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  • In the book "Measure What Matters," renowned venture capitalist John Doerr cites a theory that he says has been confirmed as "one of the most tested and proven ideas" in management theory.
  • It says that hard goals drive more productivity than easy goals — and that the more specific the wording of the hard goal, the higher the level of output. 
  • The theory influenced the "Objectives and Key Results" goal-setting process used by some of the most successful technology companies, and was part of the message Doerr shared with Larry Page and Sergey Brin in the early days of Google. 

Getting the most out of people can be as simple as setting more difficult goals instead of easy ones, according to a management theory that renowned venture capitalist John Doerr calls "one of the most tested, and proven, ideas in the whole of management theory" in the last 50 years.

The theory was thought up by a University of Maryland psychology professor by the name of Edwin Locke in 1968, and written about decades later in Doerr's book "Measure What Matters," which explains the thinking behind the Objectives and Key Results (OKR) goal-setting process famously used by companies like Google, MyFitness Pal, and Intel.

The theory explains that hard goals "drive performance more effectively than easy goals," and that "specific hard goals 'produce a higher level of output' than vaguely worded ones." About 90% of the upwards of a thousand studies that have been conducted on Locke's theory confirm that productivity is bettered by creating well-defined goals. 

While it seems like an obvious solution on paper, Doerr says employees are often encouraged to simply create goals for the sake of having them, resulting in diminished enthusiasm. The antidote to a lack of enthusiasm is employee engagement, and he points to a two-year Deloitte study that found no single factor has more of an impact on building enthusiasm than "clearly defined goals that are written down and shared freely." 

It's a theory Doerr says "surely influenced Andy Grove," the father of the OKR process, and was part of Doerr's own message to Larry Page and Sergey Brin in the early days of Google. 

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