At the start of this year, BaseKit changed to a new way of working, using the OKR framework. This has been challenging and exciting in equal measure, helping us to become the best we can be, and bringing out great work on an individual, team and company level. We wanted to share our progress with you so that you can see what we’ve been up to, and even learn more about whether OKRs might be right for your company! Read on to find out about our journey so far:
First thing’s first: what’s an OKR?
OKR stands for Objectives and Key Results. Unlike some other target-based systems, these objectives are meant to be challenging, aspirational and expressed in qualitative terms (e.g. ‘I want to be a better cook’), while the key results should be quantitative measures of how close to – or far from – achieving these goals you are (e.g. ‘I will cook meals from scratch twice a week’).
The benefit of OKR
OKRs exist right across BaseKit at company, team and individual levels, driving alignment in all directions – not just top to bottom but, more importantly, across the organisation horizontally. This means that teams and individuals understand what, how and why they contribute to the business, so nobody feels like they are out of the loop. The company’s vision and goals are shared throughout the year, which empowers everyone, and keeps us honest as we ensure that we are constantly reviewing, discussing and adapting.
Are they different from KPIs?
OKRs differ from KPIs in that they should be used to drive strategic changes, whereas KPIs are normally measurements of what we would call ‘business as usual’ activities (BAU). We’ve found that the two actually work best together: KPIs enable us to monitor performance and highlight problem areas, while OKRs drive the innovation needed to solve these problems and improve processes. Both systems require us to have a very robust process for reviewing, tracking and adjusting our efforts across both BAU and strategic work.
Why did we decide we needed a new system?
Over time, as the company grew, we saw that a lot of teams were individually doing great things, but without a clear vision of how these fitted into the company’s goals. From a company point of view, this isn’t the most powerful or efficient way to use our incredibly skilled teams. From an employee point of view, it’s hard to feel connected to what you’re doing when you aren’t being clearly shown how your contribution really makes a difference. In addition, we’re a creative bunch; in order for people to be able to contribute new and exciting ideas, they need to know where these are needed, and how they can fit in. We needed a company goal towards which everyone could align their work, and a framework within which to do this.
Once we had looked at the issues, we knew we wanted a powerful but straightforward framework to help us to surface the strategic business goals and empower teams and individuals to creatively align to these. Joe Tanner, Director of Operations and the driving force behind the implementation of OKRs, says, ‘With that in mind, OKRs seemed like an obvious place to start. We felt that the core principles made a lot of sense, while also leaving some flexibility for us to mould it around our business and existing processes.’ One key feature of OKRs is that they exist for every level; our relatively flat company structure meant that implementing it would be initially simpler than it might be in a more tiered company.
It was important that we used a system that would fit in with existing ways of working across the company. Our software developers, for example, use an Agile approach; to see how OKR is actually well suited to be used with this, take a look at this article. This compatibility with different teams’ systems was another reason for us to choose OKR.
Implementing our OKRs for Q1
Q1 was a little different from future quarters, as before we could get into creating company, team and individual OKRs, we needed to run a change project to bring everybody up to speed on what we wanted to achieve with OKRs and why.
Once we were sure that everyone was up to date and on board, we created a set of five company-level objectives that aligned with the BaseKit vision and 2018 budget. These covered areas such as customer and partner success, culture and leadership, technological advancements and financial targets. We then asked teams to create one to three team-level OKRs that aligned with these objectives. We also encouraged individuals within these teams to take on their own OKRs where appropriate.
Finally, we called a company meeting at the start of Q1 and presented all of these OKRs, clearly showing how they all aligned with each other. We asked the team leaders to get up and say a little bit about their team OKRs, before giving everyone an opportunity to ask questions.
The first quarter
The first quarter has been a success: OKRs have provided the business with a clear understanding of what we want to achieve, whilst giving teams the autonomy and creativity required to make it happen. We tied in BaseKit 10, our new product, with our OKR process and this has worked really well. Joe emphasised the fact that it’s also helped company culture: ‘I think it’s helped the teams work together by highlighting common goals and showing that some teams are a lot more closely linked than they may have previously realised, working on complimentary objectives’.
What we’ve learnt
We’ve learnt a lot from the first quarter of using OKRs. Here are a few of the key takeaways:
- For OKRs to work, you need to be prepared to adapt them to your business, as well as adapting your business to the OKR system. We’ve seen the best results where we’ve ensured that both we and our OKRs are dynamic.
- OKR progress reviews are essential. Throughout Q1, we held these every two weeks, sitting down with team managers and discussing what worked well and what didn’t.
- Within the OKR system, you can have yes/no or numeric key results; we have found that yes/no KRs don’t work well for us, so will always try to use a number when we can.
- It’s important to resist the temptation to create huge amounts of OKRs – it’s totally fine for teams and individuals to have just one meaningful OKR.
- As time goes on, new benefits and ideas will come from alignment with OKRs. It’s key to recognise when these are happening and ensure that the relevant parts of the business are able to collaborate effectively on them.
- The way OKRs are worded matters: it’s important that objectives don’t constrain people’s thinking or kill their creativity, and that key results are clear, understandable and believed in. This means that we can say with confidence that we are making positive progress towards our objectives.
What’s in store for Q2?
First and foremost, we’re going to take on board the lessons learnt in Q1, sharing these across the business and adapting accordingly. Continuing the theme of transparency, we’ll hold a company-wide review of Q1’s successes and failures, and then follow the same process as before, defining Q2’s company-level OKRs and then communicating these so that teams and individuals can create their own.
This whole project has been of huge importance to the business, involving everyone throughout the quarter. Most importantly, it’s led to good conversations about where changes are needed, and will continue to do so. Not only are we all more aligned in our work, but it’s also made a difference to company culture by connecting us all, and giving people a framework into which their great ideas can fit. As with any new system, we are constantly learning and adapting, but we’ve already seen huge positive changes, and we’re excited to see these continue! As Joe put it, ‘This is just the start of our OKR journey and there’s more great stuff to come!’.
For more information on OKRs, check out these resources:
Helpful overviews and guides:
On combining OKRs with Agile working:
From GTM hub, which we use to log and track OKRs: