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There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to rolling OKR out. The OKR framework provides you with a loose set of rules and instructions, however, organizations are free to adjust and use the framework in a way that best fits their needs!
We spoke to Nichole, the OKR Ambassador at the company she works at, and she walks us through the successful yet untraditional approach that was taken to rolling OKR out.
Excited to hear what that entails? Here’s what we cover in the conversation:
- Why her organization decided to implement OKR
- A step-by-step walkthrough of the approach taken
- The challenges faced
- How the challenges were overcome
- The benefits of working with OKR
- Best practices when implementing OKR
Zahra: I’m Zahra from the marketing team at Perdoo, and I’ll be the host for today’s episode. Joining me today is Nichole, who’s the OKR ambassador at the company she’s currently working at, which means that she’s been the driving force behind a successful OKR rollout from the very beginning to the very end and has a wealth of experience and knowledge that she’ll be sharing with us today.
So, Nichole please tell us a little bit about yourself.
Nichole: Certainly, I’ve worked in various industries over the past 10 years, ranging from manufacturing, data center infrastructure, and agriculture — which is where I currently work. Five years ago I decided to stay home after having my first child. After a year off an opportunity presented itself that was a perfect fit for my bandwidth and skillset. And four years later, three kids, here I am discussing Perdoo and OKR with you.
Zahra: Great, Nichole. So happy to have you on our show today. And we’re here essentially to talk about what an OKR rollout is all about and what it entails, but before getting into the details there, can you tell us a bit about what made your organizations implement OKR in the first place?
Nichole: So we’d been trying to find ways to integrate KPIs and team goals, company goals for over two years. We’d used several approaches, one being top-down, utilizing Balanced Scorecards, cascade goals, and we weren’t finding much success. It felt like we were just measuring things to measure them because we had data, not because they related to company or team performance or success.
So we found that this was pretty demotivating, so we just decided to take a year off and reset. So after a year, our CEO was reading Measure What Matters and then he came across the Perdoo YouTube videos, and it was one of those light bulb moments of this is what we need. So I was actually out on maternity leave at the time and he was like, “Hey, check this video out when you get a chance, no pressure.” And so , I checked them out. So when I came back from leave, I reached out to Perdoo and they provided me a trial and it took me one time navigating the system and it was the (Road) map that really, I was like, this is what we need.
So three weeks later we decided to start a new contract at the first of the year, January 1st, 2020. And here we are!
Zahra: Nice. You mentioned that you tried implementing goals before and didn’t have too much luck. A lot of organizations, go into tracking goals just because they have the data — as you said , measuring for the sake of measuring. Psychologically, that feels good because, you’re getting that one step closer to the success of the organization or the team, but ultimately it’s a futile exercise if you aren’t impacting the bigger picture, right?
This might sound a bit biased on my end, but OKR isn’t just a goal management framework. It’s a medium of communication. It’s a complete switch in mindset and approach to how you work. So, that in itself just gives you that bigger picture and provides you with that focus and the tools to prioritize the things that really matter, right?
Nichole: I wholeheartedly agree that this has been the biggest piece for us, as far as making sure the things that we do align to where we’re focusing as a company, all the way down to our initiatives that we’re doing, or our Key Results and how they all tie to the greater Objectives.
Zahra: Please walk me through the OKR rollout process at your organization.
Nichole: We probably didn’t have the most traditional approach in rolling out OKRs. We took a quarter by quarter approach. So, first thing we did is we just kind of got people familiar with the tool. So, how to navigate, where they would see different things, what the map looked like.
And then it was perfect timing. We had just started doing things where we were rolling out capital projects for individual department managers to manage them. And we have , varying levels of experience with managing projects. So that was a perfect opportunity to say, “Hey, we have this new tool, why don’t we use it?”
So, we had our own terms. We use what activities are going to be performed, which are, are truly the Initiatives or , you know, how are you going to measure success? That’s the Key Results. And so we were using it in that very loose way in the very beginning. Then the second quarter, what we did is we integrated one of the key foundations or pillars of our company, which is employee development.
So we were using it to monitor goal attainment, real-time observations, feedback, and notes. And that was extremely impactful because it took us from Objective — I feel, I think, I think I remember, to on this date, we had to coach them regarding this. Or I gave them the feedback or this is a trend I’m seeing.
So we could really focus on, our high performers here are the individuals we’re seeing for growth. Here are the individuals where we need to focus on developing their skills to meet the expectations.
Zahra: So having the actual hard facts in front of you instead of assuming things.
Nichole: Exactly. So from that, like I said, subjective — “I think”, “I feel”, to “I know” here’s the observation. And then in the third quarter, what we began to do is work with the owners of each department to identify their KPIs for their department or what targets would tell them how their department is performing and determine if it is healthy. Which is a stark contrast to what we had before with the top down where it was, here’s going to be your targets.
Here’s going to be your goals. We stayed away from the term goals because of the bad taste that there was previously. And we’re using words like target, because really it is target you’re, you’re trying to hit a certain target. And if you fall below it, then you know, you need to focus on it.
So, we’re empowering individuals to truly own , that part of their business. And then in Q4 is when we really started hitting our stride. So we began utilizing Perdoo to monitor our KPIs. To help us identify where we need to focus our efforts and whether it be the employee performance, quality of operations, business as usual, or our growth opportunities.
So that really helped us plan for Q1 of this year, which was , our fifth quarter of using it to map out from a company level, what this looks like. Because at this point we hadn’t fully realized what it looked like all the way across the border, we were kind of using it as , the Strategic Pillars or individual departments for projects.
But in Q5 is really when we rolled it out and said, okay, here’s what we set our opportunities where here’s what the data or here’s what the KPIs are telling us we need to focus on and really putting it into our map on our company view, for everything to align to.
Zahra: It’s like, all those pieces have finally come together and I think that is essential when the experience with working with such a framework, isn’t known to everybody. Rolling it out in those small sections is better than just throwing everybody into the deep . Now that you’ve said in Q5, everything is coming together. That helps in avoiding any resistance, right?
Nichole: Yup. And then one of the other things that we did is we didn’t just throw the terminology at people right away. Like you need to now use words like, you need to use Objective, Initiative, Key Result. We started from outcome now it’s Objective, before we were using activity, now that’s Initiative and then measurable is now Key Result.
So we’re finally at the point where we’ve transitioned from the terms we use internally to the terms that would be used across the board and within the tool itself.
Zahra: It really helps in keeping everybody on the same page and especially with using a tool that has those terms that you don’t use internally. I think then you can really lose track of what you’re doing and what you know. So I think that also is a very gradual approach that you take. But once everybody is on the same page, it makes it a lot easier.
Nichole: I’d have to say Key Result was the last one that we rolled out and we rolled that out in , mid Q4 and now are using it exclusively in Q1. And just because we were more output versus outcome in the beginning. So Key Results were forklifts is procured, forklift used .
Zahra: Key Result is the real switch between outputs and outcomes.
What were the main challenges that you faced during the implementation?
Nichole: We had to overcome that bad taste and lack of trust from previous goal management systems.
Another one was the wide range of knowledge and experience with goal setting and continuous improvement within the team. And then I would have to say the one that really took the most amount of time or collaboration with our coach was making that leap from where we were to where we needed to be with the company level mapping and knowing what we needed to do. And , how we would get a clear vision and paint that for the whole team.
Zahra: But, so how did you overcome these challenges?
Nichole: So even though we had to overcome the lack of trust or bad taste with the previous goal management systems, the team was very open to using Perdoo and learning the tool. And I think maybe that had to do with the way that we approached it . We presented it, shared the map in our quarterly business review and we didn’t set any expectations.
We didn’t say this is the tool you’re going to have to use and this is the tool that we’re going to have moving forward. It was , “Hey, we’re trying something new out, we’re going to see if it works for us. Nichole’s going to reach out to you and, you know, work with you.” That was the messaging that was given to the team.
So they were very open to it. Like I said, it worked perfectly with us doing our capital projects because it provided a tool for individuals to kind of track and monitor those through the process. So it timing wise worked out perfectly.
Zahra: Well, when you force somebody to do something, I mean, that’s when you, you face the most resistance, but like portraying it the way you did people are more curious about what this tool can do and what this framework can do to help them improve their capital projects for example.
Nichole: That actually made it great because we had a different individuals using the tool at different times. So for example, in the first quarter, you know, navigation. So if somebody didn’t have a capital project, they weren’t using the tool frequently. They just needed to learn basic navigation.
So we got this momentum, individuals who used it in the first quarter at our next QBR, like. Hey, the advantage of it was I could do this. And then, so when somebody started using the tool in Q2, it made sense because they were now hearing about the buy-in from other individuals or their peers that they trusted.
So it just ended up rolling into the next and, and it was easy to sell at that point.
Zahra: So it was like a domino effect, transitioning from one person to another and learning off of how everybody is working with it.
Nichole: We made it a point to make sure that we were getting feedback and the team enjoyed it. Like I said, we weren’t going to roll something out where it where we were trying to make it fit our needs, but it didn’t fit our needs. And, fortunately in this situation, this ended up being the perfect tool for our team and our company.
Zahra: Really happy to hear that. Now with the OKR rollout behind you, is there anything you would’ve done differently?
Nichole: I would have engaged our coach, Nicole leading into each quarter after phase two. She asked these probing questions that led us to fully understand why we were prioritizing and focusing on the things we were, which we started in Q4. So, probably would have started that two quarters earlier. You know, we live it every day.
So working through the thought process with someone who doesn’t, adds a great amount of value.
Zahra: I completely can see why that happens because I mean, even us as human beings, we get used to doing things the way we do them and then we tend to oversee the details. So having someone looking in from the outside can provide a fresh perspective and give you that Objective feedback that you need.
And in this case, Nicole asking you those probing questions that you wouldn’t have otherwise asked yourself must have really helped you and provided that value.
Nichole: I would have to say a prime example of that for us know, I was working with Nicole in Q4 prepping for Q1, and the whole time I’d worked at the company, it was all about a new facility.
That that’s what I thought we were driving toward was a new facility, because that’s what I heard, Oh, we need to do this because we need this new facility. So Nicole started asking questions like, Oh, what are you trying to achieve? And I was like, I think it’s about a new facility, but I’m pretty sure it’s more than just, we have a new facility and it’s over.
So she started asking all these questions and I kind of came up with an answer and I was like, I think it’s really this. So I went to our CEO and I’m like, so this is what I told her. I think it is. And you know, we talked through it and he’s like, it is this, but it’s also this. So it went from a new facility to building a reliable supply chain for our US-based customers. So went from, one thing to another, but really through asking those questions, it’s like, it doesn’t need to be this facility on our map. What it needs to be on our map is building that reliable supply chain for our US-based customers.
Zahra: And that’s the typical shift from, working on outputs and shifting your mindset towards outcomes instead. And this is a prime example of that. So you’ve seen the organization pre-OKR, and now you’re working through the process of implementing OKR and making sure that it becomes a part of the DNA.
So what changes do you think OKR has brought to the organization?
Nichole: I would say there’s three. I’m going to start with the one that I a hundred percent think is the most important. So it’s transparency and clarity of what the focus is and how we’re performing across all departments and how it all ties together to the company Objectives,
Which the map is, like I said, that is the thing when we were scoping this tool, that was like, yes, this is what we need because we’re such a visual company. And I think a lot of people are visual learners. So it just makes sense. We can just see it in one place very easily. We can know how the activities or Objectives we are doing or the activities and the Key Results that we’re trying to achieve all tied to the greater picture.
Another one is understanding what we’re trying to solve and how to measure success. So I mentioned earlier about Key Results and that is that shift from, I did X so I’m closing my Objective to I’m trying to solve this and my Objective is going to stay open until we solve this. And that’s a mind shift, that I would have to say has been brought to our organization because we used to be very, like you said, output focused.
So it’s a solution. It’s not really what we’re trying to solve. So it’s making sure that also now with that shift, knowing what we’re trying to solve helps us understand how it ties to the greater picture and aligns to it. And then I would have to say the other one is ownership of all the activities that lead to department performance.
So people are managing their own budgets, at the department level, whereas it used to be, the next leadership level up, or the finance team. Now you have people managing projects, which they’d never done before or had little experience with. You have people performance managing people and developing people into our next leaders.
Whereas before we didn’t have that, that full ownership, because we didn’t have a tool that really helped us grow in that way.
Just having that bigger picture that we’ve mentioned so many times helps you understand what work you need to do to drive the organization forward. And I think then that’s just reflected in what you do on a department level.
Zahra: So that’s a great shift forward, Nichole. So what would be your number one advice to those who are looking to implement OKRs?
So I have a piece of advice and our CEO had a piece of advice. So I will start with his. His would be, identify the right person to roll out, train and support the team throughout the journey, because it really is a journey.
And within our organization, a key function of my role is to be that internal Perdoo ambassador. So I am that support function. I am that sounding board, asking the questions like Nicole does from an external perspective, but with our team. So that would be his piece of advice.
And then for me personally, I would say that if you have any barriers, implementing OKRs, use the tool in a manner that fits your needs because you can adjust as you go. And eventually you will, (if you want) , find yourself using it as designed or intended.
OKR does have like a set of rules and people feel like they’re bound to using those rules, but it really is about finding that balance and just finding how the tool and the framework works and then adjusting it to what works best for you.