All posts by Vikram Kohli

OKR Design Patterns For Successful Implementation

design pattern is a general repeatable solution to a commonly occurring problem. In the context of OKR (Objective & Key Results)  many companies fail at the implementation stage as to how to arrange the OKR’s in a way that can lead to successful implementation and adoption of the framework.

This challenge will come to you when you have understood the basics of OKR and probably have read a couple of books and articles on the subjective. When implementing the OKR in your company, you need to remember that the organization is not made of different parts and pieces but it’s a complex adaptive system. And this system is run by people who have different motives and need to be satisfied at gut, mind and heart level. Any change we bring into the system needs to be carefully thought through.

The question here we are trying to answer is how you will arrange the OKR’s in your hierarchical complex system. There are 4 basic design patterns which can be applied to implement OKR’s

  1. Silo Pattern
  2. Team-based OKR Pattern
  3. Top-to-bottom flow pattern
  4. Top-3-level flow pattern

1. Silo Pattern: Each individual owns the objective and all the keys results are owned by the objective owner herself. Its simple to implement and easy to modify but again encourages silos in the company.

OKR

2. Team-Based OKR Pattern: Its different from silo pattern in a way that the Key Result are either owned by (a) objective owner reports(team members working under objective manager). Or the Key Result are owned by someone else working under a different manager,  but working with the Objective owner to achieve that Objective.

3. Top-to-bottom Cascade Pattern: In explaining this pattern (which means a way to arrange OKR’s) I am assuming that your company has 4 level hierarchy. This OKR design pattern connects the top level execution agenda with the bottom level execution. This means that the agenda of execution is cascaded down till the last mile of the company. But it also assumes that most of the execution is taken care by the bottom layer of the company.

OKR

4. Top-3-level Cascade Pattern: Again assuming that your company has 4 level hierarchy. In this OKR pattern, we connect top 3 levels of the company and cascading stops at the 3rd level of the company. And the 4th level will have their OKR’s based on silo pattern. It is based on the understanding that if the top 3 levels of the company are in sync then we will have a better flow of the agenda.

OKR

If you are struggling to implement the OKR successfully, we will be happy to have a conversation with you and help you in achieving success in OKR implementation. Feel free to drop mail talk[at]qilotech[dot]com

 

Preparing your company for next level of growth

As a CEO/Founder, you have already taken your company from point A to point B. You have survived the initial 2 to 5 years of journey to build a company. Now you clearly understand what kind of people will be able to work with you and in your company, and most importantly you are revenue positive too.

Now it time to scale your company and take it from point B to point C. And this kind of scaling comes with its own kind of challenges. It’s the time you must bring in more experts inside your company especially at the leadership and mid-managerial positions. And most importantly, allow them to run the show on your behalf. Since people will be executing things on your behalf and you will move from PUSH to PULL mode of execution, you must invest heavily in the organization, people efficiency & effectiveness. The 3 most important work areas for you apart from arranging capital to support execution are

  1. Hiring right kind of people.
  2. Constantly aligning People beyond Leadership with your Strategic and Annual Business Plan.
  3. Investing in people efficiency and effectiveness.

1. Hiring right kind of people

Hiring the right people is the core of every business. It makes sense to outsource your hiring if you choose to remain small. To grow your business from point B to C, you need more people.

It starts with investing in the right kind of talent acquisition team who will be in charge of hiring the right people for you.  And making sure your existing people are accountable for hiring the right people. And make your talent acquisition team accountable for hiring the people with right kind of behaviors.

The first step of hiring the right kind of people is to create the data-driven process of hiring. You create the Interview Score Cards which are easy to be understood by employees who are hiring on your behalf. These interview scorecards are created for each department separately.  Even if you don’t want to score people, just identify the required skills and required behaviors specific to your company and mark it yes and no.

Interview Scorecard

Skill/Competency Score by

Team member 1

Score by

Team member 2

Skill-1
Skill-2
Skill-3
Skill-4
Behaviors
Behavior – 1
Behavior – 2
Behavior – 3
Behavior – 4

 

Example : Hiring a Sales Manager

Skill/Competency Score by

Team member 1

Score by

Team member 2

Ability to hiring the Sales People
Ability to train the new Sales People
Ability to pitch the product/service with clarity
Negotiation Skills
Ability to Build Relationships
Behaviours
Realistic and Rational
Open Minded/Open to Change
Ability to Learn new things
Disciplined to the core
  1. Constantly aligning People beyond Leadership with your Strategic and Annual Business Plan

Probably Strategic Business Plan and Annual Business Plan(also called Annual Operating Plan) are big jargonish words for you. Many first-time entrepreneurs & CEO’s don’t understand them, and many feel that it’s a corporate company thing.

Strategic Business Plan(SBP) is about what you as the founder(s) & CEO want to achieve in next 3 to 5 years. Its about what point “C” looks like. If you don’t want to put in detailed SBP, you can simply put in place 3 to 5 statements indicating what as a company you want to achieve in the next 3 to 5 years. Draft these statements and get these statements validated by your leadership team.

Annual Business Plan(Also called Annual Operating Plan) is about how as a company you have to performance in a particular financial year to meet your Strategic Business Plan. Many companies break down their revenue targets till sales executive level and think they are done with it.

And many do create a plan beyond achieving sales number during their annual offsite; but post that CEO struggles to see the action plan and execution on that action plan. Here is a quick step-by-step process to set your Annual Operating Plan and to make sure execution happen on that plan.

  1. Before annual offsite, share the 3 to 5 statements that describe what needs to be achieved in that financial year. These 3 to 5 statements should be linked(aligned) with your strategic business priorities.
  2. Validate these annual priority statements with your team before going to onsite.
  3. While you are preparing for the offsite,  ask the team now to come up with 1 to 5 projects & goals for the next 3 to 6 months that will help the company to achieve these annual priorities.
  4. During the offsite, the entire leadership team validates those projects. And put in place the action plan & milestones to achieve those projects & goals.
  5. Post offsite, leadership team discuss, validate and correct these projects with their respective teams. And put this plan in action for execution.

Though this sounds simple, making sure that the team remain focused on drafting the projects and milestones to achieve those projects. You need to put a person in charge who will own this entire end to end process & activity. Usually, this person has a very good understanding of your business horizontally and to whom rest of the team members will listen to.

Frameworks like Objective and Key Results (OKR)  can help you in achieving how to creating the strategic and annual plan and how to link people and execution with this plan.

  1. Investing in people efficiency and effectiveness

This is the part where most of the CEO fails to do a good job. And end up hiring the team of consultants/guru who end up giving you ready to eat meals which probably don’t work for your company. Organization effectiveness and efficiency is majorly about:

  • 3. a) Properly defining the business KPI’s & Projects to achieve your achieve your Annual Business Plan.And then making sure execution happens on to achieve those KPIs and Projects.
  • 3.b) Investing in tools that enhance productivity and get work done.
  • 3.c) Enhancing leadership capabilities through training or workshops

3.a) Properly define the business KPI’s and Project:

Most employees hate taking accountability towards what needs to be achieved by them in a company. And most managers take the decision of who is making progress and who is not based on perception; not on data. When the company invest time in setting up the process to define KPI’s and projects to achieve execution properly, it enhancing decision making, transparency from top to bottom and reduces biases between teams and across the company.

3.b) Investing in processes and tools to enhance productivity: The next question to answer is what kind of tools are required by employees so that it can enhance & accelerate the execution on business KPI’s and Projects to be executed. Many companies invest time in drafting a plan, but only a few invest time and resources in making sure that the plan gets executed. At company level you primarily need 3 kinds of tools :

  • One that enhances execution on your Business KPI’s and Projects. Example: CRM’s, Project Management tools, Goal-setting tools, Task management tools.
  • Second is that help the company in enhancing customer centricity. Example: Tools to measure customer satisfaction, tools to listen to customer voice/opinions and tools to provide awesome customer support.
  • Third are tools that reduce administrative work. Example: Financial Support Systems, HRMS etc.

Not all listed tools are required immediately. You need to decide which tools are more important and which can be implemented later. Another important point here is, many of these tool implementations fail for many companies. This happens because of many reasons. I am listing down few of them for you:

  • Company is not able to define the requirement clearly and you end up buying something which doesn’t fulfill your need.
  • An Owner and internal champions are not defined who is responsible for successful implementation.
  • Vendor is not helping the company to identify their requirements.
  • Company doesn’t go into the detail on evaluating the tool in detail and don ask the right question.
  • A UAT (User Acceptance testing) is not done properly against the requirement before rolling out to the larger audience.
  • Not leveraging vendor expertise in implementing solution successfully.
  • Owner of implementation is more bothered about her learning from the implementation than successful implementation.

3.c) Enhancing your leadership capabilities through training or workshops

The first few training or brainstorming sessions you need to invest are in:

  • Visioning Workshops
  • Team Alignment workshop
  • Building accountability across company workshop

Visioning: In a 1996 HBR article, James Collins and Jerry Porras showed that companies with a strong sense of vision had outperformed the others in the stock market by a factor of 12 since 1925! Vision reflects what we care most about and is derived from our sense of purpose and values. It provides meaning, attracts commitment, and focuses human energy by drawing on our deepest yearnings in striving towards a purposeful goal. Visions provide a clear, easily understood image of a better future. Strong visions inspire employees. They embody values & behaviors, provide people in the company the purpose, and direct them to what will be different and distinctive.

Team Alignment : The biggest challenge we have seen while implementing qilo is that of alignment towards the annual and long-term goals of the company. A simple test of this is to “ask your employees what are the 3 to 4 things the company wants to achieve in this financial year”.  Almost 80% people in the company fail to answer this. This is CEO and leadership failure, not employee failure. With alignment workshop, focus on communicating what company wants to achieve and help people align their work with CEO’s agenda.

Accountability workshop: Accountability means I will deliver the expected results from me, come what may. I will collaborate with people across teams and will not wait to be lead by someone to get work done. Building the behavior of accountability is far more difficult. And that the reason companies prefer people from top institutes and people with the excellent academic record because it shows that the likelihood of this person being accountable for execution is very high. But every company doesn’t have access to these people, and the best way to build this behavior is to constantly communicate about the importance of the same across the company.

Summary

  1. Invest in setting up the strong process and people who hire on your behalf.
  2. State your strategic business priorities in 3 to 5 statements.
  3. Draft 3 to 5 statements that will summarize your annual business plan. And link these statements with your strategic business plan statements.
  4. Invest in enhancing your leadership capabilities. And invest to set up processes and tool to enhance people productivity.

Biggest Mistaking in OKR Implementation: Cascading OKR

One of the biggest reasons for failed OKR(Objective & Key Results) implementation is Cascading OKR’s. Cascading means your Line of Business(LOB) Head Key Results becomes the Objectives for the reports of LOB Head. And then the flow of cascading goes own till the last mile in the company. It looks something like this:

OKR Cascading

The 3 major flaws with Cascading OKR’s

  1. If your OKR cycle is quarterly, which means you create and close OKR’s every quarter, then you end up spending too much time going top-to-bottom. What if the cascaded OKR ownership needs to be changed? In 90 days, deciding your OKR’s and then cascading means you end up your entire time in cascading than execution.
  2. Cascading means CXO’s and Managers are not owning any Key Result, which means they are not executing anything. But that’s not true in the real world and should not be true. If that’s what you want to implement, then you are again promoting hierarchy in your company.
  3. Deciding which Key Result to cascade and which to not is not always clear.

We at qilo,  have learned it in a hard way after many implementations. Clients want Cascading, and we have given them what they want. But at the end, any OKR Software success depends on the OKR implementation and adoption by the people who will execute those OKR’s.

That’s why we at qilo, have focused more on 2 things for successful OKR implementation:

A.  Aligning OKR’s with CEO’s Annual Operating Plan or Strategic Initiatives. This approach is bi-directional and works wonderfully. It gives clarity to CEO and his team that as an organization, where we are going, and how we are doing. And for an employee working below the CXO level, it gives them clarity of how they are connected with the big picture. The only trick here is to successfully come up with the set of 3 to 5 business priority statements that don’t overlap and clearly linked with what company wants to achieve in that financial year.

B. Creating Team-based OKR’s: Rather than cascading, create the team-based OKR’s where Key Results are owned by multiple people. These KR’s go beyond the hierarchies and departments.  The concept is bit more difficult to digest at first, as managers want to hold their boundaries and don’t want people coming from different teams and hierarchy coming directly to their OKR’s.  But it beautifully solves the problem of cross-functional communications and collaborations. Mind you, this needs a bit of change management to occur.CEO and/or COO himself has to take the ownership of communicating why we are doing this.

Summary

  1. Cascading OKR’s results in wasting too much time setting OKR’s.
  2. For successful implementation, Align OKR’s with company’s Annual Operating Priorities or Long-term Strategic Priorities.
  3. Creating a team-based OKR’s aligned with the company’s priorities results in better team communication and collaboration.

Are you failing to Execute your Strategic Projects

It’s the department heads and teams under them who takes care of executing companies strategic projects (strategy execution). And these strategic projects are the ones which will in-turn drive companies growth in future. And most of the time these strategic projects & goals are delayed because of the number of reasons. The CEO’s/PMO office struggles to get the work done on these strategic projects; forget about getting them done faster. “Capitalizing on time is the critical source of competitive advantage”.And most of the time, execution is delayed because:

a) No one is focused on how we can shorten the planning loop. Defining -What needs to be done, -How it will be done and -Who will be accountable takes too much time. And the processes & endless meetings take over the actual work to be done.

b) Companies fail to answer “What’s in for me” for the people involved in executing the strategic projects.

In this post, let’s focus more on answering point (b) here – “What’s in for me”.  If as a company, you can answer this question for your people-especially those who are involved in executing these strategic initiatives and projects that “how failed execution is going to impact their growth in the company”, half of the battle is won. This is what Infosys, one of the most respected IT services companies in India did recently.

Infosys has struggled to keep pace with changing times of IT outsourcing model and recent changes in top leadership have lowered the confidence of all the stakeholders in the company. As per a recent article in one of the leading newspapers, now Infosys has linked their leadership performance & bonus directly with the successful execution of companies growth agenda and strategy execution; which is driving revenue from the digital services. Digital services mean providing software services in the area of cloud computing, analytics, IoT, and machine learning. The entire article is worth reading, but the most important line is “measuring growth in digital as a component of executive compensation is a good way to ensure alignment with stakeholder expectations”. 

If you are not as big as Infosys, but still thinking about applying the same concept of linking your people performance with your strategic project execution, here you get one more validation about your idea. But if the thought is that these big company things are not for your company, think again. Or you probably have tried to apply it in your company, but have failed( in this case, qilo can help you).

If your company is also struggling to grow your revenue in your new line of business OR want to introduce a new product/service to market OR want to take your existing product/service to new territories. And your company also fails to go to the next level of growth because your team and department head not taking ownership of your growth agenda with best best strategic planning & execution of projects. If that’s the struggle, then link your team performance & bounces with the execution of your strategic projects. And make sure that this entire performance measurement is data-driven and quantifiable in nature.

Another very important point highlighted in the above article that out of 3 business priorities which are assigned to Infosys’s CEO “Revenue”, “Margin” and “Organization Effectiveness & Development”, how many resources & budget have you put in against enhancing your “Organization Effectiveness & Development”. Taking your company from point B to point C needs investment in enhancing your team capabilities, especially when you cannot have access to the talent which Infosys has.

Summary

  1. Someone if the company should be continuously focused on shortening the planning loop to define WHAT, HOW AND WHO of your strategic growth projects.
  2. Linking the part(please note I am saying only part) of your team compensation with the execution of your strategic growth projects will ensure that your people get the message straight.
  3. Investing in your “Organization Effectiveness & Development” often takes back seat among other top priorities of driving “Revenue” and “Margins”. But your journey of growth will get unlocked only when you invest your resources in your “Organization Effectiveness & Development” too.

Objective & Key Results (OKR) for Strategy Execution

Strategy Execution is an Alignment, Accountability and Execution problem. And execution is most of the time a definition problem too. If the company is unable to defining WHAT and HOW of WHAT; how you can expect the execution will happen.

Once CEO and board has decided on the next projects and strategic initiatives to be executed, defining exactly WHAT needs to be done and how it can be done properly and the metrics that will help us measure progress isn’t an easy task.  There are many goal-setting/policy deployment frameworks, but Objective & Key Results (OKR) is one of those frameworks which is simple and easy to implement.

OKR(Objective and Key Results) is a management tool that helps you to translate Strategy Into Goals and Metrics. Andy Grove @ Intel first made the twist to MBO methodology and created the OKR framework when Intel was trying to capture the market. In a way, it is a bit less formal than the balanced scorecard and Hoshin Kanri approach, but it is successfully employed at many companies. Google uses it for example.

There are two components to an OKR, an Objective that specifies what needs to be achieved in the medium or longer term, and Key Results: these are specific shorter term actions that we need to take to fulfill that objective. Key results should be measurable. Since they are used to track progress, they should also be time bound.

Let’s look at an example: Suppose we were managers of a retail chain. Our objective is to open five new retail branches in South East Asia by November. To achieve that objective we’ll need to achieve the following key results.

1) Identify the locations for our new retail outlets. This should be completed by August 1st.

2) After we know in which buildings we’d like to open their new retail outlets, we need to draft leasing agreements, and that should be done by September 1st. We want all our retail outlets to have a similar look, so we’ll need to renovate the buildings a little. For example, painting interior, put the company logo on the entrance, and this needs to be completed by October 15th.

3) We’ll also need to hire new people to work in the new retail outlet. Hiring should be done by October 1st, because we’ll also need to give the new staff some training and so on. This should be completed by October 25th.

4) And finally, we’ll need equipment, computers, POS(point-of-sale) machines. This should be purchased and installed also by October 25th. At any point in time, we’re able to tell how we’re moving towards achieving our objective of opening the five retail stores by November. If it’s October 1st and we still don’t have the locations for the new retail outlet, much fewer lease agreements, we’re in trouble.

By contrast, let’s say it’s October 15th and the managers from our Retail company headquarters are calling to check in about progress.
We’ll tell them that the staff has been hired and trained, and the equipment installed. So we’re done, and actually, we’re ahead of schedule.

This way everyone can see how their efforts fit within what the organization as a whole is doing. OKR framework is a simple, yet powerful framework to align and define what and how of execution.

Watch this video by John Doerr, who introduced Objective and Key Results to Google when they were 40 member team.

Agile Practices in Strategy Execution

Strategy Execution is not just Execution problem, it’s also an Alignment and Accountability problem.For companies who have gone beyond the fight for survival, the next level of growth depends on how well the company is able to execute its strategic projects & goals.

Photo by Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash

Most often these strategic initiatives and projects take a back seat because the people who are involved in executing these projects are also involved in the day to day business operations. Another problem is; people who are involved in the execution of these strategic projects are also not communicated and aligned with why execution of these strategic projects are important for company growth and what’s in for them if execution goes well.

To cut short, CEO and Strategy Head doesn’t invest much of their time in getting the buy-in from the people who are actually executing the growth agenda.  And once the buy-in is their, company face problem in articulating what needs to be achieved and how the measurement on the progress of execution can be measured properly. Current strategy and project management practices and processes are primarily focused on

(a) breaking the projects into too many tasks and sub-task to make sure that people who execute the project should not apply their common sense in execution.

(b) collecting the status of the progress to put a RAG(Red, Amber, Green) status.  CEO/PMO office spend most of their time in collecting the status from various stakeholders involved in projects and task in those projects than spending time on why the executing getting delayed and whether the required outcome will be achieved or not. And whether the required outcome is still per what is required by customer and market.

To summarize, the 3 major problems to achieve the timely execution on strategic projects are

  1. The problem of Alignment and buy-in from people beyond the Senior leadership team
  2. The problem of Articulating what needs to be achieved, how it will be achieved and who will achieve it by when; which leads to the problem of accountability.
  3. Spending more time on Collecting status than analyzing what should be done to bring more agility in achieving the required growth.

While implementing the Strategy execution tool which qilo offers, I get a chance to work closely with many Strategy executions heads, CEO’s and teams. And the biggest challenge I see is lack of Agile Process in entire Strategy execution. I come from the world of Software and started my journey in developing Softwares in 2003,  when the primary model of developing the software was using the Waterfall model; which means that entire software is developed in one short. And by the time the software is presented to the customers and the consumers of the software, the business requirement were changed and/or software doesn’t meet what customer required from software.

And then came the Agile process of software development, where the team delivers the part of working software to the customer on the weekly or bi-weekly basis. The entire team of software developers and managers are divided into smaller teams who are working simultaneously on various parts of the software, and they interact every morning(called Scrum meeting) to share the status of the progress. The focus is more on working software over processes and documentation. And responding to change is more important than following a plan.

The same principles of Agile Software development can be applied to the Strategy Execution Software. Both Software and Strategy Execution are intangible in nature and the delay in delivery of both leads to high opportunity cost. By Applying the Agile practice to Strategy Execution, companies can radically improve the execution and outcome which can lead to accelerating growth. The current processes, Strategy Execution tools, and Strategy Execution software that support execution focus on following the plan than on getting the required outcome by working on collaboration cross-functionally.  Many companies across the globe have already realized the potential of applying the Agile practices in the other parts of execution in business and specifically in Strategy execution.

Are you ready for the Agile Execution of your Strategy?