OKRs at Onfido – why and how we use them

As Onfido’s Head of Talent, a huge part of my role is to scaffold the system via which the company sets goals and reviews our progress towards them. This system functions at many levels but, in the main, we focus on company, team and individual strategy/ performance.

The logic behind such a system is manifold but most powerful for me were the findings of The Corporate Leadership Council, who surveyed more than 50,000 employees from 59 organisations, 30 countries and 14 industries. These employees were asked to rate the effectiveness of 300 potential levers to drive employee engagement. Of the top 50, 36 were manager behaviours – with the ability to have energising, dynamic conversations about performance emerging as the single most important factor impacting employee engagement. What’s more, companies scoring in the top quartile for employee engagement returned 49% lower employee turnover, 37% lower absenteeism, 60% fewer quality defects and perhaps most significantly 12% higher customer satisfaction, 16% higher profitability, 18% greater productivity.

That is to say: successful business are built on effective performance review.

Desired Outcomes

The first thing I did was to spend some time defining the desired outcomes of Onfido’s goal setting system. We decided that the key outcomes were as follows:
1. Ownership. Every individual has a stake in designing his/ her own objectives
2. Alignment. Quarter by quarter, the company pulling together to create maximum impact
3. Reward. By providing a clear framework with which to measure success, we also give ourselves a clear system via which to celebrate our achievements
4. Reflectiveness. Our aim was to establish, across the board, a culture of reflectiveness, where the focus is on constant iteration and improvement
5. Team wide transparency. We wanted it to be possible for any team member, at any time, to see what his/her colleagues were working on – and how they were doing.

Why OKRs?

There are many approaches to goal setting. Anything is possible, from a purely data-driven approach displayed on a dashboard (KPIs or similar) to a purely qualitative approach based on interaction with a colleague or line manager.

To me, OKRs offered the ideal middle way because:
1. The system encouraged us to set high level, strategic and challenging goals (‘objectives’). It encouraged everybody to retain a birds’ eye view with their planning – and hence empowered each of us to have real impact (which is what startups are all about).
2. At the same time, the high level goals are also accompanied by measurable and trackable key results. These give 360 degree visibility on progress, which keeps us all honest and, therefore, highly motivated about achieving our goals.

Initial System Design

During our first quarter using OKRs, we imposed the following rules on ourselves:

• OKRs were set first at company, then at individual level.
• Each individual had 3 to 4 objectives, with 3 to 4 key results.
• One of those objectives was focused on personal development.
• All key results were objectively measurable and, critically, drove at the thing that truly diagnosed success for any given project.
• Each individual ‘checked-in’ every 2 weeks, to update me on their progress towards each objective. The tool we used for this was called 15Five.

Lessons Learned

Having got to March, we sat down as a team to conduct a thorough review or our OKR system in Q1. I’m glad to report both positive outcomes, and plenty of room for improvement, as follows:

Plus side
• OKRs provided a visible kick in motivation. The day before a check-in was due, the company got more done than on any other point in a 2-week cycle!
• OKRs provided transparency. We could each see what our colleagues were working on – and how we were doing.
• Team approval ratings were high. 83% agreed that OKRs made them more effective in the performance of their core role and 92% agreed that OKRs made them more effective outside of their core role. Compelling stats indeed!

For improvement
• Our goals were set at too low a level and, hence, generated too much performance data. With each individual tracking up to 20 different key results, things got lost & transparency became hard to maintain.
• Our reporting structure made no sense. With all 15Fives coming in to me as Head of Talent, I had an excellent overview – but a lot of that value was being lost at team level in the company.

For Q2, we have therefore decided to run OKRs at team level only – and to have teams reviewing one another’s check-ins in totally transparent operational units.

We’re currently 4 weeks into Q2, and I look forward to updating everybody again on our next iteration come Q3!

Ellie Romer Lee is Head of Talent at Onfido. She often writes about Company Culture and Productivity. Find her other posts below:

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Ellie is Head of Talent and is building a happy and productive work place that attracts and delights Onfidoers. She's also a hungry bookworm, always in need of a good restaurant and a great story.