The OKR Podcast
The OKR Podcast

Episode · 1 year ago

Aligning Fast and Deep to Drive Results w/ Denise Kanfield

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Denise Kanfield drives the OKR and results program at Cisco. Before that, she was a business agility and transformation leader at Thomson Reuters for three years. Denise has done OKRs at three different companies, and she intentionally sought out a role to lead OKRs and results management. We sat down with her to tap the breadth and depth of her knowledge in the OKR space.  

You're listening to the Okay our podcast we talk about the power of lateral alignment and outcome mindset and empowering teams to do their best work from anywhere. We also talk about operating as a digital company which is crucial. Now here journeys learnings and victories from our guest speakers and get expertise from our host to scale your leadership capacity and operate with high impact trust and efficiency. Here's your host Dadri pack nod. Yeah. Today my guest is Denise Canfield who's driving the okay are and results program at Cisco. Before Cisco she was business agility and transformation leader at Thompson Reuters for a number of years and over her career, she's had roles in sales od learning and development enablement and as a board member at a number of organizations that breath and background are perfect for her role. Now. More importantly, Denise has done okay or is it three different companies and she intentionally sought out a role to lead. Okay ours and results management and for that reason Denise, we are just delighted to have you on the program today. Welcome. Thank you Dadri. I'm super excited to be here and talk about my passion. Okay are so I appreciate this opportunity. So let's start there. You chosen. You really sought out a role in the space and in this domain. Tell us why, you know, I think this is really fascinating area and domain to be in this framework excites me for three reasons. One transparency. I just love this idea of widely sharing where the organization is going, getting it out of the heads of leaders and the boardroom and out of top secret documents and in front of everybody in the organization. And I think that's important because it helps give them purpose in their work and people are seeking purpose more and more. And when...

...you give that to them, when you show them that destination that you're getting to purpose, helps them enjoy their work more and find that connection and then I think not for nothing. The biggest thing is results, right, Okay. Are really drive and are very intentional about driving the results the organization is looking for. And this enables people to really do the work that helps us get those results. I don't I can't tell you how many times, especially early in my career, I'd be doing work. I'd spend a lot of time on it, put my heart and soul into it and get done and then find out the priority had shifted or the thing they had asked me to do wasn't the thing anymore, and nobody remembered to tell me. And and so that's so discouraging for people. And when you have okay ours and they see it and they see when they change suddenly they know whether to start or stop something, they know and they're very important to do it. I love it, I love it. I think this out of leaders heads out of boardroom, out of the locked up in secret documents, it's unbelievably important. There's a, I think often a perception on the part of leaders that they've effectively communicated and managers in the middle have effectively translated where we're going and why and that's almost never true. The effectiveness of that is very limited. I have to agree, like, I mean you say almost never true, I would actually say never true, it is never true. And when you receive something, you're adding in all your bias, all your history, all your information to whatever you receive and your brains translating it differently, then how they intended it. And so I think it's it's very hard to keep people on track to really know what they took away from what you said or read. And so it is it is so critical...

...to find this mechanism to put it out there and make it really clear and give people the opportunity to ask questions if it's not clear. So having seen okay, are is that several companies of various sizes over the course of your career, what are the patterns you notice in how organizations adopt them and maybe even the benefits in the yield they get from adopting them? The fascinating part is it's always different Dadri, so, you know, to to keep patterns, I'm saying one is how and why they're doing okay ours. So I see two main approaches. One is this idea that they're using okay rs for, you know, a big idea or something they want to rally people behind and that thing, maybe, you know, 20% of what the organization is doing, but it's it's not the overall results. It's just one thing to rally people. And then the other side of that coin is how are we going to get out there and achieve our business results, help people prioritize and empower people to do the work and get things done. That is where I've seen it be really effective and that's what we're doing at Cisco and what we were doing at Tom's lawyers. And I think it's important early on to clearly articulate which camp are you in and and that helps people because what I see slowing people down is they think they're in the rally people camp and we're actually in that drive business results space. So that's that's one pattern I see is we end up getting slowed down because we're not clear on the intent of the framework within the organization. I think the other side or pattern that I see is that again back to people. People are unique and styles of people receive, okay, there is in a different way but also create them differently. And so as you look at an organization, you have your creative types, right? Your idea,...

...people and they seem to resonate with the objectives or the destination. Where are we going versus your execution? People are or your apps logistics type. People are really focused on the key results. Right? What are the main things, the outcomes that we need? So they really anchored to that aspect and then your problem solvers, your engineers, your people who get things done tend to focus on the activities, right? And this is so fascinating because when you go into a session which needs to be co created and you have a bunch of people there you have some of each of those types which is wonderful and creates the power for that session. But it also means that you've got to dynamically adjust and balance how you run those sessions and and meet people in the moment where they're at and bring them along. So those are the patterns I think you know, understanding how the framework is being used and then really understanding the people as you navigate the process and and figuring out how to do it in a way that brings them along such a great observation on the differences in occult orientation. Right? So people close to the work think about what is the work to be done right? The to do, list the activity, what we need to jump in and do and start there. The ops people whose role is often managing the measurements, start with what are we measuring and creative and often visionary leaders will start with Where are we going? What's the objective and the big idea, the big intention. And as you rightly point out that a great okay our session includes people thinking from each of those vantage points, but it also is actually one of the reasons strategies never realized that there is no okay...

...our session where we actually reconcile the where are we going, what should we measure and what should we do? Each of the people in each of those categories goes off in their own direction without the reconciliation that an okay our framework and an okay our conversation really provides. So the people with the big idea articulate that the people who want to line item the work articulate that. But there is no reconciliation of the two and maybe the people who are measuring, decide what is important to measure, but it's disconnected from the work that we're doing and so this well it's a bit of a mash up and it's a very interesting conversation. It's also a crucial one that we reconcile those three points of view to bring our strategy and our execution together. Such a smart way to say it. Dadri, I think what's fascinating is that to me is that operational element of how do you take then these Okay ours and really make sure they happen right? And so having those those various types in the creation session also helps to drive how they go away and and make it happen right. Because in that moment those people who are creating them, if you're a problem solver and you don't know what the 50 things are that are going to get to the key result. you can sometimes be shut down in the creation session and if you don't honor that and acknowledge it and have the space for it after the fact they will disengage from the program entirely because they can't visualize where it's going. And so I think that follow on those alignments sessions that follow on where they're building the plan and the crucial conversation around dependencies, right? Because a lot of...

...times what happens is you go in the room, you create these okay ours and people don't really know all the work that's happening in the room in the moment. And they don't do those trade off conversations at that time. So after the fact you've got to get the alignment, you have to let the people who need the detail figure that out come back and resolve dependency um tensions to help your organization then actually execute but you need them all in the creation session because otherwise it's just a big idea and people walk away and they don't focus on it, which is really the intent of the okay Rs to begin with, Yep, focusing our efforts, our energy, our talents, right? And the whole country one is a business. So one of the earliest debates in thinking about adopting okay ours, that leaders haven't I don't know if it's a debate as much as it is a question which way should we go, How should we do? It is a question of how aligned do we need to be? Is it just we just get the leadership team aligned on outcomes and the rest will naturally fall? Oh she said ironically or is it we really need to get alignment through the organ Three teams. Tell us a little bit about this challenge of do we have deep alignment through teams or do we stay shallow and just get outcome aligned at the top? Mm. Dadri, it's so important to go deep if you are doing the framework to drive results right? Because many times, especially in enterprise level organizations, many times at the top level, people can't see their work In those top 3-5 objectives and key results. Right? And so as you go layer to layer and get down to frontline managers, that's where you actually can see what is it...

...we're driving towards in this quarter. And how does my work contribute? And then you see that alignment back up through vertical alignment, how that ties to the leader. And even when, you know, you've got the keep the lights on type business, let's say right, you're out there, you've got a product out there, you're doing updates many times. Those types of key results don't show up at the top level and employees feel not value disconnected uncared for. Well when you go deep and you suddenly see in your leader level. Hey, our most important thing is nailing this next update. So no customers get lost and that links up to our sales leaders and getting renew als. And that links up to our top level business results. And you can see that thread. Now you do feel valued. You know how you're contributing. You know, the purpose of your work. And I do see an organization's data. We have seen this multiple times, right? We start at that top level and it is helpful, right? Because it does at least provide that transparency initially. So everybody knows where we're going. But the quicker you can get deeper, the more effective your program is and the quicker you're building capability to do this thing called Okay RS. And the quicker people are buying in, the longer you leave it lingering at just the top level, the more risk you have that people aren't thinking about it the way you intended them to, they're not adopting it the way you intended to and you're getting mis aligned horizontally, right? Because when you don't have that deeper and across your organ, people aren't doing those intentional conversations to make sure...

...the right work is happening broadly. So it's just very high level and you miss a lot of opportunity with the framework is my is my approach and opinion on go deep and go deep fast. Right? So within six months, I say you need to be down to the team level to be successful. The minimum bid is that the leadership team is alike on the outcomes they want to drive for the business and you can get that done in a day. Get it done Yes. And then the only way you're going to achieve the strategic priorities for the business is through the rest of the borg. And if they're not with you, wow, your minimum bid is definitely not taking a hand. No. And if you want people to get it, they have to internalize it. And and first yes, let's do it at level one level two. That's the minimum bid. But you need to double down really quickly in order to get the winning hand right? Double down, take it deep so that everyone internalizes it. And you identify gaps in in accomplishing that you want to do that early. So you can make a decision. Do we do we jump in and make that happen or do we make a little shift in our okay Rs? Because we have that gap and bring people along on those changes so that you mentioned it a bit the lateral alignment and we sometimes we think about deep and certainly traditionally enterprises have thought of what you and I might call vertical alignment. But what are also known as silos, lateral alignment is an unlocking of growth. It's sort of where your strategy goes to die or the gaps between silos and the gaps between the layers. Talk to talk to us a little bit about how the Matrix makes it both harder and perhaps more important that we get aligned. Yes. I think the larger the organization gets this is like the critical piece Dadri. You really think about it. Imagine so many products you...

...use and and the elements in them that you don't use, right? And and that lack of alignment in an organization when things are being created if you don't hear the voice of the customer embedded in that. And so that that I think you called it lateral horizontal alignment. That bringing together of all the people who touch the thing and helping them figure out what is their piece of the result and how does the work they're doing ladder up to that and across is critical, Right? So, you know, marketing helping sales is a lateral alignment. Many organizations they don't report to each other. So you've got to bring that in. Uh, so that we're getting the right leads that we understand the right qualified leads, that we understand how those ultimately lead to the results, as well as understanding the future release plan, the road map so that sales can speak to customers in a way that's exciting, feel confident about the dates that they're providing, all of those things that are happening in a sale cycle, right? Because revenue is king. If it's not aligned, sales are giving wrong messages to customers, customers are unhappy. Your NPS is tanking when you have okay, are is laterally aligned horizontally aligned. They see the plan, they know when things are coming and then they can communicate that effectively so that lateral alignment is really bringing together and gaining agreement on what are we committing to and what aren't we committing to and providing the transparency. I think that horizontal alignment is equally critical to the vertical alignment that helps us to prioritize because it ensures we're all focused on the right thing across the broad organization. I think as organisations dr...

...transformation, you have to reimagine what you'll deliver. It takes a new shape, You're driving a new set of experiences without depth in those and there's that shift in if you will transforming the business model and the offers to customers and our engagement relationship with customer require organizations to operate internally in different ways and more seamless ways than they needed to in the past. What okay RS provide in that realm is clarity. Right? And I think in a transformation when you have okay Rs you have both the vertical, horizontal lateral alignment when everybody's on the same page and you can see the connective tissue then you know, we get it and we're going to deliver it right? And I think prior to having that, I love trusting. I like the concept of trust but verify. What I've noticed is in really big companies. It is so hard to verify, right? There's not a way because someone's doing it in smart sheets and someone's doing it in a word document and there's a power point with three slides that like, isn't even all the icing on the cake. And so I think what's happening Dadri is we we do trust and we do assume positive intent and yet we don't know and I don't think you got to know at 100%. I think you've got to, you know, no, at the, you know, 50 60% level and knowing that you can know at a 50 60% level if you have good align vertical, horizontal, okay, ours. And you have a mechanism for looking at them operational. Izing it. Being able to see it. Being able to look at that alignment and identify gaps is truly crucial to getting the output impact of...

...having this framework in your organization. Yeah. I don't think you get radical clarity and genuine alignment without a platform. You don't have hours in the year to inspect and co a late and rationalize in the million spreadsheets. It would actually take. And since you don't have enough capacity to do it, you don't do it, which means you don't actually have alignment, you couldn't possibly inspect where you don't. One of the things I noticed with the platform is It may be its biggest initial value in the first quarter cycle is a little bit counterintuitive, but the biggest initial value is a bit summed up in a conversation with the ceo of a 30,000 person company earlier this week. And, you know, he's very motivated to drive digital transformation and what kind of a cultural enablement that goes with that and to drive growth. And he asked, and I was looking at one of my directs objectives and even the key results and they're they're not very substantive, they're not very deep. And how do I get him to put better? Okay rs in the system. And even as he said it, there was a dawning, you know, actually, it's not about his typing skills, it's about his thinking quality. And rather than me go figure out how to help him type in better, okay ours now, you know, because you have the visibility now, you know that the quality of is thinking, the quality of a strategic thinking is a little bit anemic and now, you know, he needs coaching from you because you could see the quality of his thinking which previously only resided in his head and in his outcomes and you had no ability to course correct. For those now they're declared their visible to all and they set you up for the coaching conversation. The...

...you get to see the integrity of thinking. You get to see the integrity of focus. You get to see the lack of integrity and thinking and the lack of integrity and focus. A similar conversation with A. V. C. And it's talking about one of the companies that in his portfolio that had started to do okay Rs. And said I just I told him to stop because you know they had it 1000 okay ours. And they were all over the map and it was just like soup. And I just said you know, stop, stop, don't do okay ours anymore, that's not working. I said oh you cut off your nose to spite your face because what okay ours showed you was how chaotic their thinking was. It showed you how difficult it was for them to actually prioritize and decide what was most important. And because you had okay ours, it was revealed where they really were. Now you just removed your ability to see their inability to prioritize the every direction, all directions, no direction. You just removed your power to understand where they really are thinking that the process created the problem and all it really did was reveal the problem. And I think this this flipping it on its head, where you think, well the absence of engagement or the absence of quality must be a process problem or it must be a platform problem is actually the process gift and the platform gift. I agree completely. What I've noticed is that people bring these things up as defenses, right as ways to talk about why they can't do something. And it's really it's really more of a help me, right? It's like, look, okay, well we can't do okay ours because we don't have a platform or we can't do this because it's an Excel or we can't do a retro and reset at the end of the...

...quarter because we won't have the final data until three weeks later. Right? Um, that's if you don't have a platform. So we have the platform, we have the data now all of a sudden you're hearing these deflections around. Well, it's hard to put the information in or I'm not getting updates. And really what's happening is is people are struggling because they're not getting the results that were intended. They're not achieving the things they're being held accountable in a new way. And so they're pointing at other things. So we don't keep our lens on the outcome. And I think when they're doing this, it should be just a triggering a reminder for leaders that if something like that is happening, then how might we shift like one or two degrees to get them back on target to get them focused on the outcome to getting them accountable and owning. Even if they're not getting their owning, identifying what's going to get us there. Because all of these things are tools, their tools, the platform, having a platform is a critical tool, right? Because it eliminates so many barriers. But even in the platform, they use it as a deflection from being held accountable. So you just have to hear them receive the information and then keep on target. So I hear you, I understand that is hard. Thank you. How are we going to get to the result we've identified as critical heart success and bring them back. And so for leaders, I think I agree with you this poor VC. It's like, no, if you have 1000 things, it's chaos. It's like how now do you get them to prioritize that chaos and organize the chaos? And when I see there's 1000 KR is most likely, it's because they've they're measuring activity is not the actual result you want. So, the platform to me is a way to do that easily to get visibility. To remove...

...those unintended barriers. People have to getting focused and executing for the results were looking for. So, you've obviously done okay rs at at a pretty large scale, both in Excel and now in work board, how to crystallize the differences between those two options for how to manage the results. You're trying to drive and gold paint a picture for you. So, at the company where I did okay, are in Excel, right? When it came to alignment, you know, first had to go collect all these excels from More than 40 people. So, so, first of all there, I just cringe right, 48 cells. Then had to print them out, literally stick them up on the wall, right? And I've got them horizontally aligned vertically aligned. You know, trying to draw pictures, posted notes identifying because everybody uses different key results to measure how they run their business as they should. But I'm not trying to make all these visual connections to identify gaps. Right now, I'm working with a company that's doing it in the tool and as you enter the okay rsu simply put in what the aligned objective is and now it's right there and we have one view in a one hour meeting where we talk about the alignment And and identify gaps. It is about efficiency, it's about effectiveness, it's about currency that current things are current in a platform, you know, probably five minutes after I got 50 of those excel spreadsheets, they were out of date, someone made an update and I didn't even have it. Right. And so it's that element with a platform that enables you not to mention the fact that day...

...over day, you can go in and see where things are at In 2021. If you introduce a business process that touches more than five teams and you introduce it in a manual, paper driven, labor intensive way, you are in so many ways working against your own intention to be more digital, more data driven, more transparent and faster. It's almost just cognitive disconnect in some ways. I think of Okay, Rs and the key results were trying to drive to their their the results pipeline for the whole organization and in the same way we would no more think of managing our sales pipeline by having every regional sales person doing their own spreadsheet. We shouldn't think about asking every team in the organization to do their own spreadsheet. And we hope it adds up. I think where we're inevitably going is it's a what oh cares provide you is the data at the team level and how to drive your best outcomes and at the morgue level, how to drive your best outcomes and that that data needs to be unlocked in order for that to happen. Absolutely. So you are, I happen to know a fearless coach, two leaders, two teams and you're clear on the purpose of okay rs right, driving outcomes, helping people do their best. You're clear on that purpose, even when teams are a bit adrift. Tell us your tricks, tell us your moves on how to be an the fearless coach. Well, I think, you know, two things I would say here, Dadri, I think one of is remembering that it's in your head, it's not in their head. So sometimes right as you get into flow or autopilot whatever you want to call it, you think they know what, you know and most likely there's always at least one new person in the group and repetition is the key to learning. Right? So say...

...it, say it again, say it again, say it again. And even though it feels like a broken record to you to them, it could be new and it could be new because before they were multitasking they didn't hear you. It could be that before they were shut down and they didn't agree, but some light has turned on whatever the reason just keep going after it. So that's the one thing is the persistence and then the other piece is remembering that everybody wants to be great, Everybody wants to be great. And so in that moment when you ask the hard question, when you challenge them, you are helping them be great. You are helping them see these bigger outcomes and guiding them to those outcomes so that they can be great, not because they're wrong and you need to be right. No. The reason is we want to be great. We want our company to succeed. We want to get the growth that we know will help us. And if you sit there and you're quiet and you don't ask the question, you're not helping us get great right? You're you're actually I hate to say it may be part of the problem, right? You want to be part of the solution. And the solution identifies when we have a gap when we have a problem when we're disconnected and is willing to say it in the moment. Not in the in that hallway, not at the water cooler in the moment to the leader so that the leader is aware, leadership is lonely. They don't know what's happening everywhere in the company. They only many times here what they have been told, especially in these massive organizations. So as a coach, you have to be willing to say, you know, that doesn't look like a key results or that doesn't align with what I heard our strategy was. Can you connect the dots...

...for me? You don't have to be rude, but you have to say it and and help understand where those connections happen. So two things one keep doing it, keep saying it be repetitive and to have a voice, use your voice. I don't think they know because maybe they don't and you're the opportunity to pull it out. Fabulous. I think we should wrap it there because that is actually brilliant advice and most, most of us forget the first piece of persistence and repetition. I personally need that advice that was critical as we grow. Really quickly reminded myself and probably not as repetitive and persistent in the message and the communications that I could be that would allow everyone to come along, right. They would allow everybody the on ramp at their own speed at their own time of arrival. And I think that's brilliant. And I think, I think it's hard. I think it's actually brilliant clarity for leaders Denise. Thank you so much for being our guest today for sharing all your experience and wisdom and thank you for what you do in the broader community to help other coaches and other results management leaders step up into their best and their biggest impact. Thank you Dadri. I really enjoyed our conversation today. Mhm. You've been listening to the Okay. Our podcast. Subscribe in your favorite player so you never miss a moment. Thanks for listening. Until next time.

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