The OKR Podcast
The OKR Podcast

Episode · 6 months ago

How Zendesk uses OKRs to Scale Efficiently


Zendesk CIO Colleen Berbue says "it's just how we run the business" as she shares how OKRs flow into WorkBoard Biz Reviews and they ensure every major initiative has an OKR that clearly aligns to the company objectives. 

Teams, time, and effort align and they're building stronger accountability muscles as they grow from 6k people to 10k.

You're listening to the OKA 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, daydrea pack nod. I'm delighted to introduce our next speaker, who I have gotten the chance to work closely with. Colleen burrubi is the CIO and svp of operations at Zendesk. At Zendes, she's helping reshape and benchmark modern I T at scale and a customer centric workforce. She's passionate about the role of both customer and employee experience in the digital age. We have a fabulous conversation streamed live from the workboard offices with colleen and Daydrea, and so I am going to pass it over to them now. Welcome Colleen, welcome daydrea. Thank you nice to have you here. Ah, so happy to be here. Thanks for invite. Anyway, thank you for coming. It's so nice to see you, not as a small square exactly. Let's you actually have faith, it turns out, and I certain not PAGEMIS. So let's start with just a bit about zendesk story. Tell us a little bit about the growth journey the company, where it's started, where it is now. Yeah, sure, I'm happy to. For people who may not know much about Zendusk, we are a CRM, conversational crm software company and what we do is focus on how we make it easy for companies and customers to create connections. We have this vision of a global economy powered by lifelong customers, and what we really do is focus on how we make it easy and and even more efficient for companies to give their customers amazing experiences, deliver them good service and to evolve how they do that as their customers expectations change. We are celebrating our fifteen anniversary this year. Company has grown very fast over those fifteen years. We we passed an important inflection point at the end of last year, crossing a billion dollars in revenue, and we're well on the path to becoming a multibillion dollar company within the next several years. We have a pretty wide global footprint and over a hundred and sixty countries worldwide. And maybe a little bit about our customer base, because I think it's it's pretty rare for a company to have as wide of a customer base as we do. We we work with companies from start up to small and medium business midsize companies, and our fastest growing segment is in the enterprise space and a lot of the companies that we have have grown with us over the years. So when you look at our top fifty customers, thirty three of them were came from startups. That's very interesting. Yeah, so a fun business, a fast growing business, a fascinating business. Yeah, well, I will tell you that work word when it had six people. Yeah, became a zendusk customer. Uh Huh, actually, and we still are. So yeah, I think it's one of the most fun part of my jobs is that everybody I run into kind of knows whose endusk is and they often say, oh, we're a customers and USK. Yeah, we started from the very beginning. Yeah, that's right, that's fabulous. Yeah, so at this point, is it five thousand, six thousand people in the Oregon obviously widely, widely distributed. Why is alignment? Why are okrs important to the stages in dusk is at now? Well, you know, I talked about how fast we're growing and it's in multiple dimensions. It's not just that we're growing, but our business is changing. So we're growing in pure scale.

You know, as you mentioned, we're now over Sixzero employees. We're increasing the kinds of customers where we work with, which is by nature, drives some additional complexity and to the work that you're doing. And for some of those segments, such as at the in the enterprise space, were building new capability. So it's doing new and different things. We're expanding the channels that we do business in, we're expanding the countries we do business in and doing this all in a workforce that, you know, is pretty distributed as well. So we're fined just a really increasing need to have clarity internally on where we are focused and to have alignment on what we're focused on as well, and and to have a way to connect the work that people are doing to how it matters to the company and as we're growing and changing so fast, just being able to come back to that and to be able to kind of have that sense of team by everyone knowing, okay, these are the things that are the most important. You know, I like to tell people when we're looking at our okay ores, like if a decision on any day, whether you're working on something related to this or something else, these are the things that you should focus on. Yeah, simplifiers. Yeah. So talking about distributed and growing team and growing and going business and multiple dimensions, how are you managing that complexity and how do you think about that in the context of whether people are all going to come back to all the buildings on market or whether they're going to work in a more permanently distributed way? Let's the office plan. Yeah, well, we went through very similar to many other companies. During covid we were fully remote. What was interesting about it from my personal perspective as a technology leader, as a CIO, it was almost a non event, which made me feel good. Actually, there were only a couple of small things that that work, small stumbling stones, and actually, for example, one of them was you still have to have someone receive the mail right in case you get served or whatever right. So very small event from that perspective, but of course, a very large hill to climb in terms of figuring out that new way to work and how do you keep everyone connected? And I think initially, you know, people remain connected because they had the relationships, because they had oh, remember, we have that meeting, or remember I saw you, or and in many ways, like at the outset, people were grounded by the physicality of the office. Right. What's interesting is that, first of all, we've shifted a lot. It's been a long time since we were in an office. For about a year and a half we were fully remote. We then started having some limited opening of our offices and today they're largely opened, but we're using them more as a place for meeting and connection and less so as a place where people going to work every day. What I think is interesting is that now we have more than half of our workforce really was never in an office. Right. So it's a different paradigm and it really heightens the need to have people know not only what they're working towards, which obviously okay, our serves that purpose, but in addition to that, to know where their connection points are in the organization. So it's not just who you run into at the water cooler or who you know, you were in the meeting with or whatever, but now you know who you're sharing the object actives with, you know cross functioningly, who you're part of a team with, and it's really for US helping create that connection in a way that's beyond the online social events and the and the meetings and so forth. Interesting point that half of the people started after Covid yes, and it's interesting like, well, they have no association to the office. is where I'm anchored, or that's the sort of center of my understanding of the company. Yes, it's interesting how we still all kind of walk around with this thesis, thesis that in fact, physical...

...location must be a part of our our team, in our identity. Yeah, Yeah, interesting. Yeah, and and even just looking at our physical footprint and even just looking at my team over the course of that year and a half, you know, we we loosened our requirements to have people live near an office, and so there's just a wider spread of where people are located. So even if you wanted to bring people back to the office, it's much it's much more complex. Of You have the planet, people have to travel. It's more than it was before. Yeah, I different heard all that. Yeah, let's talk about send desks, okay our journey and where he started and started before you. So yeah, as you tell, the journey of where it started now wasn't entirely you're doing. But let's talk about that journey, where you started, what you learned yes, of land on where where the practice in the past start, to be sure that that's I'd love to do that. So, as you mentioned, as a company we decided to shift from sort of traditional goals and objectives to okay ours prior to my taking over responsibility for it. So we had kind of been through. I think it's good context to know. We had been through one year of this go at goals and objectives that people felt was too laborious. It was, I would say, inconsistently adopted it. You know, we took a go at it, but I wouldn't say we had fully adopted that and then we decided to pivot and move to okay ours. When I took over responsibility for it the first year, what I found is that we really didn't even have consistent support for the concept. Right. So, so even in working with my peers at the executive staff, some of them were, you know, even though you know they weren't necessarily vocally opposing, they weren't participating or they weren't actively supportive. Right. So what we decided in the first year is we really took a and I think through the entire journey we've tried to take a balanced approach between being purists about okay ours and making progress. And that was a hard hurdle for me to convince some people that it was okay if it wasn't perfect out of the gate, right, and I use that just as a as a way to get people on board. So, as an example, we had one part of our our business that really felt it wasn't going to work for them. It didn't make sense. Their work was really much more focused on deliverables at a given point and I just said, okay, that's fine, as long as we know what the definition of done is and we have a date, we can work with that. So we kind of use that as a way to bring people in the fold and bring teams in the fold by by meeting them where they were essentially right. The second piece of it is we sort of have this cultural bias, which I think is not that unusual at tech companies. We don't necessarily want to do it the way everybody else does. We want to do it the zends quay. So we kind of took, you know, the okay our best practice and we changed what we thought people needed to hear and we called it the Zendusk way. And so the first year was really focused on meeting people where they were taking the Zendusk approach. And kind of the third component is we really just focused on what we called L one and Ltwo. So the company level, okay ours, and then one level below that, because we thought if we get the first two levels working well, then it'll be easier to cascade it. And I think that went okay. But the good news was at the end of the first year, ever, but he thought maybe we should be doing this more and a best practice way, and so in your two we move to more best practice. We had some teams that fell in love with it and so we supported them cascading it as far as they...

...wanted to in their organization and gave them everything that they would take in terms of adoption, because we felt that would help evangelize to the rest of the organization and we started a real rhythm around looking at our okay ours with the senior staff. That I think has served us well and now we're just, you know, into the third year and this year we really have broad support across the company. We have and we actually have now what I call are okay are for okay ours, which is we have a company okay are that every team in the company will be using okay ours by the beginning of the second half. Yeah, it's funny. The of course, I remember the ZENDISC way, yes, decisions from those days and it was, it is a path that a lot of companies taken the beginning and it's there is irony and thing okay, we've never done this before, but we do things our own way. Yes, well, maybe to them your own way the second time you do them. Yes, first time you do this. Yes, the evolution is obviously very exciting in the shift in support accast the leadership team. Yes, most exciting. Yeah, very exciting. A lot of very strong support and you know, I think frankly, in some cases that came from from within the teams because in some teams people had maybe experience and other places with Ok ours and they were kind of pushing on their leaders to say we should be adopting this. We should be doing it right. And it was how full. Yeah, the speaker mentioned this earlier, but often at the director levels, so just below the altitudes. When you get to lbl, for there's a real appetite to make a contribution. Know it matters to head in the right direction and it's quite helpful there. Yes, more help I think sometimes, and than we anticipate at the Lonel to conversation. Yeah, yeah, definitely. So we're the organization is now and with those learnings, you your your objectives are very much about driving operating efficiency and operating rhythm, not, and it'll mean just specific to oak cares, but really just your remit is the head of operations, right. Why is that important at the company now? Getting the operational efficiency and operating rhythm that really helps propel to work forward. You know, it's really as we grow and expand there's a few things that become clear that we need to emphasize. One of them is really cross functional alignment as you get larger and more you know, just larger, more people, more complexity and so forth. When you want to get things done, it requires that ability to really be aligned and execute cross functionally, and so it's really serve that purpose for us in terms of helping us, through shared okay ours, make sure everybody's on the same page about something being a focus area and what the outcome of that will be. So that's kind of one key element. The other is really around an increased focus on accountability and performance, and we are, you know, increasing accountability across the organization is a focus for us. It's easier when you can yell across the room and you know Bob or Sally's going to get it done for you or whatever, but when you're relying on people that are more distant than that, whether it's physically or virtually right, this really is a way to help make sure that everyone's kind of rowing together in the boat. Talk a little bit about the operating rhythm you have in place. In particular, you have a practice that includes the OK ours and then it set of business reviews and then you linkin initiatives to that. To right. Yeah, so one of the things we did, there's a variety of things we've done. One of the things we did early on and it was sort of a you know, really a benefit of that. You know, in my area of responsibility I also am responsible for the Program Management for the company, else also portfolio management.

So we run the company Road Map process. And so what we did right out of the gate is for the company Okay Ours, we attached or aligned or gave line of sight to the initiatives that were happening and how they supported those okay ours. Now we've gotten that tighter over time. Initially we just showed well, this one kind of supports that. Now we actually work on setting okay ours within the initiative that map directly to the okay ours for the company, which is really creating strong alignment there. We also have used the okay ours in setting the road map, making sure that we prioritize the things that get on the road map and people can directly see how that works. In fact, we even have our road map broken down by our four objectives. In terms of connecting it with with the team. We have beyond our annual process. We have a quarterly review process. We start every quarter with sort of setting the okay ours and our executive TAP staff signs off on those and then obviously cascading and then we have a review process with our senior team that is monthly, and so we use the business review. View your workboard. We do it live. There's no slides, which I love, and we we use that as a forum to review where we are, to discuss any risks or issues to discuss. Is there anything adjustments we need to make to ensure success and really also to encourage teamwork by, you know, if you need something from other teams in the organization, that's the opportunity to raise that up for discussion. It's interesting when we started those reviews, people may find this interesting. There was a lot of quiet in the beginning and so one of the things my team did is, in the background we would seed questions with other people in the room. So we started creating the dialog by giving people questions to ask and just, you know, getting that dynamic going for what's expected in that room. In the second month of the quarter we do a deep dive. We pick two or three O cares. We kind of do a much deeper dive. Gives people in the room better sense of what are the metrics look like underneath, what's everything else that's going on around it. So, you know, I'd say there's a variety of way that we've connected it into to our operational cadence, our operational rhythm. Do you think that the quarters a set or adjustment and the monthly conversations about that does that? Do you see a difference in accountability and velocity on those objectives? Is that focus change? For sure? Case of the business, you think for sure. Sure. I mean, at the end of the day it's human behavior, right like people respond based on what's getting paid attention to and I think it's that simple. So for sure people know throughout the company that were reviewing those Ok ours at see staff that it's getting discussed, the questions are getting asked, there maybe follow up to it and that creates a tension in the organization. So as you think about distributed teams and you type about all the teams we have, you're O care for the second half or your chaof for the second half. They have okay are so for every team. Let's tie that back to how they connect into the mission of the Oregon and in particular I'm quite interested in how okay ours and the conversation around the Oak Hares are a way to include people in the company strategy, in the company's mission. What do you think about that? You know, I think at the end of the day, if done well, okay, are is or a team sport right, and one of my kind of core philosophies as a leader is that people will fundamentally make successful something that they helped create, and so we've taken the approach that we work as teams to create those okay...

...ours, to set them doesn't mean in the end someone might above them, might not push on it and say that's not aggressive enough, or but everybody's had a hand in setting them and defining where we're going and of course, in the course of that process you are connecting it to the larger work of the company and I think that combination of including people brings different voices to the conversation, it makes it richer, makes the outcome better, makes people feel part of everything and it sets you up for natural success. Advice you'd give to other senior vice presidents of operations, other cios thinking about driving operating scale? HMM, you know, I think it. I think my my biggest piece of advice would come back to something I mentioned earlier. I think it's whenever you're scaling an organization and your leading change the balance of finding how you meet the organization where it is and making progress is always the kind of the trick, but it's important to really respect where the organization is and and the culture of the organization as well, and find places in that culture and in that current place to leverage and make the progress where you can and worry less about getting things done in a certain order or how much progress you've made. It will come right, but you really have to sort of look at the fertile ground that you have and and plant the things that will grow the best there. I think that's very sage advising, neither paralyzed by either resistance or not finding fertile ground. Yet not paralyzed by that, yes, but also not hung up on the idea that we're going to do it once and it should be perfect. If it's not, it's broken or it doesn't work. That's right. Yes, the incremental iteration, progress by degrees as opposed to all all perfect and tidy all at once. I mean it's an enormous change. At the end of the day, even though my team shepherds the okay are we don't own them. Every team in the company owns them right, and that's what you really want to make it successful. You want people to embrace it and own it. They want you want them to feel a sense of accountability and responsibility for it. So generally, my experiences in leading teams and leading organizations through change is that people don't like to just be told how things are going to work. I like to be part of it. So make them part of it. Perfect. All right, that job element. I think we're going to open it up to Doug and Samura and questions from someone besides me. That might be from others who want to learn from our benefit from the journey. Thank you for sharing. Oh yeah, that both the Zend Esk Boat Journey and then your journey with Okrs Paline, thank you so much. There are a bunch of questions in the audience and there was so many, again, great nuggets that you shared. We have quite a few questions around the combination of OK ours and initiatives. So can you talk a little bit more about how you bring the key result in the initiatives together? What does that look like for Zendesk? So I think the first pieces is that when we look at a new initiative for the company, we pull together what we call a value case so we understand what it is that problem we're trying to solve or what we're trying to achieve. But then the next question always is, so how will we know what is the what are we trying to measure? What will be the outcome? Right, which is a natural connection with okurs. Right, and and then we try to lead through a conversation and about now. Only how would we measure the outcome of that initiative, but how will it support the okay ours that we have as a company? So it's that kind of two step connection is and again, like going back to my previous comments, initially was kind of you know, Lucy Goucy, you know like well, it feels like it's going to for that,...

...but every time we go through it we improve that muscle. That's awesome, super relevant for so many organizations, especially within it teams as well, who are historically very initiative based and they're looking to shift from that mind set of outputs, two outcomes. Yes, another question was how did you make the shift culturally from this energy of let's get things done to okay, what are we going to do that's the most strategic and most competitive and actually move the needle on the outcomes we want to drive how did that shift happen with the organization? I think first of all, be fair to say I wouldn't declare victory on that yet, I think, but I think we are definitely on the change curve as it relates to that. And Look, part of it is, at the end of the day, it comes from the top. So once we had our executive staff aligned around a set of OK ours, we exercise the muscle a couple of times. I'm getting those being less, you know, get them done and more out outcome oriented. Then it cascades throughout the organization. It was interesting. We just had a session not that long ago and we had in one of our objectives like, even at the top level of the company, like too many Kars right. And so at the end of the session I asked everybody, so let me just like, let me step back for a minute and ask you if, at the end of the quarter we achieve all these things, will we be? Well, we all feel like we're nailing our growth objective and we ended up dropping more than half of the Kars. Perfect. Yeah, so it's just like working that muscle over and over and at stepping back and asking those questions and people are learning along the way, and I have to say I've seen you ask the questions to your team and you're a master at it as well. So why should you do it? is also like a masterclass. So that's awesome. Another question from the audience, and you seen this evolution at Zendusk as well, but how do you keep the entire organization engaged without over rotating on complexity? What are some of the ways that Zend US keeps everyone in bold and engage and excited on what's going on here? On okay our specifically, Yep, I think it's really just about it's it's part. We've made it part of the way we run the company at this point and we also do a lot of pr for okay ours, you know. So we talked about them a lot. We make sure they're incorporated into our town hall meetings. We make sure that we're giving support to various leaders if they want to do they want us to come in and talk to their teams about okay ours if they need consulting on it. So we just sort of like make it as easy as possible to use them and try to make sure they get incorporated into the business conversation at every turn. Sounds like it's just become the way you all work and everyone always asks like, okay, how should we think about and what a success look like? When we're in all these air quotes rolling out, okay, ours in our company, it's like it tould just be part of what you do day today, and it sounds like you know, it can also Simar. Can also be infectious. Like we had one team, our HR team, they loved Okres from out of the gate. They like adopted them in the entire organization and then everybody else would hear them talking about it, right, and they were like so they became it was infectious, like other teams would be like, maybe we should try that. So working for them, working for that, the momentum certainly drives more momentum and finding those momentum pockets and highlighting them. It's a great technique. Well, thank you so much for your time. Has Been a delight watching you speak and hear your story and sharing and seeing your journey firsthand. So so...

...thank you. Yeah, well, thank you, guys. You've been a great partner for us and and helped us through this journey and even like helped us build the Zend us way and we really appreciate it and it's been a pleasure to work with you. Our pleasure privilege is all ours. Thank you so much. You've been listening to the OKA our podcast. Subscribe in your favorite player so you never miss a moment. Thanks for listening. Until next time,.

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