The OKR Podcast
The OKR Podcast

Episode · 1 year ago

Learning is Leading

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Erin talks about alignment and measurement muscle, how shared OKRs drive the One Microsoft vision, and why learning is the key to, well, everything.    

...mhm. 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 Today I'm delighted to welcome Aaron Rifkin to the podcast. Aaron is a general manager at Microsoft and one of the leaders of developer relations there. She spent the last four years or so at Microsoft and the six before that at Amazon Web services in senior product management roles. These are two huge companies growing incredibly fast, So her insights on okay, ours will be golden. Aaron, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for having me. I'm excited to be here. All right, Let's jump in with the big picture and maybe give us your perspective on how Okay, Ours fit into the broader business themes that Sochi is driving. Okay, RS have really started to be a focus within Microsoft to help ensure that we're able to drive towards our larger strategic vision. It really started as a leadership conversation around starting to think about how we might adopt them and how we would drive them down into the teams. And then we kind of are off to the races from there on out, and it's really been focused around the okay. Our methodology really helps us think about how to be one. Microsoft from a cultural perspective Microsoft has previously been very siloed in different teams. People have their own fiefdoms, you know, it's harder to share information across the organization, and this really helps us unify and create dependencies across the work that we're doing and forces people to work together as one Microsoft So we can do the right thing of our customers. And so okay, ours...

...have been a really great mechanism there because we've been able to create shared key results in a shared framework to have these conversations so that we can drive the right behaviors within the organization, meet our strategic objectives, but also the really customer focused in the process. That's cool. Let's let's go a little bit deeper on that. That lateral alignment right on shared Okay, Ours. It's for a lot of organizations. That's really where there's new lift, new growth, new value, creation opportunities. How are you going about driving that kind of shared outcomes? Shared alignment and then maybe what are you learning along the way? Yeah, I would say there's probably there's so many lessons that have been learned along the way. And I think depending on the organization that there's a ton of commonalities and there's some differences as well, you know, So I'll speak to specifically some of the things that we're learning. As we're working across division at Microsoft, my team is responsible for products that cross cut all of Microsoft so that we can bring content and experiences to our customers so we can delight them and educate them on Microsoft technology. So that means that we work across marketing, engineering and a variety of different content organizations. So there's, you know, 10 plus divisions that are all involved in this process with us. So when we first started out, we really were focused on okay, areas within my own team and getting that aligned and set up properly and then over time, we've really started to work together across the other divisions to make sure that we can drive shared accountability and alignment towards the highest level strategic objectives that we have and share. So for us, that's really about content, health and performance and coverage. Do we have the right things that our customers need? Are we able to drive engaging experiences and making sure that we're taking that shared key results across every content, or even if they have a different set of customers that they're trying to reach? But there's a commonality in our ability to actually drive the right content and making sure it's up to date and accurate, and then really thinking...

...about how we drive growth and how we do that in concert with marketing. It's not just our responsibility. It's everybody's responsibility, making sure contents in the right places. So it's really brought us together into what we would call a V team to really define. What are those shared key results? How do we define the baselines in a way that are relevant to each of the teams, so they're localized to the experience the team needs to drive and then continuing to move that bar up over time as we are learning and growing together on driving this shared accountability model, that's great. You talk a lot about baselining in our in our earlier conversations and the importance of baselining. Can you dig in just a little bit more around that? And why do you think it's important what you gain from taking the moment to baseline something? There's several reasons to do it. I mean, one of it is really to drive, understanding around what we're actually measuring, making sure we're measuring the right things and that the outcome is clear. And that means that you may be sending an early baseline as you're learning things you'll go through. You'll set some targets for what you're trying to hit, and you may adjust those over time and we look at them quarterly. We set a year long baseline of what we think we need to go after, but obviously every quarter we're gonna be able to make adjustments if we think we're really hitting that, or maybe we measure the wrong thing, so it really enables us to set a target For us to hit gives us really clear place for us to aim for and then a way for us to tell if we're off the mark or not. Awesome. So you're two years in now, right? And you're way past the We're just getting started with okay, Our stage and in so many ways, your masterful and where lots of other organizations would like to be talk to us a little bit about the arc of that journey. That makes me laugh. Because even though we've been doing it for two years, I feel like we're constantly learning. And in reality, we're all learning. This is, you know, we're technology is moving fast.

Businesses are moving fast, and so it feels like there's always new things that are changing and new best practices to think through. So I think, you know, really, we who cares are really helpful because it allowed us to create a shared language across the team around not just the strategy and the think big vision around where we wanted to go, but also really helping the team think about how are they going to impact that? And so it's a you know, a lot of the things that we learned really early on, where it's challenging to. It's challenging to learn how to write the results at first and objectives because you're, you know, we have this kpi mentality, the key performance indicators, and you have to be able to switch away from that to how do you actually, how do you actually define the outcome? You're trying to drive in a data driven way and make that really clear. And so it took us several quarters to really hone that skill. And I would say in some cases there are people who are still learning, and I think the other thing we really, really settled on was we started doing this quarterly because we wanted to be able to be agile. We know what our year long strategy is when we're trying to go, but doing it quarterly and looking at the key results every month or every week enable us to be really agile and changes that we needed to make as we were learning along the way so that we can get it quickly. And then I would say, you know, we really tried to Dr, you know, we really went top down a lot in the very beginning, and I think that was good to really set the stage for the fact that we were serious about doing this, but then being able to really quickly pivot to getting 50% top down, 50% bottom up so that people were really part of the process, you know, they were accountable for thinking about how are we going to impact that objective and localizing it to their team and what's important for that team and their strategy? And so I would say, You know, we're still learning on baselines and and and still learning as we're getting more agile and figuring out the right things to measure. And...

...every time we take on new things, there's always a little bit of a learning curve, although we're able to take those learnings forward. And I would say it's been really interesting because now we're able to help other teams at Microsoft think about how to write, Okay, Rs and we're kind of doing that in partnership with them as we're taking shared key results across the division. So it's been a really an awesome experience. One of the things that I hear from people is is that there is sometimes an assumption that you'll do okay, Ours once. Maybe one quarter cycle or two quarter cycles, and then it'll be mechanical. After that, there won't be anything new to learn. There won't be. It'll just go on autopilot. In some ways, it sort of Mrs what I think of as the real magic in okay, Ours, Which is, in a sense, that the iterative process of learning every quarter, what changed outside, What changed inside? How do we get smarter about what we measure? How do we get more dialed in on where value gets created? That that learning is actually the gift of the process, as opposed to it's one and done and then the process goes on autopilot? After that, it's sort of the editor process Is the destination as opposed to the problem to be solved? Yeah. I mean, I would say there's probably nothing in life, but you do once and master immediately. If there is, I'd love to know what it is or whoever that person is. I think that everything is a learning journey. And so even if you think about the fact that we all are familiar with copies and Kpi s are really interesting because they do help you measure performance, but they can be what we call a watermelon where they're green on the outside and they're really red on the inside and you don't know it yet and something really bad might happen that leads you down that path. And so I think having the fixed mindset around kpi s and not being able to break out of that and think about how we actually...

...build these outcome driven key results is one of the things that you really have to hone, and it doesn't happen overnight. I mean, it takes months and months of practice, if not longer. And like I said before, even if it's something brand new in the team or there's new people on the team, they're going to have to learn it, and they're going to have to figure out how to how to make that work for them. And so you're constantly going to learn new things and hone the process over time, you know, even in work board, you might add new features that you want to be able to roll out to the team as they get more mature in the process and therefore makes your process more mature. And so I think you have to be able to just be in that mindset of we're going to try something. We're going to do a retro on what we What happened? We're going to learn from it. We're gonna take those learnings into the next quarter, and that's going to happen every quarter. You know, we're still tweaking wording in our outcomes every year we tweak wording in our key results because words matter, and we need to make sure that we're getting it right so that it resonates with the team. Because at the end of the day, these are the things they're going to get them excited, to come to work every day and to drive towards these really big, hairy, audacious goals. So, you know, it's just one of those things that you're always always be learning exactly right there. I think perpetual opportunity to be a better leader of a better team, achieving better results, right? That's a pursuit. There's no finish line, right? Yeah. And I mean, I would say that the need to learn and evolve in okay, Rs and the okay, Our methodology is really no different than any of us having to skill our workforce. The technology is changing very quickly. We are constantly having to think about new skills or new tech that we need to bring in the market. And it's the same thing with thinking about that methodology and evolving over time. As you're trying to really drive towards your strategy, you mentioned fixed mindset in particular fixed mindset, where you establish a set of KPs and the business runs to those, even if those are no longer that relevant. One of the other sort of fixed mindset...

...perceptions that companies large ones in particular often have is the perception that they can't move quickly and they can't change quickly. And I think there is a super interesting and powerful moment in time where obviously every company now can move quickly and can change quickly. Right? We all learned that over the last quarter, and we're not done learning that we're going to need to change quickly this year, which will be just as dynamic in terms of the way we organize and work and team. There's a sort of moment to instead of failing to observe that you can change quickly and mobilize quickly. Actually, build on top of the observation that even the largest companies in the world really mobilized and shifted and adapted very quickly over the last four quarters and will continue over the next four quarters. You talked to a lot of large organizations who look to you for guidance and insight on How do You do it, Aaron. Do you hear that? Same. We can't move quickly. Mindset. I think that, you know, any time you're doing anything that is a major change within a company, there can be angst and there's a lot of work that needs to be involved in doing that. And I think that, you know, that that is very real. And people do talk about that. I've had many conversations with different organizations about that. I think the reality is that into your point earlier we, because of the pandemic, experienced digital transformation that would normally take years with an organization in a matter of months and people stepped up to the challenge. You saw that across all of these companies, and people have proven they can work from home and figure out how to adapt quickly to that, even though it was part and everybody went through different, different experiences trying to learn how to work from home or, you know, use teens resume for the first time or whatever it might be. So I think we underestimate our ability to move quickly. What inspired? And so I...

...you know, I think it's one of those things where you got to be really clear on what you're trying to do and what the potential downfalls are and being able to just attack it head on. And so a lot of times I share different things that I wish I had known differently that probably would've driven to change much faster in my Or But really, it starts with commitment from the top commitment to to roll out okay, ours and showing that commitment. So people don't think this is the flavor of the month. It's the thing we're doing because we know it's going to help us drive that four year goal that we've got that we're striving for. And so it's really getting that to that inspiration of people understanding how really to think about that culture shift and just trusting that the order will adapt, You know, you use the words, Uh, inspire when you talked about how organizations and people and organizations changed, changed and shifted quickly. And I've had quite a few conversations with leaders who were actually really odd and moved emotionally on how the people in their organizations mobilized over the last year is one of the things that I think is the kind of hidden gift of the pandemic. Unified us around purpose in ways that were less obvious or maybe even less kind of tangible than they were over the course of the last year, both within companies and teams but also across companies and teams as well. You're really mindful of the importance of using the right words, using language that inspires actually thinking about communications as something that inspires and mobilizes people around the change that you want to make or the direction that you want to go. Why is that? Why are you so white flour bet? How do you see that come into play? One of the mantra, as I think we have in my team and definitely the broader organization, is that words do matter. I think you know your ability as a leader to help the organization understand the strategic direction you're going and what their...

...part in it is is really important. And I think that we when we're able to connect the dots in a way that's really meaningful, it will inspire the organization to move forward and be able to really rally around something new or something scary that they have to go after. And so I think it's just one of the really critical things to to, you know, galvanise what you're doing and getting people to, you know, row in the same direction. And so we're really careful about what words we use and how it resonates with the team were really thoughtful about. And this and this personally was a shared learning for us was how to delineate between a strategy. We're trying to drive that everybody has some pieces, but we may not measure every part of it to what does impact me as an individual on the team and the company and, you know, really making sure that that's clear for folks. And so as much as we're able to inspire people, they're super excited to be here. They want to give it their all every day, and I think you you saw that even turning the pandemic, that people were teaching kids at home. But we're still showing up every day to do their jobs, and I just It's so I think, you know, getting misty eyed Talking about those types of things totally makes sense, because I'm I'm just in all of how people came together and rallied together. And I think having a really strong strategy and having a really strong set of objectives can do that same thing for your team. Exactly. I think the role of manager actually gets to evolve forward to being mobilize er, not manager and another big takeaway for me from the last 12 months, right that when people were connected on purpose, right and meaning and they felt there was a sense of where unified we're in this Together they accomplished so much more than when, even in the physical world, we we were physically together, but maybe weren't...

...quite so unified. There's so many potent human takeaways that are really important threads in How do we lead organizations to their best collective outcomes and mobilize? Er is sort of for me internally workforce. That's a headline. When I think about what are our managers, and what's their role going forward? It's your team. Mobilize er, which is really different texture than your team manager. Yeah, I mean, I think it's really interesting because I feel like going through the pandemic and everybody being remote, create a level playing field for people who may not be in their local headquarters office. It unified people in a way that everybody was kind of struggling through the same thing together. And I think the reality is that where once our work lives, our work lives, our home lives, our home lives. Those have very much merged together, which means that the way that we manage people the way that we lead can't be the same, you know, and Microsoft, we have this concept of model coach care, and so we obviously have to model the behaviors that we want to see within the team. We have to coach and help and help people be successful, but we have to show care through that process. You know, empathy and understanding for the situation that somebody is in, whether that's work or personal and how that stuff comes together, you know, to make them as a whole person. Absolutely. We all have a giant lesson in caring. We got skilled, more skilled at it over the last 12 months. That's a great segue to culture and the kind of culture change dynamics that come in or with adopting okay, RS and shifting to thinking about outcomes more than kind of anchoring on activity. Talk to us a little bit about what you think is important to keep in mind in that culture shift. I think the first thing is really communication. Obviously, in any change management that needs to be done communicating the what the why and the how is super important. I would say enablement...

...training is also incredibly important. We have an okay, our champion, every one of the Orcs, and that enables us to really provide some concerted training for that particular. Okay, our coach. They can help lead and guide their team at somebody who's really data driven. That has grasped onto the okay our methodology really well, and that helps drive change within a particular team or area and then really investing in training for the team. So we have done training numerous times throughout the two years. It's not a one and done. You learn things along the way. And then the training has a different meaning for individuals and the team. So we even recently, two years in, did another training for all of the principal level folks and extended leadership team. And I started out by saying, This is going to feel redundant. But I assure you you're going to get a new tidbit of something that you didn't know before or you're just looking at it from a different lens now that you've been doing it for a while. And unanimously, everybody thought they gained value from that session, even though the content was the same that we've done before. He get any change, you have to repeat, repeat, repeat seven times basically So, really making the investment in doing that helped drive the culture change and the awareness, as people were going through the You know that the stages of change of why are we doing this? I don't want What are you doing this to me too? Oh, I actually understand how to use this as a tool to help me. And so I think that was one of the biggest things that was helpful and I think the other thing is really celebrating the winds and the learnings don't just celebrate the green. It's easy to do that, but really celebrate the areas where you might measure the wrong thing or we didn't do it just right. And, you know, in my leadership team, we actually took a zero a couple of times early on because we just messed up what we were trying to measure. And we owned it. And we talked to the team about why, and so, just making sure that the failure is not a it's not an issue. It is a way to learn new things. Yeah, so when you see the red right, it's not what went wrong...

...here, but Okay, what are we learning here? But we do differently next time. What decision will this drive as opposed to whose fault is best, right, Which is what I think. People are sometimes quite afraid of, right, that they will be exposed and somebody will poke on fault. Or what you did wrong and so awesome that at the leader level, right, you're modeling. We're learning as we go, and we're going to continue to learn. So you're super thoughtful in your approach, obviously, Coach. A bunch of other leaders inside Microsoft advice to quite a lot of people on how to do this. Well, three or four big headline takeaways like what should everybody know as they start down this journey and what may be also, what do you wish you knew when you started the journey? I would say the first thing that I wish I had known was how to clearly make the distinction between okay, ours and an individual's impact. I mentioned that earlier. The difference between having a personal goal or set of things that are delivering on versus the okay are is driving towards the strategy. It creates a lot of angst in the system. And if we had known that earlier or thought about that earlier, we would have really been careful in the messaging and making sure that's clear and making it part of training so that it would have allowed people to step into that change a lot faster. I think the other thing that we learned was and is that we did everything top down in the beginning, and I think if we could have pivoted faster to 50% top down, 50% bottom up or some some level of that earlier, it would have created more shared understanding and also ownership over building the key results. Not they're telling us we have to go do this. But, hey, we are strategic. We understand how to meet those objectives, and we're defining how we're going to get there. So I I think that was...

...something that we should have done earlier, and then one of the things that we did in the beginning. So we have a strategy dot that we do every year. And we had areas that we were focused on. We had a team right sub strategy dots for those areas. It creates a lot of confusion because the team was trying to map the area to the objective, even though they may actually touch multiple objectives. And so this year, we pivoted to actually having the right and objective level strategy, Doc. So if one of our objectives is around discovery, all of the teams content products, partnerships are coming together to talk about Hey, how are we going to impact discovery and what is one of the things we need to do and also actually lets them kind of outline at an early stage in the year or before the year starts. What are the key results we think we're going to be wanting to measure? And so they can change that every quarter, but it gives them a stake in the ground to start from. And so that's what we're doing now. And we've gotten really good feedback from that approach. So I'd say those are the three things I think that we're takeaways for me that would have made this go faster. And now, two years later, what are the ways kind of looking at in the other direction? What are the ways that your alignment and measurement muscles are different than they were when you started out? So writing okay, RS was a lengthy process. In the beginning, I mean hours and hours and hours trying to just figure it out. And now it's much easier to the point that my leadership team, we get together and we the okay champ, that's one of my directs. He'll draft the set of Okay, RS based off what he knows we all care about from a strategy perspective, and we'll get in the room and it maybe takes us an hour and at that point were really nit picking words. Or maybe you're just saying, Hey, we're really measuring the right thing but it goes very fast. We, the retros and resets really helped us to get there because it got us aligned on what we care about how we communicate to the team. So that also has made that really fast. And then I mentioned before there's no such...

...thing as too much training. I think that has. We have totally doubled down on that. We even have a half day of learning that we run for our team every month where they have four hours to invest in themselves. And so sometimes we have topics like Okay rs that we will host a session on other times. Other people might teach within the team on technology or other areas, but really just making sure people have that time to invest. And I think the other area is really the automation of the key results. So we automate everything we possibly can, and that means that we have to be really clear on what we're trying to measure to make those that automation easier. So we try to be super data driven and everything we're doing it doesn't mean that we're not going to start a new project that requires us have a build a plan for a plan as a key result. But those are few and far between. And now we're really deeper into the measurements and baselines that enable us to get there. And so, as much as you can automate it creates less work on the team to report out. And you can much more quickly see in real time what's actually happening. One of the things that we try and coach people on a bit right is in the beginning, teams almost never know what to measure, right? They don't have that muscle, but they often the instinct is what we have to automate. Okay, First, you figure out what to measure, but after you measure it for a quarter, you'll realize that wasn't the best thing to measure. And then you start to plan the automation in, as opposed to trying to automate away the need to figure out what to measure itself, right? Just some of the instincts sometimes, Yeah, I totally agree. and it's it's made it much easier. And honestly, I think even just the process of setting baselines, even if you're not automating something helps you figure out how to measure it. Because one of the things that we learned really early on is it's easy to try and compound a bunch of things into a key result. We're gonna do X and Y N Z, but really you just need to do X. You can have another key result for Y or Z if you really need to measure it, but it really gets you crisp. And then once...

...you get really crisp, then it gets really easy to automate things, so it may take several quarters to get there. I think we only automated a couple of really early on because they were easy, no brainer. But then now I think probably 80 plus percent of ours are are automated now. Yeah, and those compound compound KRS. We're going to measure X and Y, and then how many of Z happen in part of it? It's It's actually just the thinking is still fuzzy. The team hasn't figured out which of those things is actually prime, and most important and hasn't figured out which one of those. The outcome in which of those are the inputs. And that is the learning, actually, and the learning and the iteration of where the retro those come into it tackle two more topics before we wrap up. One is you mentioned retrospectives or retros and resets as a way that the team got stronger and more fluent right and faster at the whole process. Talk to us a little bit about that, and then let's close on leaning into the red. So we actually really leaned on work board to help us with the retrospective and resets in the very beginning, and we had them come in and help us through it for three quarters because it really helped us ask the right questions and come to the right themes that we would be able to drive forward into the next set of key results and actually helped us frankly form up. How do we actually write the key results through the process? The thing that was really good about that is that we're able to celebrate what we did well and what we didn't so we can take those lessons into the next quarter, and we've actually expand that beyond my leadership team, where we're now doing that with, as I said before all the principles in the group and all the extended leadership team, so that their feedback is being heard and part of that process, they can see the evolution over time. And then we were all learning together. So its been really important for us to do that. So, like I said, Work board helped us for about three quarters. And then we decided we were ready to fly, and so we took it into our own hands and the okay, our coach at my leadership team level...

...helped run those across the team, and now some of the teams are able to run them themselves. That's awesome. And then you mentioned watermelon metrics, So we have to go to How do you help and encourage a team? And in order to use red or yellow risk indicators as signal as opposed to as something that's bad and they should try to avoid, I think a lot of it really has to do with how you articulate or what you react to when you see red and So I think for us it's really been coming at it from a more inquisitive place, not a white. Is it red? It's asking questions of what or how like how can we help in this particular area? What is blocking you? You know what are the challenges? And so I think it's created some comfort level around the fact that they can try new things and not be afraid of it. And I think a lot of that stems from the model behavior that I mentioned before around going ahead and celebrating it or asking questions to help and just coming from that perspective. So I think it kind of really helped drive down the fear when I will tell you people over index on Green in the beginning, for sure it's going to happen and it really comes down to what you say and how you model that behavior. But we look at our okay, ours. We were looking at the middle weekly basis. In some cases, our data sources come in monthly, so we really focus our energy and our monthly business reviews and the leadership team in the extended leadership team are there. So it's an opportunity to ask those inquisitive questions model of behavior. We want to see and kind of dive in and have conversations around any of the areas where we have gaps or where we might question like, Hey, you know, we're a month and are we are we convicted in this measurement so that we can make some changes? And so it's more of a conversation, not a stick, if you will, And I think that's helped a lot. And so that's that's, you know, we just make sure we're really results focused. OK, what is what is that? What the outcome that's going to drive and we ask that question a lot. Perfect question. Perfect question. I think the way, the sort of transparency owning the outcome, questioning whether that's the right...

...thing, to measure all of those things, feedback into a culture that gives everyone permission to imagine what great looks like and to be ambitious for it. And to do that with without kind of the fear of coming in short and having that be negative consequence and it feeds itself over time, right where people feel empowered to reach and empowered to look at the data as informing their next decision, as opposed to fearing the data and not wanting to look at it. It's got a terrific cultural implication over time. And it's what I think when you're cleaning the same data driven. Yeah, I mean, I think that's what's so awesome about. Okay, ours is that it lets you be strategic. It lets you empower. The team isn't about individual performance, but it's about being innovative on behalf of your company or customers and coming up with new ideas. And so I think that's really opened up a framework for the organization to really think in that way. That's very different from how they were. They used to think in the past. Well, that is the mic drop that we will end this podcast on Erin, Thank you so much for sharing your journey and your wisdom and expertise, both with the folks who are listening to the podcast and all those folks who call you and say, How do you do it, Aaron. Thank you. Awesome. Well, thank you. It was really fun chatting with you. 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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