OKRs, being on its third CEO means being on its third rendition of that process. 

In Google's early days, these goals were set quarterly, according to John Doerr's book, "Measure What Matters." Page added annual goals to the process, so that every employee, from engineers to the CEO, was working with two sets of goals at a time: one for short term expectations, and one for the longer term. Now, as the CEO of Alphabet, he makes sure all of its subsidiaries — including Google — continue to use OKRs (and he still writes his own every quarter).

When Pichai took over Google, he shifted the company back to one set of goals by removing the quarterly track and implementing mandatory quarterly progress reports from each department instead. Quite similar to key results, but more fluid. 

Doerr personally trained Page on the do's and don't's of OKRs, and says "that it's the shorter-term goals that drive the actual work," adding that "the best practice may be a parallel, dual cadence, with short-horizon OKRs (for the here and now) supporting annual OKRs and longer-term strategies." This is exactly what Google's strategy was under Page.

But Pichai's version allows employees to focus on one goal at a time; most likely a well-received simplification of the process since his promotion coincided with a confusing overhaul, in which Google's 57,000 employees learned their company would now be structured under a larger company called Alphabet. 

As Doerr says, "The best OKR cadence is the one that fits the context and culture of your business."

The slightly different tactics, then, were likely a reflection of the company's changing culture: Page was dealing with a startup filled with employees that needed to wear multiple hats when he first started using OKRs, and Pichai was taking over a newly structured company with one of the most diverse portfolios in the world.

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