OKRs for enterprise businesses - Deloitte and NatWest Group share their story
As a large, established enterprise business, you’d be forgiven for thinking that OKRs are a startup’s game.
Whilst it’s true that many startups have successfully implemented OKRs into their workflow, some of the world’s leading (and largest) brands have also adopted OKRs with outstanding results.
For example, Facebook, Google and Amazon - all huge organisations with complex products and a diverse audience base - use OKRs. So, how have they managed to implement OKRs successfully?
Recently, we sat down with Catherine Wallwork from Deloitte and Lee-Ann Sansom from Natwest Group to discuss their experience of implementing OKRs into enterprise businesses. Both companies use the Just3Things OKRs platform.
They shared the challenges they’re facing, with some tips for overcoming common hurdles to OKRs implementation.
Why did you decide to implement OKRs into your businesses?
Lee-Ann explained that the Enterprise Engineering Department at NWG needed more transparency and alignment across the organisation, from teams right up to senior stakeholder groups. They were also keen to find a way of helping teams answer ‘why’ they are working on what they’re working on, and how their work fits into the wider organisation’s goals.
Catherine said that they had been using OKRs for some time, but until recently felt they weren’t maximising their true potential. Each team had its own approach for OKRs, with some teams really critiquing and analysing their progress and performance, whilst others were just starting on their journey. The Ventures teams were keen to use OKRs as a tangible and effective tool to enable a growth mindset for individuals and wider teams, so they realised they needed to invest in better software and training to get the best value from their OKRs implementation.
The power of saying NO
Catherine says that one of the most powerful aspects of using OKRs is that they give individuals the power to say NO.
With a set of visible OKRs, any scope creep or ad hoc requests can be weighed up against the existing priorities. This means, they’re easily refused if they don’t exceed the importance or value of existing tasks. Or, if they do, any existing tasks can be removed to make way for the new requirements, instead of simply adding them on top of existing work; (the traditional approach in enterprise businesses)!
Catherine explains that it’s also very useful for teams to see how others are using their OKRs and compare notes against their own. They can see what’s working, any innovative approaches they’re trying or any insight/knowledge they can use. It increases visibility in a big way.
The value of autonomy and fail-fast culture
Catherine and Lee-Ann agree that a universal factor in successful OKRs implementation is autonomy. When teams are able to set their own goals, and take responsibility for achieving them, they’re proven to be more motivated, creative and innovative.
By their very nature, OKRs promote collaboration and knowledge sharing, so often these things happen organically as OKRs are rolled out across the business.
But the traditional hierarchy of many enterprise businesses can be a challenge, as can the risk averse nature of large businesses. Enterprise businesses shouldn’t be so concerned about how to ‘get it right’ when using OKRs, that they end up avoiding them altogether!
“Open and honest communication across all levels brings understanding and context to each individual. If everyone knows what is expected of their team members and how this plays into the leadership team’s ultimate goal, they’ll be empowered to be proactive, not reactive. They understand how their work fits into the bigger goals of the company.”
Using Just3Things to track OKRs
Catherine and Lee-Ann agree that one of the most powerful aspects of using a platform is having a single source of information.
This means, a place where anyone can login and see;
- An up to date outline of the company’s strategic ambition
- Clear goals and timeframes to achieve them
- Each team’s OKRs and progress against these
- How the business is doing as a whole
Catherine explains that at Deloitte, they find using Just3Things particularly useful for senior leadership teams. They can measure;
- People, progress and productivity
- Current capabilities and any skills gaps
- Value of input vs. output
- Employee wellbeing and satisfaction
- Financial progress against targets
- Innovation, new ideas
- What works vs. fail-fast initiatives
“The OKRs platform gives us a single version of the truth. OKRs empower our teams to set their own roadmaps for helping the company achieve its aims - this is really motivational and helps us get a sense of how our employees are doing.”
The leadership challenge
Lee-Ann and Catherine agree that one of the hardest part of implementing OKRs into enterprise businesses is getting engagement from senior leaders. Often senior leaders will be eager to realise the value of OKRs, but too time poor to lead by example or ‘be the change’ that’s needed.
This is echoed in many articles and conversations about OKRs, for example this excerpt from a conversation with John Doerr,
“For a lot of organizations, the cultural risk and vulnerability that come with transparency, and that kind of accountability, is too big of a change. And even if an organization does want to adopt it, I strongly recommend they not go overnight to get 50,000 people to do it. Most companies start with a pilot. And if the leader’s not committed, don’t bother. Don’t even try. Stay with whatever you have.”
Lee-Ann explains “Implementing OKRs requires a shift in perspective and a change in the way people work, which can create resistance. It also forces people to articulate why they’re working on the projects they’re working on, which can be difficult.”
Clarity of business strategy
Another challenge that Catherine and Lee-Ann discuss is the complexity of articulating the company’s strategic objectives.
Catherine explains, “Often, the company strategy is hidden somewhere in a complex, 30 slide deck that most employees would struggle to understand. Really, the company’s vision should be easy to explain in just a few short sentences. It’s up to senior leaders to set a clear goal that everyone in the company can articulate and get behind.”
This sentiment is discussed in an article from Harvard Business Review, which explains that the best way to achieve your company goals is to make them clear and specific. Then, you need to share your goals with the organisation and give teams the freedom to figure out the best way of achieving them.
Within the article, they suggest focusing on just 3 steps (our favourite number!) to achieve your company goals;
- Focus on the capabilities needed to step up performance improvement.
- Redesign work environments to foster those capabilities.
- Pursue high impact early initiatives and communicate, early and often, what it all means to your workers.
To achieve your strategic company goals, you need clear communication, the right OKRs tools and autonomy for teams to be a valuable part of the collective effort needed to achieve them.
OKRs for enterprise businesses
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