The OKR Podcast
The OKR Podcast

Episode · 2 years ago

The OKR Booster Effect in Distributed Teams​​​​​​​

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

A conversation with:
Sarah Davis
Director of Portfolio Programs - Data and AI at IBM

Sarah Davis, Director of Portfolio Programs - Data and AI at IBM, discusses how she’s using OKRs to enable a very global organization to do its best work for customers. Sarah talks about having good alignment conversations, transparency for thousands of people in 16 countries, and accelerating organization impact.

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 your 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. Sarah, thank you for joining and welcome to the okay our podcast. Thank you, it's great to be here. Do tell us a little bit about your role and how distributed your team and your organization is? Yeah, so I work with in the data and the eye business unit and IBM. We're about a six billion dollar business. Have About eight thousand employees and I am the okay, our practice lead for a data NAI. I have a couple of other programs that I manage as well, but basically we really focus on business results and enabling the team to have everything they need to achieve the best business to bolts that they can have. So we've got teams across sixteen different countries, multiple time zones. We do have some hugs of strategic locations who. We've got pockets of people that are co located together, but we're really a global team that works around the clock to make sure that our clients have the best solutions in the data and the I space, and I leave the Oka are practice for that team. That's awesome. It sounds like okay ores are a great way to keep the global distributed team aligned and tells you a little bit about how you think about enabling the leadership team in getting aligned, how you think about getting everyone in the global organization aligned and how do you think about alignment in general? Yeah, so we've got cross functional representation within our team. So we've got some people that are within products, management, design, development services, kind of all the different functions. So I find at both the leadership level and all the way down to like an individual product level, it's really important that everybody has a seat at the table. There are a lot of folks that they start off with a particular plan and they're like, we only need a couple people, and so they run with it for a few months and then they bring out of people in later in the game, not to intentionally exclude them by any means, but just because that's kind of the natural flow of things. They want to keep it small and focused and they bring folks in a couple months into their process and find there's no information. We totally had no idea about. There's no way we could have known that. Now that we know it, we need to totally shift directions and then, wow, it really feels like the passable months are a waste of time. So I've find that with the leadership team, if everybody in the leadership team as a line to here's what our top priorities are...

...for the year, for the quarter, for the month, they can then be ambassadors of that mission so that whenever something on their team comes up, they say hey, actually, that aligns back to what we talked about it our leadership meeting or you know, those are great ideas and also it's something we should say for you, for they can kind of like shift and modify how they organize their teams priorities to align it with the the leadership level. The other thing that's key is that everybody can know what everybody else's priorities are. So that's one area where the visibility or the transparency of how cares is huge, because then you don't always have to rely on that leader having a oneone conversation. I think in really small startups or small organizations you could probably just turn to your neighbor and say like Hey, do you want to work on this, and they're like yeah, that's aligned to what we're all working on, and you maybe have a daily stand up for a weekly team meeting where everybody is talking about the same thing. We have thousands of people that are all in other time zones, other meetings, other things, and so it's so helpful for everyone to be able to refer back in on their own and kind of like a self service manner, to here's what's the most important things are. They can go check it out for themselves and they can see what their projects are in relation to that and kind of make a judgment call on what they should be working on. It's a constant process. It's like a it's a daily thing. I think a lot of us think alignment so one and done, like Yep, we're going to get aligned at the beginning of the year and then here we go. But things change and as they do, there's sometimes daily changes that we have to make and being able to communicate and see those changes in real time in an in one place is crucial for our teams. Perhaps even more crucial now is as IBM, as you pointed out, as a global organization and everyone's in a different time zone. Many people are in the same office, but before the kind of current circumstances that were in, there were offices and hubs and groups of people together that I could just go walk to each other's desks and have the stand up or lean over the cubicle and say, Hey, what are you working on? How do you think the global environment that we're currently in has shifted the way you think about alignment and the importance of it within your board? I think it's it's more important now than ever and the biggest shift, I think, is that everyone is if they weren't intentional before, they need to be intentional about it now because, honestly, I was probably less intentional with the people that I was in the same office with on working on being aligned, because I you know, we're there together, we run into each other on the way to the bathroom. You just kind of have these impromptu conversations. You...

...don't really plan it out. So now that we're all in our home offices across the same city, but we're disconnected. We can't just look over our shoulder and say, Hey, what are you working on? We have to be really intentional about how do we actually stay aligned? What is our source of truth? Where we referencing? How do we check in? How often? How does all of that work? And we have to think through it. There are some teams I'm seeing even now and it can be small things like engagement, you know, starting a virtual happy hour once a week or virtual water cooler, scheduling intentional time to check in with each other, having virtual coffee, oneonone, things that people maybe weren't doing before that they're doing now and it's so interesting to see the improved engagement that I hope it's something that we carry on doing even after the economy recovers and we don't have the restrictions that we do now for being distant from each other. I hope that you know, at least for us, that I be am we've always had team members and other time zone and it just brings the point home of like hey, maybe we haven't been intentional enough about how we want to stay aligned and how we want to communicate. So we need to be even more in pensional now. We obviously have a lot of the collaboration and alignment tools in place, but now people are actually using them and actually becoming engaged and being able to see how we're all aligned and interacting together on a daily basis. Awesome. It's almost like now more than ever, a central for the way we run it. Yeah, respond absolutely so. Shifting years. Tell me a little bit about your okay our philosophy in general. How do you think about okay ours? How have you done them? Would love to hear your perspective on that. Yeah, I have, throughout my career, in many different companies than many different industries, have used some form of measurement for success, whether it's KPI's or management adjutics or metrics or all the different names that it's gone by. There's always been some version of how do we know how we're doing? How do we measure that? Is that the right measure to know that we're successful? And there's some report that usually comes with that. So even in my very early days of my career, being like a data analysts in a mortgage bank reporting to stps about how their geographies are doing from a pricing point of view and kind of all the different metrics that they have. We're producing these like massive, two hundred page powerpoint acts so that these leaders could understand what was going on in their business and make strategic decisions. And a lot of times this would happen after the fact, right, like we can report on the data once the data is there, they've already made it through a quarter. They're looking back retroactively with the data to see the...

...pattern and make a decision. So a lot of times it felt really reactive. One shift that I've seen now in moving to OK ours is simplicity, making sure that we have a small handful of things that were focused on, not just, you know, a laundry list of a hundred different metrics. The other is transparency. It used to be that these two hundred page decks will relegated only to like a certain handful of elite executives and they were the only people that, you know, could have access to that information. And now more and more word democratizing our data so that everybody can understand the leavers within our business they can influence and then, along with that, having real time data that everyone can participate in. So having tooling to help with all of that. I think is the only way we could. We could do that. There's no way to really amplify and multiply the ways, like the manual way we used to do things and excel or powerpoint or you know whatever formats. So having a way for teens to understand what makes a great priority, what should align to an another part of the organization, whether that vertical alignment with their leadership team or horizontal alignment with their cross functional partners, for them to really understand the tenant of what makes great. Okay ours and work on that mindset shift. That, to me, has been the most impactful thing. Like I always like to start with something tangible that can give them a quick win so they kind of feel that little bump of like, Oh, I did something different, I made progress, I saw a result right away. But then constantly working on the mindset, constantly helping people to which their mindset to outcomes instead of output, the understand how the dots of what they're doing connect to the docks of what other teams are doing, building relationships and networks within the organization. All of that sometimes can be seen as like I don't have time for that, that's too much work. But okay, ours have actually helped a prove that spending time and relationships, spending time becoming aligned, save this time, gets this better outcome and causes us to have better business results collectively as a unit, because we're all focused on and working towards the same goal and helping, course, correct when we get off track, and having a way to do that more frequently in real time, with real time data, instead of waiting for the quarter to be over and then kind of going, Oh, I guess we didn't make progress on any of this, so let's look at it again next quarter. We can actually in real time, seeing what's going on, where we off space. Let's get back together, let's spend our time talking about what's really going to move the needle, not just what the date is, and then making sure that when...

...things shift, we can shift our priorities and we can communicate that clearly to everybody who needs to know. I love that, of course, and I think there's this giant myths out there and in the universe which is he would miss, is that it would not be a good use of time to, you know, have a conversation around the outcomes we want to drive and maybe that's not the right myth right that there's the fallacy, which is it's going to take too much time to get aligned. But that, yeah, conversation and then the time you spend to really have a meaningful discussion on what are the outcomes we want to drive and not all pure keat performance indicators as we know them. Right, what's the combination of the out up stream out comes that will tell us power successful and the down stream out comes that will tell us power successful, and really driving discussion and getting what we called radical clarities for what we want to go achieve and then focusing on it and then get having the ability to make those shifts. It's such a good use of your time. Like take the three hours so we know the five hundred hours in the corner are going to be spent. Well, no, what you said of about clarity is key, because I know a lot of people, you know, they're like this is going to take too much time. I don't have time for that. I just want to keep running, I just want to keep making progress. If you don't have clarity on what you're actually trying to accomplish, you could waste a lot of time working on something that is not important and then you're going to have to kind of rework or or track back and and Redo it or take another path and you're you're behind by weeks or months. So having that clarity up front, I think, helping people not be afraid to ask questions, not be afraid to challenge. It's been so interesting to see our OKARE journey now that we've taught kind of the massive quote unquote, about okayrs. It's not just like this leadership thing that only leaders get to do in this fancy workshop. It's in everybody practiced and now that everybody's learning about it, they're they're asking their leaders and they're saying, is this really the top priority? Is this really what we want to focus on? Because our team spending eighty percent of other times doing something that's not on your list. So how do we reconcile that? How like what are we supposed to make of that? Doesn't mean that the thing we're working on is not important, or is it important and we actually need to pick where it falls in this in this list. So giving them the information to be able to understand both cares and priorities, how it all aligns, how it all rolls up, how it all works together has been so interesting and has sparked so many conversations that I'm sure many people may be uncomfortable with that first because it's like Whoa people are asking me questions that have never been asked before. I don't know all the answers. We're having a really like genuine but awkwards. They want to know if like they have it all together, but I think it makes the process so much more collaborative. And then the people that are getting to participate in that conversation are a hundred and fifty percent bought...

...into the result because they felt like they had a voice in the process or they know what it meant for them. I think I've heard you say it's like the localization right of the Okres of I think in the past, because seen a lot of leaders, not just that IB am and in other places, to kind of do these like big mandates. Right, is like this is where we shall go and this is what we shall do, like they always use the word show right, there is shall be done, and then you know there's hundreds of people listening to that message that are like, okay, I heard you, but that has nothing to do with what I'm doing. Every single day. So how, like what am I supposed to do this? So they either ignore it or they just kind of like yeah, okay, fine, I heard you, but they did the impact of it. It just doesn't even like hit them of what the impact is or that maybe was they're working on is something they don't need to be working on anymore, or even to stop and ask the questions. So I think using an Okare for work and making sure that everybody understands what it is and how it works gives those people a like a method to discuss some of these things that have never been discussed before, and the conversations that come out of that of brilliant, because we have leaders saying no, no, no, that's not what I meant at all, like really, this means fact. But they're they're so far removed in the details, in the day to day that they didn't even realize the words they were using that something totally different to the people that were actually doing the work. So it's just it's all these little conversations that are happening that it's hard to quantify that in terms of alignment, right, but if you can see all those conversations happening monthly or quarterly. You Look quarter of reporter and you see just like huge leaps in progress because the leaders have taken the time to make sure every level of the organization really understands and then they make massive progress in a short period of time just because they took the time to get alignment. So I feel like it's one of those like pocky stick lines. Right, people want to see that the results of their alignment like as soon as they have the first meeting, but the truth is it may take several meetings, several weeks, several months. Once they get that alignment, though, you just have this huge shoot up in progress because the team is all working in the right direction. They're all rowing in the same direction. Do you see things just shoot forward. So that clarity is just it's huge. Most I think most of US HAVEN'T REALIZED HOW LITTLE CLARITY WE'VE had in the past and we've just sort of you know, we all want to work in and am biguous circumstances and be able to thrive right, but having that clarry up front just make such a huge difference in the results that you get. When you got forward a month or recorder so many some s greenness and what you just said right. See, I even think that in the first meeting people have, although it's uncomfortable, like that first...

...alignment conversation, there's value there, right, because even if it opens the gates or sheds the light on where we're Miss Aligned, that's the step forward. But I agree and yeah, yeah, in that moment it just feels like, oh my gosh, we're told we're speaking totally different languages, like it just feels really tough. I always tell my things and like the first time always the hardest. Just expect that it's going to be hard, it's going to be awkward, is going to be uncomfortable. But after you think if you can get through that first meeting and then see you really where everything is, it's such a relief to just have all your cards in the table, have it all out there and then be able to move forward together. So absolutely. And then the two other things I want to touch on that you mentioned, which I thought were relevant to to everyone as well. As authorship really does drive ownership, like when teams Ung thegether, when people come together, they co author, then they really feel like they actually own the up once they want to drive, and that ownership then drive a higher degree of accountability, which is what every leader says they want more us. We need more accountability around here. Well, you're not going to get the accountability if no one has the clarity in the first in since no one knows the purpose right and so it's a whole, it's discycle and it it all comes, it all comes full full circle here. Yeah, it's so funny because I've I've heard so many of the leaders saying, well, I just don't understand why people, you know, I said this is what we're going to do and I just don't understand why people are not jumping on it already. Or they're like, I don't understand why these numbers aren't you know. And I've been able to witness some of those conversations and then kind of talk to them, if they will. Hey, did have you did you do this? Did you do that? Did you talk to so and so? Did you know? Kind of just like run them through. Listen, they're like, oh, no, not really. Like well, the do you think it's possible that they are maybe, you know, focused on what they think is the most important thing that's different than your thing. And, you know, did we ever have a conversation about it and it gets back to that intentional piece right of like what if we didn't just wait till the quarter ended and then talk about things if the numbers looked bad? What if we actually always talk at the end of the quarter and always talked about the good and the bad so that we've learned what actually happened? Because sometimes, I think a lot of people, when the numbers are good, they don't question things right so they're like yeah, okay, well, everything's good, let's keep going whereas he can learn is it good? Why is it good? Is it accidental or is an intentional and then see if we can replicate that, because there are going to be bad times, there are going to be tough times, there are going to be big shifts that happen that we can't predict, that we, you know, are going to need to huddle around and go wow, everything is upside down, this is three hundred sixty degrees different than what we thought it was going to be and we really need to rethink this. But if you've had that conversation at a regular basis already, you've built the trust you need with your team to be able to have that tough...

...conversation sometimes people have to have the tough conversation on the first go, which is which is tough. But all of that is just building that trust in alignment. So it's making that deposit in that relationship account every single week, month, quarter, so that whenever one of those tough conversations come along, you've got credit, you've got a relationship base that you can draw from and then when you have to get into that truf puff trouble shooting conversation, people are much more willing to be honest and be creative and all of those things because you have the conversation already, you've had the relationship that you've built over time. So all of these things, like I think a lot of people are like, I read a book, so now I can do this and I can follow this process step by step, or we have this new tool, so therefore we can follow this step by step. A lot of it comes back to the people and you still need to get together at people and build your relationships and build your trust and problemsolved together, and that's something that you know, tooling and process can never replace. But if you don't have that piece, and that's where a lot of this leadership comes in the leadership, the accountability, of the transparency, the clarity, kind of all the buzz words we've been using. If, if those things are not there with the people, you're not going to see the results that you that you want to see, because we're not machine, we're humans. For sure, it's as like the perfect I go into kind of the topic I wanted to dive a little bit deeper into with you next. It's really not a process. It's not just about the process. It's not just about setting though K are for the sake of setting OK ours. We all have enough acronyms, and Idem especially has plenty of afrias already. Like it's not just about this new fancy acronym which is an evolution of the way we previously aligned our team right, and that idem one of the things for very course, very muture organization. There was already a pretty robust accountability cadence in that you have the business reviews and the OPT reviews and the monthly opt in, though bi weekly offt in, the pipeline reviews, and you know, pick the reviews and the meetings and the cadences. Tell me a little bit about how how that existing accountability cadence help enable teams focus on the right results now and how you kind of brought the okay oars into your existing cadent so that it's not duplicative, but you really gained kind of the right efficiencies moving forward and enabled teams to drive towards results. Yeah, this live. This was an uphill battle because at I am as I suspect is true for a lot of organizations, it's so big that everybody has what they call like in our locks. Right. So if I'm a salesperson, okay, and how my interlock with marketing and then have my interlock with product and I'm going to have, you know,...

...all these different types of meetings, and what would happen is you've got your monthly conversation, but you're going to get not conflicting information, but you're going to get different information from each different person because they're they have a different point of view. And so if you're the person having all these different interlocks, then you're left at the end of the month going okay, I have my monthly interlock with all these different people. I still don't have a decision because I don't know how to reconcile all this information so it's just it's this information overload. And then I think, you know, people were creatures of habit, so people are really hesitant to cancel those types of things. So when we started introducing OKAYRS, they're like immediately, everyone's like, okay, well, now let's get our okay are team and let's get our okay are kids and let's get our care folder and let's get, you know, are Oka. Are Everything right? And I'm like way, W W wait, this is not an extra thing that you add on top of everything else that you were doing. Let's actually take a look at what you already have in place. And I did this with the first few teams as we started doing Okres, until I learned that everything was kind of having the same flavor of problems and we just started getting them guidelines from the beginning. But you know, I would literally just like sit with their off person and look at their calendar and be like, okay, who are you talking to it what points in the month, for what purpose and what are you know, explain to me all the different interlaction cases. And we found that it was some ridiculous number, like the percentage of their time that they spent in meeting just talking to all these different people was like forty or fifty percent in some cases. So I was like, let's assume that. Okay, it's not some is not an extra thing you do on top of it. It's one thing you do instead of all these ten things. And they looked at me like a bombers. But I sin what what if we invited all these people that you normally talk to on a monthly basis to one meeting? It's going to be a longer meeting than normal, but there's just one meeting. There's one meeting. Everybody shows up, you say the message one time, everybody has the data ahead of time, you look at it together, you discussed it together and the goal is by the end of that meeting you actually all know exactly where you stand and where you're going from there. And again they looked at me like I'm crazy, but let's just try at one time. Don't cancel anything yet. Just try one meeting and if you you know, if just totally goes hey wire, than you know, no harm, no foul. Who you've tried it. It's one hour of your life and we can move on. We found, and I tried this with a whole bunch of different teams that they could cancel ninety five percent of the other meeting that they had scheduled for the whole month if they could just have one meeting where everybody could show up and if they could start to prioritize that every single month. They found, even with people that were traveling and had client engagements and all different things,...

...that they knew that they only had to show up for that one monthly meeting or that they could send a delegate to that one monthly meeting and they could be aligned and it they didn't have to have all these other meetings throughout the month. It like blew their mind. They had a huge increase in engagement and and alignment because everybody was showing up. The salesperson could say, well, you know, our priority is this or our customers are telling us x. The marketing person could say, well, I have this other study that says why, and the product person could stay according to whatever, and they could have that conversation then with all of the data and come to a conclusion and come to an agreement, not always at the end of that meeting. Sometimes they'd have to follow up, but it being able to have that cross functional team. Everybody has the seat at the table, everybody talks about it together, everybody's looking at the same data set, everybody's bringing their point of view to the table, so that then you actually have great discussions. It drove so much efficiency that, you know, we thought people that were like there were people that had full time jobs just prepping for these meetings. Right that the poll the data and they had to make a powerpoint son, and then they had to have a pre review and then they had to send it for feedback to different people, and then it's like, you know, you're having top level exact spending four to six hours a week just preparing for meetings. So we cut down their meeting prep and their meeting scheduling by, like to see the seventy five percent in most cases. So once they saw that they could just have okayres as a framework to drive their business, they could see what the real time revolts were, they didn't need to have all these other cadences. They make the data available to everyone and they invite everybody to the conversation. They're like, yeah, we don't need to have all these meetings. Now everybody can actually just go do the work that's going to help us progress towards our goal. So I had to fight to get them to try it a couple of times, but I and it was a lot of times one team at the time. I had one team that was very keen on trying it. They tried it and then they they sold it for me like I didn't have to sell any other team. They shouted from the rooftops like how much free time they had and everybody was like, sign me up for that. I want to do that framework because I think a lot of people just didn't they didn't have the tools, they didn't know that they could stop doing other things. They didn't want to let me buddy down. I think it's all it all comes from a good intention right of like let's keep communication open, let's check in, let's, you know, let's not cancel on anybody. Want everybody to feel involved and they just didn't have the the framework to know how to make it really productive and proactive and efficient so that they could both, you know, keep communication open, build their relationship, keep everybody involved, you know, not hurt anyone's feelings, but also get great business results. And once we show them that framework and they tried it a couple of times. We I mean it only took two or three teams and then everybody was ready to jump on the bandwagon. Incredible, but...

...fantastic, especially for a culture that's known to have so many meetings. It's okay now we're having the right meetings, the right few meetings. We're coming in and informed of the date already. We can have the data from whichever office and maybe at this point using office in air quotes, because who knows what office means to people these days. But yeah, wherever office you're sitting in, like you know it of them. Thanks for sharing that story. Yeah, it's the same. I've seen the same and I've done like agile transformation and other types of transformations throughout my career here, and it's it's the same pushpect I get for asking people to come to a daily stand up and I like, I can't possibly make the time and I'm like it's fifteen minutes. Like how long have we been talking? We've been talking for thirty minutes already. We still don't have an answer because we have to go ask the other members of the team. So if you're just willing to commit that fifteen minute the day to make sure that we're all on the same page about what we're working on. Then we don't have to have these other extra meetings where you meet one off with every other person and then you still don't make a decision. Takes you a week to make a decision, and now you can make decisions every day because you've set up the framework for people to participate and engage, get the information that they need and then show up one time for a very short period of time. So we've seen a lot of these strategic meetings as well. That used to be days long now cutting down to a few hours. They used to, you know, fly everybody off site and we had to be there for a whole day and work through all these different things. Now that we're being asked to switch to a more virtual environment, we're able to do that pretty easily with just, you know, two or three hours, because you've got all the information there. Everybody's aligned on what it is ahead of time and they've been doing it for over a year now, so they kind of have that habit built in to where you don't need a whole day to go through everything. They just need a period of time where they can discuss as a team. So I think all of that, you know, whether it's okayres or agile or different tools or other things, all of it helping us be more connected, more efficient, more focused to work on the result together. So I'm really optimistic that we'll keep iterating and keep improving on how that works for our team. Fantastic and final question and thank you so much for sharing all your insights in everyone. A final question. If you were getting advice other people who are looking to embark on this alignment journey and accountability journey and kind of results journey, if you will, what would your advice be? Yeah, so I would definitely recommend to dive deep with experts that have the hours in the field like that's one thing, Samarrror, with you that I've appreciated more than anything as your hours in the field. You've seen many different companies in many different scenarios. You have those...

...hours of real experience. Think I've seen so many people just say, well, I read a book and now I'm though Carrick Burdon and here's what we're going to do. But partnering with it an expert who has hours in the field is going to shortcut you so much and being able to have the deep expertise that you need, but then to not wait. So it's like, yeah, you got to do your homework, you got to make sure you know what you're talking about. You're going to make sure that that jags with what's working in your company today. So definitely, you know, make sure you go deep enough that you know what some of your stumbling blocks will be and you're prepared for the pushback. But then don't wait. Like the longer that you drag it out. I've seen people say, we're going to have a we're going to end analyze this and do a you know to a study to see the differences between these things. It's like, by the time you do all of that, another quarter has passed and you still haven't made progress. So make sure you get the expertise that you need, but then start small and just start. Start Small and measure like that's the only thing that's going to help you build confidence, build progress, build all those things. That can be really intimidating to to feel like you have to eat the whole, all of them all in one setting, but just take it one bite at the time and just start. I love that. Just start. It's great a buy to start. So Yeah, well, Sarah, thank you so much for joining us. I know so many people are going to get so many great insight from your learnings and your experience and the stories you had to share. So I really appreciate you taking the time today. My pleasure. Thank you so much, Smara. 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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