The OKR Podcast
The OKR Podcast

Episode · 3 months ago

Bringing Strategy to Life with OKRs at Cisco

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

This week, Deidre welcomes Vikas Butaney, Chief Product Officer and GM at Cisco. Vikas shares how Cisco implemented OKRs, the power of every employee being aligned on the mission, and advice for new business leaders who need to connect distributed teams.

You're listening to the okay, our podcast. We talked 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. Her 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 daydream pack, not because thank you so much for joining the conversation with me today. It's great to be here. Day Dread, tell us a little bit about business. You lead score trajectory. Sure so, Cisco. I are to use about a billion dollar business right now, growing roughly twice the market right. You know, our mission is really about bringing it information technologies to the physical world so we can help our customers in their operational settings. If they are transportation customer, are manufacturing and utility, to use the power of information technologies to make their businesses, their employees safer, smarter and more secure on a daily basis. This must be an incredibly important time be in business to Europe. That's right. I mean, I think especially the COVID when every one of us have realized right the physical infrastructure, all the capabilities around pre supply jeans manufacturing very exciting. So you set out to drive and obviously have driven terrific girls in that business and you decided to use okay ours as a mechanism, if you will, for guiding the organization forward. Tells a little bit about what you were trying to achieve when you adopted okay ores and and what you're starting pointless. Sure so I do. I rejoined Cisco about six years ago to leave the product Organization for Iot and about two years ago I was promoted to the Journal manager role and I just wanted to make sure that we can of just restate our mission statement to our teams and are and the broader employee based. So we really started with kind of reef reaffirming our mission statement and our strategy. Once we have...

...that in place, then it was really about how do we bring this to life to our employee based on a global basis. We have employees from China to Bangalore, to Italy, to France, to East Coast and here in California, and so we needed to make sure that I needed to make sure that not just that we can bring the strategy and the mission statement that we have in bite size chunks that our teams can execute on a regular basis with the cadence and something that they can can operationalize on a go forward basis and those okay ores can flow through that organization. Is it connective tissue for the teams? That's right. So the way we started this was that, you know, we have the Cisco mission statement and so we inherit that and then a we created one at the business unit level, we call it, at just at my level, and then from there what we have done is each of our functional teams have their own okay ours. So Michael, who runs our engineering team, has his OK are. Samuel, for product leadership, has this okay ours in the marketing team. So we are able to then take the mission statement of Cisco translated to the mission statement of the Bu then at every level in the organization we have a set of Ok ours that are interconnected with each other so that if I'm an engineer in China, or I'm a product manager in Raleigh, or if I'm a marketing person in Boston, I can relate my work all the way up and down the organization and that should give me purpose and drive in what I'm doing and I imagine in the over the last two years, the transparency about what other teams everywhere in the world and each of the different functions, the transparency on what everyone's working towards and the cohesion around that was a little harder to get by working in the same offices and and probably more important to have as we all work from home. And that's absolutely right. Right. I mean, I think for me, as as I was a new leader and we were just kind of getting into the covid situation, you know we needed ditically, I would have traveled, whether you go to Bangalore, you can go to Changhai, or you...

...can go around the place and you can meet the employees, whether it's over a coffee or a dinner. You can kind of explain and kind of make sure that that comes through. But especially with covid and the hybrid work environment, the need for the okay ours became even that much more right. Like and and working the what I started to do, as it's not just about oneon once, it's about talent round tables, it's about all hands. We needed a common taxonomy. We needed a common framework by which we can talk about it and then the directors and the managers can all connect to it, and that that okay. are kind of gave it. gave us an operational model that can made it better for us and how we operated over the last two plus years. Well, were the steps in stages in that journey. Yeah, so I think what we what I said, we started around the mission statement. I'm a big fan of Simon sendaks. Really got to start with the just cause. We've got to start with the why, and so that's kind of where we started out, by talking about how we want to bring information technologies to the physical world, like everybody can get it. So so we started without around our mission statement. We had our strategy pillars already defined. So we kind of then connect it to the strategy using our mission statement. And so the first quarter that we kick this off, we really did it at my level right like kind of bring that together, and then we had our functional leaders, like I said, Samuel Michael, and our marketing leaders. We kind of brought that together into functional Ok ours, and then every quarter we were able to bring it further and further down into the organization. So now we have part of the six hundred employees, we have three hundred active employees that are using workboard to check in on where things are in their okr accomplishments and then the report back on it. So when we do the all hands at the at the start of every fiscal quarter, we reinforce the mission, the strategy and the okrs to kind of connect everybody together to what they are doing. And, as we said, it's critically important, more important now than ever before with the hybrid and the remote work environments that you're all dealing with. The growth your business has had in particularly in...

...your tenure right, and your tenure where the world was recently complex, right, it's impressive growth. What are some of the big victories that you've seen and the team is achieved actually over the last couple of years? Yeah, we have break it down into three things. First of all, you know, look, we make physical products, we make gateways and routers and switches and teams have to still keep working right, like. I mean you know, if you have to bring up a piece of hardware, you it's harder for them to come into the lab. So how do they do the bring up of product remotely? Right, like that that was a new thing that the teams have to kind of figure out. So it's Super Groud that even throughout all of these things, yes, we had and supply chain. Clearly at this board in time, getting boards out of China and getting it into our labs in India or in San Jose. That has been a non trivial exercise. I'm super proud of for the team to be able to kind of continue to operate and build in that environment. Like any other business, we've had to make sure that we are focused on the right priority. So we have to exit some products, but also make sure that we lay out our north star vision. So we've kind of focused in on this cloud based platform, we call it Iot Operation Start for where we are bringing all of the organizations together as one platform to bring all of our software assets together. And what I'm more in part and you know, all of the first two things kind of lead to the third thing, which is now we are the market share leader right again. So whether it's with IDC, a ORC or IHS, these are analyst firms, they tell us that we are the market either now, right like, and what I'm super excited about is not just that we are market share leaders. We only have thirty percent of the market, so we have lots of headroom to grow and I'm looking forward to kind of continuing this momentum and energy and the organization to continue to grow for many, many years succumb super exciting it it sounds like, and you sound like a very intentional, clear minded leader, and I never think that growth is an accident or like entirely lucky. I think it's actually intentionality focus. How much...

...do you think your clarity on strategy and your effort to really drive active alignment as opposed to assumptive alignment across you, or how much do you think that, and maybe kind of the process you used to get everybody aligned on outcomes? We should think that played into what you've accomplished and your billy to drive through the last clearly difficult, complex years. Yeah, I mean I think look like earlier in my career, you know it was you. I used to think that, well, if we build a right product, all the magical things will happen. Right like you'll find its way with the customer or, you know, we'll be able to market it. But you know, after doing it for a while, after a while you appreciate the fact that you have to, you know, be intentional. As you said, it's not just about getting the business strategy right as about getting the products rategy right. It's about execution of building the right product. It's about conditioning the market, it's about, you know, getting our own sales force engage and invested in it. And then how do you bring it to market? And and you know, earlier today I was meeting with a customer. You know, you have to explain it every step of the way. So you know, you know we're very fortunate with the brand of Cisco and our custom the trust that our customers place of place in us. But you know, I think what I realized after doing it as you have to communicate, communicate, communicate, not just within the product strategy with our engineering leaders, but with our sales leaders and marketing, that can they get a string that all the way through such that the customer can get the value what you intended for it to be right, like and and those things in a lot we have, all of us, if we are humble enough, you realize that we don't allay that. A hundred like you, get a few things wrong. So yes, we had some missus along the way, but overall I think it's been a good journey. It's been a solid progress in the business. It's one of the things I heard from a investor with the year ago that really struck me with great companies are not companies that get everything right. There companies they get more right than wrong. It this but we, I think it's leader...

...sometimes we think you really ought to get it all right. She's so outside of the realm of real for any of us. Right, right and and we have to be have to have the confidence, in the courage to experiment and, you know, like it was work talking to a product manager earlier, we have to lay out of high offos as. You have to have a belief system. You got to try and but then have the courage both ways. If you get it wrong, you know rigor as sins, I will g sorry, I got it wrong. Or if we have it right, then have the cottage to double down and kind of take it all the way through. Right and and. But it's about like after being in the drama manager capacity, it's about how you can how you can bring the team together right, like to see the common vision and then kind of continue to ridiculously execute and do the hard work right, like to make a successful product out of it. Yep, it is actually hard work past the strategy to the executing parts, where the real works, during real works. Yeah, one of the things that we hear a lot and we talk a lot about and that I personally like a lot about the oak care cycle is it builds in the idea of, and to follow on your your words, hypothesis try. It builds in this idea that we're going to measure to learn and then we have a cadence of when it is we're going to actually pause and look at where we just been. What did we learn in that increment? And then how do we set the stage for the next leaf that we're trying to make? And that leap is both in results but also in the learning we need to get to the ultimate strategy. The learning dynamic for most companies. Over the last couple you've been super challenging. The world is changing faster. So or hypothesis get proven and disproven faster than they used to. The data we get from the outside world comes at us much faster. How have you from as as a leader? How you and maybe it is just communication but how have you brought this idea of hypothesis and learning into the culture of the team? Yeah, I mean I think we're actually in the midst of a project right now. We have a product that is that primarily on prem on...

...premise, and we're trying to see like look, should we take it and make it a cloud or entered product? And and so what we have, what we're working through, is like laying out the hypothesis. You have to have a North Star vision what good looks like, but you still have to have the ability to use agile from that point of view to execute it. And Chunks with us and and and all of us is we know sometimes have confirmation by its like you have to write it down because sometimes when you get to the first mile, so you're like no, no, I really meant that versus this. But and so what we are trying to do with the team right now, with an across this journey, is laying out a hypothesis to say, listen, we're going to go validate this with a excet of partners and we're going to build some mockups and we're going to validate our approach and and if we if it turns out it's not right. It's okay to get it wrong, right like, or it's okay to reverse it, to change course and pivot, and that's kind of what we're trying to bring into the thing. And you know, we've been using the rope, the growth mindset, like about ability to have it's okay to get it wrong, it's okay, but it's the courage is really acknowledging when you get it wrong and then ability to change drag like. That's that's the true courage and all of these conversations, but it's really about, you know, I'm I don't know if I've solved it, but like creating a safe environment where everybody feels that they can do that for themselves and the teams feel courage to do that, like, I mean, I think that's an area we are all continue to work and get better on every day right now. So it's a journey the right literally the growth mindset right, and I'm going tomorrow trying to be better than I was yesterday and I have the possibility of the better leader tomorrow than I wasn't everyfore. Exactly, it's all, it's all the work in products. That's rights right cottage let's talk a little bit about how your leadership style changed over the course of the pandemic and maybe what you learned as a leader leading in a in a world where you don't have the opportunity to connected person with people quite the same way. Yeah, I mean I think you know earlier before before I dating on the GM roll. I mean you would, I would think that. Listen, I have the business strategy, have a...

...product strategy, have a rodmant like you know, why don't you get it? Kind of thing right, like. I mean it was going to add that level, but especially for covid now what I appreciate it is that it's not good enough for us to kind of write it down or say it once right, like the job is really just say it once every hour or I don't know. I am very frequently to make sure that every part of the organization gets it. So and and that's been a you know, we've been doing talent round tables wherever we bring our comp performers together and you know, it's an open conversation. And and what I find surprising is even though we repeat the strategy and our Okyr if, but it doesn't quite always land. So I think how do you make sure that you keep repeating and keep communicating, because we are all absorb the information in our different way, you know, and what what I'm my learning has been like. How does an engineer or a product person or a marketing person, how do they when they are doing their job? Can they actually, you know, revisit or kind of restate the strategy of their words and hopefully be the same strategy, but can they really do that such that they can, you know, make can execute their function in the most productive way, right, like with them to get the best bank for their all of the time and effort we're spending, right. So it's really excited to bring it back together. It's really about communication and it's about keep reinforcing the same message right like. And whenever we do our all hands, I find myself I apologize, like, listens, a strategy has not changed. It is still the same strategy we're executing, and I find that that's like repetitive. But it's important to keep saying that, like, the strategy has not change, you're still executing the same play that we called. Really I think for leaders, they sort of bore themselves by saying the same things over and over again and they think and they're generally impatient and, you know, in a hurry. And so I've got this. Don't you all have this? How come you are not with me? Yeah, yeah, what do you mean after you know, when you feel like in my mind I'm like, you want to use new slides or new material, which is the power is really the same size and the same material and same reinforcement, right, like a man, you know. And so, yeah, so I think that's you know, and in the leadership capacity,...

...you know, yes, you know, we all have our product and go to market and that heritage. But like, how do you add the communication the leadership? Right? That's been my personal learning and growth opportunity over the last couple of years. It really stepping out into leading a business, not leading a function. That's right much and the orchestration of the functions itself in the interest of growing the business. It's a different muscle and a different sort of movement and dance than leading your own function as yeah, I mean, especially in a bigger companies, right, like when you have Outa, you have a functional organization, when the finance team or the services team or the sales team doesn't report to you right, but you know, how do you lead? You know this a little bit of the power of the position, but it's also about the influence that you have to bring two teams together, and that's where the okay, our effort has been has been very important that I think that I can kind of bring my team together. But our next journey really is really really bringing the sales teams into it, the services teams into it, the financing everybody kind of having the same rid, same seam board for success is kind of where we're trying to go in on next journey, next days, where wide lateral alignment is how you unlock the next runch of growth. That's exactly right. Like it's not, you know, it's it's important that our team, my direct organization and gets aligned and which is you're never quite done. You still have to keep working on it. But then it's about expanding and such that everybody's kind of executing against the same common vision and mission statements. Right, I can and to be okay, ours really that bite size strong where you can lay that out and then help execute the whole organization to word cycle. Yes, what part of the strategy are we executing now? Right, yeah, yeah, so let me ask you to follow on that where you go next? What advice would you give to first time GM's or new business leaders who need to quickly connect a distributed team in in growth? Yeah, I mean, I think you know. If if I do know now or then them, so to speak. What I...

...would you say is listen, you know, we all have, whether you're a product leader or an engineering leader or market whatever, your core function that you came from, and I lean into your strength, right, because that's what we always need to do. To start out with, as you lay out the the vision and the mission statement of the organization, think about that. Has To be lasting, because we have to keep repeating that. So I think it has to be lasting. But it's really about again, sorry to sound like a broken record, but it's about communications, right like. It's about, like them, how do you make sure that you communicate that in a consistent, clear way? And so what we do at our all hands as we will bring, you know, customers and we will bring external stakeholders in and we will bring partners and to help us deliver that message, right like. But it's about communicate. Communicate, communicate, because, you know, even though I think it's clear in my head, but that's not very important. But it's important this for that engineer or that product person when they are making the decision. Are Do they do? They have it in their mind. I can they make and they have they internalized it well enough that they can execute? Do you think that they're they're understanding their clarity? Do you think that translates into speed of girls? I think it translates into speed of growth. But also what it translates into is like, you know, tought night a gut who's my boss, is boss. What he said is like, listen, you know, our engineers and our people are making hundreds of decisions every day, right like. If they if they have internalized it, then then their decisions, more of them, will be right than raw, right like, and which in turn translates into speed that you don't have to go back and do it again. Or you know, you don't create friction in the in your product delivery system, or you don't create, you know, issues because you have internalized the same you know the user, the persona on the workflow like what they're trying to do. Right I think you can connect it all together. I think you know in many of those things will go better. So that reduces the friction and then that translates into agility. That and then hopefully translates into business results faster growth. Right. But yeah, I mean all of them. Are doing all of these things...

...to serve our customers better and to make sure that you know things we do. We get it right the first time, wherever possible, right, and that translates into success. Perfect. Let's end with the translates into success. That's this to that. Thank you so much for joining the conversation. It was wonderful to hear how you think about leading and the generosity in the way you lead right, communicate, bring people along, connect them. I think that's not always top of mind for leaders when they think about what their role is or what their job is or what their impact can be, but it's so clearly where you're centered and I think that's a gift to the team lead into the business using. Thank you for granfier. 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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