Why we’re using OKRs to manage our growth

What are OKRs?

I became aware of OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) about 18 months ago. They’re used by the likes of Google and Intel to focus and track what’s important right now (the objectives), creating measurable key results both in a company, and with individuals.

My partner has a sensitive radar for business bullshit and he immediately put this into that category. I was sceptical too but wanted to know more because the rhythm of OKRs closely follows the agile methodology which we live and breathe as a cloud consultancy, so there was a good chance it would be a fit for us

It’s completely normal in any business for company-level objectives and milestones to slip or get forgotten about, because you’re focused on delivering actual work for customers. Also, the ‘collective responsibility’ factor of objectives means that often no single individual takes ownership for either. OKRs seek to change this mentality within the organisation – which is a very appealing prospect.

Enter Roger from There Be Giants

I’d known Roger from There Be Giants for a few years, having gone to a few of his Giants Academy bi-monthly events, where business leaders are informally interviewed about their experiences and a lively discussion always results.

Roger’s focus is on driving performance and excellence through OKRs and we decided to engage There Be Giants to guide us through the process. It starts with teasing out the core values of the company and the strengths/personality biases of the leadership team, followed by defining the company’s key 5 goals (objectives) for the next 12 months.

These are used as the central theme for company level objectives and key results, and all the sub-objectives which hang off these. These are ‘owned’ by an individual to ensure they are tracked and focussed on. The whole ‘rhythm’ of the OKR lifecycle fits in perfectly with the agile philosophy, no surprise really given the origins of the whole concept. So, it’s pretty easy for a tech company to get into.

That’s not to say it was plain sailing for us; techies are notoriously cynical and greet anything like this as management fluff designed to waste their time and distract them from what they really want to do – which is sit ‘be-headphoned’ writing code.

It’s fair to say that the best value for us has been derived at company leadership level and within our sales and marketing teams; our primary objectives when we started implementing this were around revenue growth + profitability, customer satisfaction and product definition and development.

Important objectives to us

Obviously, profitability and revenue growth are pretty basic requirements for any company but, for me, the key company-level objective was around customer satisfaction, and how every part of the business, and in fact every interaction with our customers could attribute to this. After all, the growth of a company – and its entire ‘face’ to the outside world – can be made or broken by this.

Defining these areas as our focus for the coming year is fantastic; it stops the ‘drift’ of project deadlines, but more importantly stops the constant striving to improve without celebrating success. Seeing that objectives have been reached is a great way to see the progress we’ve made on a quarterly basis.

Herding cats to have regular management meetings

Another key component that Roger brought to us was to ensure that our monthly management meetings (called señor team meetings internally – because we’ve (I’ve) got a terrible sense of humour and hate anything that implies some kind of hierarchy) ran to schedule, kept on-topic, but more importantly had defined outcomes that we were then held to account next time around by Roger. If you’ve ever met Roger you’ll know why his presence is formidable and, while he’s clearly a gentle giant (see what I did there?), you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of him.

We now run these meetings (without Roger’s supervision, we’ve now had the discipline instilled in us to be autonomous) regularly over lunch and with laptops, instead of in the meeting room. Genuinely great stuff comes out of them.

We then share the figures and outcomes with the entire team in our monthly meetings where everyone in the business attends. I really believe in complete transparency on all figures. Financial, sales pipeline, customer happiness (Net Promoter Score) – all of this is important to share with the entire team. Even how much I’m paid. Why hide this stuff? It’s insulting to the team to restrict this kind of information.

Anyway, back to OKRs. I think there’s a genuine benefit to all fast-moving tech companies in using OKRs as a tool to track, report and communicate their progress as a company, not only to see where they’re slipping but also where they’ve done fantastically well and to celebrate that.

Anyway that’s my take; anyone else seeing value in this?

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