The development story of our OKR method
We are often asked about setting and achieving challenging goals and coordinating teams effectively, and about what leadership style and routines we use at Aliz to ensure performance and employee satisfaction. Of course, like many things in our story, it’s been a long learning curve to find the best-fitting method for us.
At Aliz, we started to use OKR as a strategy management toolkit around six years ago. OKR (Objectives and Key Results) is a management methodology that helps to ensure that the company focuses efforts on the same important issues throughout the organization. This goal-setting framework enables rapid growth and achievement by aligning the workforce across all levels toward the organization’s overall objectives.
Since then we have been continuously adapting it to our operations. We have made mistakes, which helped us improve our method and operation. Mistakes are part of a company's development. It’s not a problem if you make them - just be sure that you learn from them.
The past six years have been a winding road with four separable phases.
Six years ago, when I was appointed leader of the management team, I threw myself into the job, and into the OKR system, with great enthusiasm. We started using OKR because as the company grew, we realized that everybody was doing everything and therefore everyone was overloaded. There was no common focus, no common goals. We tried to implement the method ourselves, and got very useful feedback from our colleagues, but it didn't take more than a few quarters to realize that running an OKR successfully is a much more complex task.
As a second phase, in a company of then 40 people, we started to focus only on the management team. As a first change in our operation, we introduced a two-day offsite meeting for the management team every quarter, which we have maintained ever since. During those two days, we don’t respond to emails (or at least we try not to). Instead the first day is usually spent analyzing the previous quarter, threats, and opportunities, while the second day is usually spent working on strategy and business plans. What we learned in this period is that we had included a lot of operational tasks in our objectives, which made the system unmanageable and did not energize people. A good OKR rather focuses on the desired outcome than the operational task itself. Transparent communication soon became part of Aliz’s operation, something we are proud of. We started to have quarterly All Hands meetings, with all employees present. The management team gives information about the company’s achievements, our goals, and what the company is focusing on. Everyone can share their thoughts and ask questions.
For the next few years we used the OKR method only within the management team. In this period, we had a lot of help in developing the system from a US-based organization development consultancy. The experience we gained helped us start to really and truly focus our management. This was the third phase in our OKR implementation development: using OKR to focus. When a colleague pointed out that we could improve the focus of our OKRs, I realized that the team had internalized the basic notion of using OKRs: identify 4-5 focus points at team level that we as a team can focus on. This way, management is not fragmented, nor is the team, nor is the company. This was when we started to really use OKR for focused action, but we hadn't applied it to the whole organization yet, only at team level.
As a final phase around a year ago we widened this approach to include the whole company. It is no longer only the management team that makes the decisions, which are then implemented by individual teams; the management team have their teams and they make decisions and then implement them themselves. This is how the concept of open management was born within the company.
Our long-term mission and vision are broken down into a one-year business plan and objectives. The OKR system ensures transparency and synchronicity between people in the implementation of business objectives. We constantly measure our operational performance and intervene when necessary, but we have undertaken to use the OKR system primarily and specifically for focus. OKR is the target-setting system that sets quarterly group-wide targets within the company and helps achieve them successfully. We set a long-term goal for the company. We try to understand how to break it down into smaller steps. Then we synchronize all of these steps within the company where people work together toward a common goal. These goals are not only transparent and understandable within the organization but they also energize the team.
To sum up, even if it was a long learning curve, the OKR system is now part of Aliz's strategic management toolbox. The OKR has helped us identify our gaps and strengthen them, thus working more efficiently and successfully at team level. It energizes people, motivating both the teams and individuals to reach their goals and do a better job.