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In theory, OKR (Objectives & Key Results) is simple. However, it can be a challenge when rolling out the OKR framework across an entire organization.
We spoke to Kathrin Hafermas, the OKR Ambassador at Proemion, who has a wealth of insights to share with you based on her learnings while implementing OKR at Proemion.
Let’s take a look at what an OKR rollout process looks like. What we’ll discuss in this episode:
- Why Proemion decided to implement OKR
- The OKR rollout process
- Challenges faced
- Approaches taken to overcome those challenges
- How Proemion has benefitted from OKR
- Best practices you should keep in mind when implementing OKR
A key takeaway: OKR won’t be an overnight success — it requires planning, commitment and effort. Get this right, and you’ll be successful.
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Zahra: Hi everyone, I’m Zahra from the marketing team at Perdoo and I’ll be the host for today’s episode. With me is a very special guest, Kathrin, who’s the OKR ambassador at the company she’s currently working at, and she’s here to share insights with us on what an organization-wide OKR rollout can look like, and will be sharing with us, her learnings, the challenges that were faced and best practices that she’s picked up along the way.
So let’s cut to the chase. Kathrin before we get into the details, please tell us a little bit about yourself.
Kathrin: Hi Zahra, hey everyone! Thanks for the invitation to join this podcast. And yeah, as you already mentioned, my name is Kathrin and since one and a half years, I’m the OKR ambassador at Proemion.
Proemion is a medium-sized enterprise. We have around 150 employees and we are located in the middle of Germany. We are in the telematics industry and we develop and manufacture devices for off highway OEMs. Those devices, they read the data from the vehicle scan bus. And then the data is brought to our cloud. We also have a big team developing and maintaining our data platform and our cloud solution.
Well, before I joined Proemion two years ago, I’ve worked several years as a project manager in the automotive industry with a strong focus on e-Mobility..
Zahra: Thank you so much for that little introduction, Kathrin. We are so happy to have you on our show today. And both of us already have mentioned that you’re the OKR ambassador at Proemion.
Does that mean that you’ve been witness to the entire OKR rollout process from the very beginning?
Kathrin: I work in the area of operations. Half a year after I joined Proemion, we decided to implement the OKR framework. So from that point of time on, I was doing operations and being the OKR Ambassador in parallel. I was responsible for the rollout and also for the implementation throughout the company right from the beginning.
Zahra: All right. And that probably means that you are very much aware and were a part of the pains that your organization was encountering, that in fact, led you to even consider working with OKR. So what were the few touch points which triggered you to even implement OKR?
Kathrin: There were two challenges we needed to overcome. First, we had strong silos in the organization. That means that there was poor alignment between the different groups. So the software team, the hardware team, production and cloud solutions. They all were strong teams in itself, but there was poor alignment between the different groups. So this was really a big challenge.
And a second challenge was that we had no tool or no means to give transparency to everyone in the organization about the company’s goals and strategy. So it was simply not properly communicated. So that the staff didn’t know about the direction we are heading to as a company. It was more of a chance that our COO, Robert, he got in touch with the OKR framework and he immediately realized that with the help of OKRs, we can overcome our challenges.
Zahra: Yes. And that’s really great that Robert encountered OKRs, because once you realize the value of effectively working with OKR, you understand that it’s a multifaceted tool that brings an organization closer in so many different ways. And that’s simply because it’s a medium of communication on all levels, which solves for that challenge of transparency that you just mentioned.
And it gives everyone in the organization that little bit of clarity, if not a lot, and that purpose that may have been lacking before and, I’ve also seen that it encourages collaboration on all levels and that in itself breaks down those silos that you just mentioned. So I think both of us can vouch for the fact that OKR brings a plethora of benefits to an organization, but we also know very, very well that achieving those benefits requires some hard work and effort.
So I think you have a lot of insight on this. So please walk us through the OKR rollout process in your organization and just give us a little bit of a feel of how it is and what it’s all about.
Kathrin: Yes, I will do so let me think back. Well, we all started in summer 2019 and in July and August, 2019, we mostly focused on choosing the right tool and define a rollout concept.
So, we evaluated four OKR tools. And we finally chose Perdoo.
Zahra: That’s great.
Kathrin: Yeah, it is. And we are still happy with the decision and , also how to do the roll out — we drafted it on a paper and let me walk you through how we did it. So first we put together a small team that was responsible for the rollout.
It was so to say, as a rollout team, it was me being the main responsible person as the OKR Ambassador. It was the head of HR, Christine at those times, supporting me. And for sure, Robert, our COO. So, he was strongly involved right from beginning.
Zahra: That’s great.
Kathrin: Yeah, it was a really big help. And, we decided to start then with a small rollout group and this rollout group consisted of like five high key performers at Proemion.
They are all on the lead level and, there were known to be critical in a positive sense. So that is: they challenge the ideas for management and they ponder and reflect wisely. And they are really strong advisors. And the head of HR Christine and myself, we drafted some inntroduction slides about getting started with OKRs.
And then we gave the first introduction meetings about the OKR framework to this rollout group. And this all happened then after summer break in September, 2019. And, after the rollout group (those 5 key performers) , they were then familiar with the idea of the OKR framework and we asked them to draft their first team OKRs in Perdoo and aligned to the company objectives.
At this point of time, together with Robert and also with the help of Daniela, she is our Perdoo coach. We already had drafted company OKRs in Perdoo. To be honest, at this point of time, they were not finalized. We wanted to challenge them with the rollout group, but those OKRs were precise enough to ask those teams for the first alignment.
Yeah. And, the aim was not to strongly work on the OKRs, but get first experience with thinking about good Key Results, understand the company strategy, challenge the company strategy and give feedback on it and also to become familiar with the Perdoo software. So to summarize, I can say that this was the first milestone being accomplished in the rollout phase, like at the end of October, 2019.
Zahra: Okay. So you took a slow gradual approach. That’s usually very important when the organization is completely new to OKR and that helps in avoiding any pushback that you get. I think you also took a very good approach in having that team, kind of work on challenging the company strategy and the company OKRs.
That’s always a good way of involving your team and really getting them as a part of, you know, seeing where the organization is going.
Kathrin: Exactly, yeah I can, I can strongly say that it’s not a top down- process. It’s bottom up and parallel.
Zahra: And that approach is key in making sure that everyone is on the same page and in the long run that helps not only teams, but individuals as well in knowing what they need to do, which aligns essentially with the company strategy.
Zahra: So you’ve mentioned that you started in the summer of 2019, and this first milestone was accomplished in October, 2019. So that was around a four month process, which is in fact great. And so once you had the process rolled out to that first group, how did you roll it out to the rest of the organization?
Kathrin: Yeah, after this, we defined then more rollout groups. Teams of each 6 joiners and we trained them on how to get started with OKRs. And we also asked them to discuss then with their teams, the OKR framework, and makes the teams familiar with the framework. I would say that this was a second, milestone being achieved successfully at the end of 2019.
That is that all head offs or group leads and all team leads were now onboarded. And we asked them to also strongly involve the teams. Christine and I were thinking about offering OKR trainings on team level, but, we decided this is not mandatory for the team members.
So it was only for those teams asking for it. And in the end, some teams reached out to us and asked for training sessions and some did not.
Zahra: That’s good. I mean that some did at least.
Kathrin: Indeed. At the beginning of 2020, we had our New Year’s breakfast. It’s quite a famous thing. We have it every year in the second week of January, but it was a first time that in the New Year’s breakfast, everybody was informed and updated on the company strategy.
We opened Perdoo and we went through all the company OKRs and Robert informed our employees about the direction and goals. And since they all already joined our onboarding sessions, they could easily follow and they could easily understand what the company strategy is about and how they can align and support with their team OKRs.
And from that moment on, I would say that the rollout phase could be described as being completed. So yeah to summarize, I can say that well altogether it took us around eight months to roll out the OKR framework. At the beginning we spent those two months on our own investigation, and then we had a really tough period of six months to do the rollout and the trainings with the team.
And, I must also say that Robert, Christine and I, we did this not in full-time, it was an additional project while we were focusing on our businesses as usual tasks in parallel.
Zahra: That’s a huge milestone to reach though, Kathrin. Especially rolling it out at that number of people. So I’m sure you celebrated that win at the breakfast.
Kathrin: Yes, we did.
Zahra: Now you’ve mentioned that you had a tough period for six months and you know, OKR is seen as an inherent cultural shift and in a way requires a switch in mindset to a certain degree to actually be successful. So tell me a little bit about that tough period that you had and what were the main challenges that you faced during implementation.
Kathrin: I remember that at the beginning, some colleagues raised concerns about the measurement of Key Results. So they asked me how shall we measure our progress if we have no figures and idea at all, what we are doing. And, another big challenge was to overcome the resistance about another tool being introduced.
So as every company, we have a lot of tools being used for our projects, planning and for sharing code and developing code, and those teams who already are using those tools every day, they were questioning the sense of another tool.
Zahra: Those are very fair concerns that your colleagues raised in fact, and I think. A lot of organizations would feel the same way. So how exactly did you tackle or overcome those challenges?
Kathrin: About the measurement of Key Results we communicated that we will start with what we have and that we will have to estimate progress. So it’s more based on gut feeling, let us see how far we will get.
And then step-by-step, we will better understand what we can achieve and what are realistic or even ambitious goals. So drafting Key Results is a great means to learn about the figures and what you’re doing. And, another advise is that it’s absolutely okay to also draft objectives about gaining some figures and get first experience with measurement.
And to overcome the resistance about the next fancy tool. We highlighted again, that we the Perdoo software it’s not about project management at all. It’s a goal management tool, which everybody in the company can access. So every body can see everything and here it simply helped to stress again the great benefit we will all have while aligning our goals to the company strategy.
Zahra: That’s a great approach that you took, especially since it really takes time to just warm up to such changes and processes. And with both situations that you encountered it really is about just getting started and learning with the process.
And as it may become more rooted in how you approach work in general, I believe the easier and more beneficial it gets. Now, having said that, with the OKR rollout behind you, what would you have done differently?
Kathrin: Well, to be honest, I would start with some great slides about what the benefit of the OKR framework is.
Looking back, I think it was too theoretical to start with those theoretical slides and theoretical learnings on the OKR framework. And I would start with some great icebreakers about the OKR framework, so how it can help us to overcome the organization silo mentality.
And that it will also be a great help to be more efficient and to have more fun working together across the organization. With those great icebreakers, people are more curious about, what the OKR framework is, then listen to all the little theoretical details. And I guess I missed a great ice breaker at the beginning and I would do differently next time.
Zahra: Okay. And you would do this ice breaker slide session with the entire organization or with smaller groups?
Kathrin: With all of them — the entire organization.
Zahra: Alright, so just have a very holistic introduction to OKR and then go with the same gradual process that you took initially.
Kathrin: Exactly. And then goes through all this theoretical steps you need to learn, but start with some great icebreakers at the beginning.
Zahra: That’s great advice for anyone listening who may just be getting started. So do take note, as it may be helpful in getting that buy-in from everyone that will be working with OKR. And perhaps even by highlighting the benefits from the get-go, you may avoid any additional resistance to adopting the framework.
Anyway with having overcome all of this and now with OKR being well integrated into your organization, what changes has OKR brought to your organization?
Kathrin: Oh, well, there are some. So first we started to think about outcomes instead of outputs. And this is really new because it was always usual to think about things that need to be done instead of questioning the business outcome.
And, it’s actually a big change, which drives our business in the right direction. Yeah and another big change is that, now everybody is updated about the company strategy and also about how the company will measure success. And this transparency did not exist before at all. Now our management is also forced to focus on a couple of strategic objectives, which is great because we focus on the essential goals we need to achieve.
And in terms of changes: now with Perdoo we also have a tool where all teams can align in shared Objectives and they can work together for a quarter. And this is pretty nice in Perdoo because you can define owners and contributors and you can allocate different key results to different owners, all under the umbrella of a shared Objective.
And this gives great transparency on what is expected: from whom? For what reason? Let me think about change. Yeah. So you mentioned this cultural shift and to regarding how OKR can help changing the company’s culture. I can say that OKR is really a great communication tool.
So at Proemion, we are happy to see slowly a cultural shift happening that is teams: they talk to each other frequently. They reach out to each other to ask for help. They align on shared OKRs and we definitely are leaving the silo mentality behind. So this is done. And well, as the ambassador, I have slowly pushed for that change and I’m more than happy about the cultural shift that OKR is bringing to us.
So you might know that cultural shift, they are so hard to achieve and now we can see it happen.
Kathrin: Yeah, it is. Well, and last, but not least. It’s pretty nice that in Perdoo, everybody can see everything and we can all update ourselves on what other teams are focusing on and what the results are.
And this is also a big change, which came with the introduction of the OKR framework.
Zahra: That’s so great, Kathrin. Also, you can finally say that after all the effort and challenges that the outcome was and is positive and I’m sure being the OKR ambassador, this is a great achievement for you alone, to kind of see your organization pulling in the same direction and in fact, benefiting from it on a large scale.
Yeah. I don’t want to keep you too much longer, but before we end this episode, what would be your number one advice for those who are looking to implement OKR,
Kathrin: You definitely need C-level management to support the roll out and stand behind your OKR concept. So without a great help of our COO, Robert, the rollout team would have not been successful.
So the OKR framework must be part of the management DNA and then you will be successful.
Zahra: Definitely. So C-level buy-in is a must have. Yes. Thank you so much, Kathrin. I myself have learnt so much from your insights and I’m sure everyone listening has too. If anything, you’ve given those starting off with OKR a little bit of security in knowing that yes, it does take time and perseverance to successfully implement OKR, but just hold tight and the outcome will be positive.
So now I’d just like to summarize the key takeaways from your experience. So, first of all, a step-by-step gradual rollout to small groups work very well for your organization, right?
Kathrin: Yes, that’s correct.
And yes, you did encounter challenges around using another tool and measuring progress using Key Results, through which you overcame those by a. Reinforcing the benefits of working with OKR and a related tool to help you visualize your strategy and your goals and help you collaborate on a larger scale.
And for the second challenge it was to get started, even if it meant just starting with the Objectives. And if you could have done something differently, it would have been to introduce the idea and benefits of OKR to your organization as a whole, from the very beginning, before the actual rollout process.
In terms of benefits, you’ve seen transparency, the company as a whole is pulling in the same direction. Better communication and collaboration and an overall cultural shift. Yes. This is a graduate process, but you have seen it begin and not to forget executive buy-in is crucial for a successful.
Kathrin: It is. Yep.
Zahra: And now that brings us to the end of this episode. Thank you so much again, Kathrin for being here and thank you all for listening.
Kathrin: Thank you Zahra for the nice podcast, it was really a pleasure to talk to you.
Zahra: Thanks, Kathrin.