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Goals (OKRs & KPIs)
July 15, 2021

How The Executive's Trinity & OKR work together

Zahra Currimbhoy
Marketing, Perdoo
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min read

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Show notes

The Executive's Trinity is a concept devised by Stephen Bungay, author and consultant on strategy and leadership, that describes the three different types of work every executive should master.

While The Executive's Trinity says little about OKR as a tool that organizations can use to execute strategy, through the experience of one of our clients, Mathis Christian, we’ve learnt that combining the right leadership with OKR is a recipe for success.

Mathis is a founder, coach and consultant whom has set up a collective called Craft Agile — an organization that transforms businesses by being helping them craft and master robust structures and processes. Mathis works closely with Stephen Bungay and The Executive's Trinity concept, as well as with OKR and Perdoo, and we'll go into depth on his experience in doing so.

During the episode we'll discuss:

  • What The Executive's Trinity is all about
  • How organizations use The Executive's Trinity to execute their strategy through OKR
  • The challenges faced with using The Executive's Trinity

Curious to learn how to manage The Executive's Trinity and OKR within Perdoo? Head over to this guide.

Tune in to our episode with Stephen Bungay to learn more about putting strategy into action.

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Henrik-Jan: Hey everyone and welcome to another episode of Goal Diggers. I'm Henrik-Jan and I'm today's host. With me today is Mathis Christian. Mathis, could you give us a quick intro about yourself and tell us a bit about your journey with OKR.

Mathis: Hey everyone! Yeah, I'm Mathis, live and breathe in Berlin. I'm working as a founder, coach, consultant or full Interim leadership from Google over Babbel to the Corporates. to the corporate world. And, I set up years ago, a collective that is called Craft Agile. And what we do is we are transforming your business by being hands on to really mastering and crafting the structure and process for new businesses.

And, I came across OKRs intensively in 2017 by stumbling in to your SaaS solution, like in Perdoo. Exactly this is, this is how I ran into to OKR. So I was fascinated from the very first time and other news while we talk today is that I had the pleasure that Stephen Bungay joined our collective as scientific advisor last year.

Henrik-Jan: Whom we recently he had on the, on the podcast show here as well.

Mathis: Exactly.

Henrik-Jan: Yeah. Well talking about Stephen Bungay and that's what we're here to talk about. Cause we want to talk about the concept, The Executive's Trinity. So typically leadership is seen as a single role attributed to a person or attributed to people. However Stephen's Executive's Trinity sheds light on the fact that successful leadership in fact has three separate yet equal parts and is in fact attributed to the types of work as opposed to the types of people.

But you mentioned already that you worked very closely with Stephen and with this concept, could you walk us through the Executive's Trinity concept?

Mathis: Yeah, sure. The Executive's Trinity is the art of mastering three skills, right? Directing, managing and leading. The Executive's Trinity describes three types of work.

It does not describe three types of people as you already mentioned correctly. So every executive has to master these three types of work and Stephen Bungay elaborates this concept within this book: The Art of Action. That is a must read, really, I think for every senior executive. So in 2015, I saw Stephen's keynote about The Executive's Trinity and that's why I bought his book really.

And I immediately began to craft workshops around with this concept for executives to execute, agile transformations, business changes, strategy creations, or leadership development. So, I thought Stephen was doing this already. But last year when we met and I told him how great this concept works in different formats and how well it is received .

He said, "Oh, I don't do this format yet." And so we decided, um, that we co-create the training, which will be a full certified course with many excellent, contributors to that day. So what's really the concept in detail? The first role director is the intellectual part that needs to design the duty of direction, which can be described as strategic pillars or OKR and align various business areas.

This is what the director in you needs to do. The manager, however, needs to organize, by executing a proper planning of these OKRs through departments and companies. Right? So you organize resources around, you do the planning . The leader needs to get the experts aka your people, to deliver their OKRs by inspiring training, coaching them.

So they are able and motivated and ready to come up with suitable Initiatives. So that's really the way how you should master and combine these three skills in you, to decide where do I work right now? So again, as the director, you set the long-term direction. So this is really about strategy development, building an organization that can execute the strategy and communicating what the direction is.

The manager. That role really embodies the daily business, like organizing, managing resources in such way that the goals set is achieved. So we will reflect, on how to get your backlog ready and understand what to delegate. As a leader you have to make sure that employees are enabled to achieve their goals.

This is a moral level. So more medium term perspective, and your style must be appropriate for the modern environment. Right? So the way how you announce it, the way how you write it, when it comes to tone and, and culture. So that's roughly the concept of it and already a bit compared to how it works together with the OKR concept really.

Henrik-Jan: Yeah. Going through these definitions — I think I've previously written about the, or referred to the leader as the person setting out the direction. But I actually like this definition better. Being a director is to provide direction, that seems to make a lot of sense.

Mathis: Yeah. I mean, when you come from the agile world, right. And very often, it's misleading that the directors, is somehow the commander.

Henrik-Jan: Exactly. That's how I feel that that's the connotation the word has today.

Mathis: Exactly. But there the people talk about the mindset. And this is not what we mean. It's really about getting things done as a director, you direct your company, your vision, your strategy.

So it's really sitting down, looking at your business plan. Does it make sense in the first place? And how do we really get there to be smart. In which market should I go? What are really the strong parts on my end? What are the key performance indicators that we should focus and to realize when there is a conflict within the goals. That is meant by it by director.

Henrik-Jan: And as I said, it seems like just linguistically, it seems to make a lot of sense. It also makes the, the role of leader a bit broader, I think. Because you then have a leader, you can have it on different levels, right? You can lead a team, you can lead a department. I'm guessing I'm just thrown off by organizations, referring to the leadership team, which is an often the C-suite.

So this brings a lot of clarity and I think it's good that we've established this before we move on. So Mathis, you've been working closely with the Executive's Trinity concept, and at the same time, you've also worked closely with the Perdoo software, with the organizations that you're working with.

And so I'd be curious to know how each of these roles that you just defined, the director, manager and the role of the leader, lend themselves in the execution of your organization's strategy.

Mathis: So that part is really to point out the hardest thing is writing the right objectives and defining the appropriate Key Results without shooting in Initiatives. Right? And I choose the word "writing" for a reason. Whatever tool you use (don't mind) right. But whatever tool you use, you need to be able to put your company's needs and numbers into words that deliver a clear and simple strategic intent. So in our case, it's the skill of directing. And in this day, this muscle is rarely trained enough.

So if you would choose a picture I would go for the muscle, right? In a jungle of data and business plan stuff with certainly valuable KPIs, it's hard to narrow down the Objective, explaining what you really, really want. So "just tell me what you want, what you really, really want." That's the rubbish pop song, right from the Spice Girls.

So and Stephen taught me about that. And he's also mentioning in the keynotes, I think. If your employees start to ask you that that may be the direction is not clear. So, you need to get it right. And if you cannot write it down correctly, you will have a problem.

Cause people don't know what you really, really want. It will be easier if you train with your muscles.

Henrik-Jan: So you're saying is: if your employees are asking you, tell me what you want or anything that gives you a hint, that it's just not clear to them, what it is that you really want. That's your cue, that you need to train that muscle and become better at directing the organization.

Mathis: Exactly. So, coming back to your question, right? So I have the Trinity concept and I have been working with Perdoo and OKR. And starting that yeah, sure we know what we want. This is our vision. And then here are the KPIs. Woosh and then you get like 30. And the deviations from the KPIs already and they just put it down and start to manage by finding the right resources, put it over there, put it over there, but they don't seem to have a sense of understanding that some KPIs are not only misleading but conflicting. Or that the people that you choose your heads, right? If you go from the senior executive, two or three to three steps down that they don't have even a chance to really own their own KPIs, because there are so mixed or conflicting.

So when I put out a tough growth strategy, right. And, uh, we need to gain revenue for your company — for Perdoo it's MRR. Right. And on the other hand, I put out to everyone, the goal of getting stable. Or, getting into a new market, but with the same product, that we still need to fix.

But everyone has to bring in another client. That would be hard for the people. If you standing across the dashboard and see all the KPIs and some, some OKRs and you just tell them: work with this. Right. And then I say, okay, what do you really want me to do? Right. Should I go and chase the next client with what we have or should I go and focus on our platform and build something up. Or should I go into a new market, find out what we need there.

Right? So that all starts with, being a good director to really direct, and find out what is really needed.

Henrik-Jan: Okay. So that's about the director role. What about the manager?

Mathis: So if you look to the managers, is what I always say, like 80% of the executives have this muscle super trained.

So it is about setting up the stage to organize people and the resources to understand which part your organization will be capable to deliver on which strategic pillar, supporting with defining OKRs or deliver initiatives to realize OKRs and engaged strategic pillars. So you will establish a planning process that aligns annual, quarterly planning and maybe even integrate the agile flow, agile process and scrum. Right?

So what you do as manager, with that type of work. You operationalize the OKR process and prioritize in regards to the strategy.

Henrik-Jan:  Yeah.

Mathis: So that means if the strategy intent is not in good shape, you can flex the manager muscle as strongly as you want, but overall performance will be bad.

Henrik-Jan: Yeah. But you're saying that, you're saying that overall, that that manager role that senior executives need to play, that's typically well-developed. It's really the director role that is under developed.

Mathis: Exactly. This is what we see. Like when we're pointing out the Perdoo process by defining the ultimate goal and strategic pillar before you define OKRs, this is a very good framework to overcome the "stuckness".

So to lead them over, over the process of what is the ultimate goal, right? And what is the strategic pillar? What are those KPIs that are really important? And to really choose from company (top) to the various departments who is owning, which KPIs and how do they interact and to find out, in a transparency where we have conflict to deal with them first, before I step into my managing, super executing, muscle and just just tell the teams: here's a piece of work. Go ahead.

Henrik-Jan: Okay. And then lastly, the leader role and in a person?

Mathis: Now, this is really where everything fits together. Right? So the leader , that's the type of work you need to do. You need to understand really how to enable the potential of your teams and individuals to engage on OKRs — inspire them, training them, coaching them. Right. See when you can introduce it and how you put, for example, wording, right. And you consolidate the work of the director and manager and give it a human touch. If you like right now, if you are, I dunno Rocket culture of the Samuel brothers day, you give it a non-human touch.

So that is what it means to you and the people who will realize those goals. Right. And this is what you need to find out and say again. Why does it matter? And what would we like to measure? What really matters, right. That phrase I stole from some unknown guy measure what really matters. Yeah. So you would make sure that everyone is able to achieve the task of delivering OKRs and that they are most motivated to do so.

So, and if you put everything together again, directing, really describing the right strategic pillar really defining where we want to go. What's the right and healthy strategic way for it. And then coming to who should deliver on which of those goals, and then finding out what's the right voice.

Also, what's the right way for us to have our people to achieve that task. Therefore, I think Perdoo and OKR, it's a great tool. And it's like to have that in these days where the world is changing so fast. We need to have that OKR framework like to survive really and have them in your company to deliver their strategies and accelerate goals.

That's what I strongly believe.

Henrik-Jan: Okay. I mean, we've touched on the challenges with this Executive's Trinity concept a little bit already. And you already mentioned that it's the director role that people, aren't not that many... senior executives haven't developed enough yet. Is that the biggest challenge with the executive Trinity concept?

Or is there something else that is a bigger challenges? Or what are the challenges that people have when working on...

Mathis: I mean, that's really the, when we deliver our training of Executive's Trinity, the director part is where our senior executives get stuck at first. No one wants to admit it, but if you really define, again, like these three types of work and then you just ask them like a short retrospective:

Hey, what did we do within the last year? What were the points? You find the most post-its or the most parts in the manager role.

Henrik-Jan: Yeah.

Mathis: We about to execute some plans. We about to find the right resources, at the very beginning or the end of the year. Of course, we look at the numbers again and then we plan once we put it in, but we didn't check really accurately.

So however, realizing that many goals are not aligned is what they learned fast. So, and from there they're considered a high value to rewrite strategy narratives, and really start to build an organization that can execute strategy that matters and communicate what the direction is. So connecting the dots , by deciding the most critical KPIs and setting Objectives on a strategic and upcoming challenges, is becoming fun.

If your muscle is trained, so we can send it like half of the day. Yeah. And then it's fun. And then, then if you show it to your employees, for example, or investors, right. This is where you'll get feedback. If the people know, I know what you really really want. Yeah. Okay. So that, that is what you go for, right?

How much time can I get? That's the part where you go in into your manager role again, fully. Still, I would, uh, still raise up the, the leader part. Of course you still find enough senior executives that are not sure about their leadership style and they're not aligned in the leadership team and all that.

But really for executing this is what our workshop and concept is for. The director part, that's the most challenging.

Henrik-Jan: Yeah. I think this framework — it helps me a lot understanding better what is actually.. If you're in a senior executive role, if you're in a senior leadership role, I think it helps you understand much better: what are the hats that you need to wear? And what is actually expected of you? What is the organization expecting?

Mathis: Exactly. Just to train, to separate it, for once, perhaps mostly. Right. If we go in and say, okay, now just play the director and then try not to fall back into the manager type of work where you're again just say now I want to just prioritize and finding delegation and all that.

Henrik-Jan: Yeah, that this was really helpful Mathis. So as someone who has integrated OKR, Perdoo and The Executive's Trinity within your work, and with the organizations that you're working with, what will be your number one piece of advice to our listeners?

Mathis: Listen again.

Henrik-Jan: I think that's a very good piece of advice.

Mathis: Yeah. No , thank you for having me, it was a nice run through. The concept is simple really. And, the OKR framework is simple, but to roll it out, that's not simple.

Henrik-Jan: Yeah. No, totally right.

Mathis: Otherwise you can write down your strategy and not hide behind a business plan or something. That is also another good advice, but listen again.

Henrik-Jan: Love your piece of advice and I think I'm going to follow it myself. I think I need to listen to my podcasts myself as well, to once again understand much better what these rules are, and also evaluating whether I believe I'm living up to these promises .

Mathis: Do a retrospective with that. So that is super powerful. Getting your team together, what do we think? And I bet.. like the most.. If you get into the companies that a bit more huge, yeah.. "director" this is what we do. And if they reflect on the task really... And I have a good use case for that, just to count and management weeklys or monthlys and marking the tasks that we do, where we need to align on where the teams things, the leadership team, things to align on.

And mark them as director, manager and leader and it's yeah. It's okay. I mean, it's not wrong, right. But it's, it's really, most of the case. Most of our work is just managing the state where we are. And really taking time to look at the direction again, which needs to be changed. Everyone was talking about that we're living in the (?) world and we cannot just do it once a year.

So again, the framework will help you with that, the OKR framework will help you with that. And I think it's a good combination that helped me a lot.. The OKR framework.

Henrik-Jan: Thank you so much for joining us today and sharing your knowledge and experiences. It's greatly appreciated. So yeah, thanks. And we hope to welcome you on the show again.

Mathis: Cool. Looking forward to it. Thank you.

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