OKR’s to R u OK? and back

OKR’s to R u OK? and back

Gowrav Vishwakarma, CTO talks about how a Secret Santa gift to the CEO and the resultant return present to team members changed the way he approaches goals and results. He further discusses the challenges of managing a distributed team in the lockdown period and how “R U Ok?” has been the more pressing need of the hour.

As Christmas approached we had Secret Santa gifting at the office. Sameer, the CEO at Frendy, is an avid reader and has a new book every week. Someone found out he was looking to read a book called “Measure What Matters” by John Doerr. I believe he understood the book to have something to do with metrics. As it turns out it didn’t. However, in February, after a townhall, Sameer called in the leadership team for a conference and told them he had read “Measure What Matters” by John Doerr and said it was the best thing Secret Santa had ever given him! The book talks about Objectives and Key Results (OKRs). Sameer said we have to

implement OKR’s at Frendy. He had a stack of copies of “Measure What Matters” for all of us and each had a simple handwritten note on the front page which read:

“Objective: Believe in OKR’s, Key Results: Read 306 Pages in 2 Weeks” 

Objective: Belive in OKRs, Key Result: Read 306 Pages in 2 Weeks

A leaderboard was to be maintained, with a weekly update on who had completed how many pages. Not wanting to be left behind I started the book after the weekend. 

Once I started reading, I couldn’t stop.  I just kept reading. I took this book as an examination book for my life. I read and highlighted key points and re-read those points over and over. I knew I was standing at a crossroads.  I could relate my study of human behavior, business, and organizations to the book and be able to understand the missing blocks in my own management style.

The book was engaging because the theories were peppered with real stories. John Doerr had worked with Andy Grove at Intel and then had become a coach at Google for its senior team. Google had adopted OKR’s and they still use it to run their business.

OKRs are a great way to set goals for organizations and teams as well as to measure how they were being achieved with Key Results. It was simple yet efficient and from Google to Bill Gates to Bono everyone was using it. It was a no brainer. We had to make Goal Setting a priority at Frendy.  It had to be transparent and cascade down to everyone. This was the only way we could move a mountain. It was clear that after reading the book everyone was on board. Key Result had already been achieved to 80% as everyone in the leadership team had read the book in 3 weeks instead of 2.

Key Results Review on March 17th – 3 weeks after receiving the books.

Just as we started evaluating tools and were to appoint an OKR Coach we got hit with COVID and there were major shifts in our business and the way we all functioned. We had to put OKR’s on hold till we figured out our Goal.

As we started Work From Home (WFH) I knew it was not going to be an easy task. Nobody had experience in such conditions.

Doing Vs Managing

If you are a genuine person, you can do your task at hand from home. You know what to do, it’s your work and you can do it from anywhere. The problem comes when you have to manage remotely. It’s tough.

I knew that work performance would invariably go down at the start and I didn’t want each developer to be a victim of the situation. I wanted them all to act as players.

I knew there would be issues but every team member should view their new work mode from a positive angle. I didn’t want a situation where they felt that “due to COVID, we are not able to coordinate well and our performance is going down” neither did I want the blame game to start.

How could we motivate them, fight with a positive attitude and get more out of the situation? The solution or the experiment, rather, was giving people the opportunity to lead. Instead of taking a safe approach, I attacked it head-on. From the very first day of our WFH online meeting, I encouraged people to lead team meetings and strategy decisions.

Scrum meetings were not led by me or our product manager Parth Amin. Instead, we started giving scrum master roles to every team member in rotation. We gave more power to tech leads and passed some research work to developers to help us make decisions. We got diverse angles and the team was driven. A clear indication that “I am betting on you, can you prove yourself?”

Now, instead of thinking that they were inept in this new scenario, the team started thinking positively and focused on performing better. They took every problem in a positive way and started finding solutions themselves.A few team members even came to me, asking how to manage something that they were not managing before. I spoke with them and made suggestions, all the while encouraging them to analyze and take decisions themselves.

When someone gets the opportunity to lead they realize that it’s not as easy as it seems. However, within a month we got so many leaders, motivated members and a stronger team.

The workplace also saw a lot of informal interactions. Conversations, jokes and personal issues were being discussed. In order to make time for this, we held 1-on -1’s with each member of the team. Just checking on someone in the team with a simple “R u OK?” worked wonders.

A few weeks ago I felt that the time was right for us to revisit the OKR concept. As our team leaders watched Fred Koffman talk about “Compassion Management” we understood once again the importance of Vision, Mission, and Alignment.  Fred asks “What is your Job?”, and if every one of your team members replies “To help the company win”, you are already a winner.  Aligning every member on the team to a common goal,  and making them feel and see how their day to day work is helping the company is one of the reasons we wanted to implement OKRs.

Make the team play as a team and not as departments. The culture at Frendy is about making your decisions and also owning them. You don’t have to play safe or be afraid of making mistakes. Everybody needs to understand the final impact of his each and everyday routine and how it affects the final step of the company. Once you understand this you can enjoy your work.

Team members always know that if any error or mistake is found, we will all jump in to find solutions together. We were cautious so as not to make others feel guilty as we knew it would lead to inaction and stagnation. We made them understand that we are one as a team and that we need to move fast and innovate as a cohesive whole. This was a big step, but it resulted in a more focused team.

This is where OKRs jump in to manage things in an easier manner. While Compassion Management is good we still need some tools to make it happen since not every person is at the same skill and understanding level. Once you understand how Compassion Management works and you know the power of alignment, and the value of everyone working “to help the company win”, you can then implement OKRs in its true sense. So in these difficult times, we keep asking people  “R u OK?” but in the future, if we want to avoid difficult times then we need OKR’s.