Iterate to improve | OKRs version 2.0

In a previous post, I wrote about why we have adopted OKRs at Onfido and what we hoped to achieve by doing so.

Having reached the end of Q2, we have again conducted a review of our systems and are keen to update you on our findings.

How much detail?

In Q1, our goal of transparency was hampered by the level of detail in which we planned. Every individual had four or five OKRs, all of which were visible in our shared Google spreadsheet, and the outcome was information overload. The system was completely opaque.

In Q2, we therefore tried to slim things down. We asked teams to have shared OKRs, limited to two per team, and again displayed OKRs on a shared Google spreadsheet, with each individual’s goals visible in a separate tab.

Interestingly, our Q2 iteration failed on both counts. Limiting teams to two OKRs and forcing team members to have OKRs in common meant that lots of people didn’t plan in enough detail. Strategic goals were missed because their implementation wasn’t well thought through.

What’s more, because we left the display of OKRs at individual level (one person per tab in our document), the volume of information to track was still overwhelming. People still didn’t know what one another were working on.

Therefore, in Q3…

A new approach!

This quarter, our shared document will only have six tabs in it – one for company OKRs, and one for each of our major teams (Sales & Marketing, Operations, Product, Engineering and Talent).

Whilst we are still going to plan and review at individual level, that process will be devolved to team leaders. Team leaders will then feed their overall progress back to the company.

There’s obviously a danger here that we’ll dilute individual accountability. However, this is something we feel confident we can manage through proactive and regular review conversations between team members and team leads. What’s more, it allows us to have a lean and much more focused document at the centre of our OKR system.

Reporting mechanisms

We have thus far been using 15Five to conduct 2 weekly OKR check-ins at individual level. Team level reporting was done via email, with regular updates going out to the whole company.

However, in a busy and fast-paced startup, it’s all too easy for emails to be overlooked – especially if they don’t seem immediately to demand action.

To that end, in Q3, we’re going to be experimenting with more active and visible reporting methods such as colour-coded status boards & inclusion of OKR scores at weekly standups. We’ll update you on our progress at the end of the quarter.

10% Time

Onfidoers love to go the extra mile: to learn something new, to break new ground, to run towards difficulty and take charge of a project that is miles outside their remit.

This behavior is incredibly valuable to the company (most of our best ideas begin this way) so, through OKRs, we sought to encourage more of it by asking each team member to set an individual OKR, which sat completely outside the scope of their everyday role.

The difficulty we faced was that our team are also a) extremely busy and b) extremely diligent. In between recruiting 15 new team members, shipping hundreds of new features and processing thousands of checks, our individual OKRs got squeezed out for things that were (we think, wrongly) perceived as more important.

For Q3, we are therefore introducing 10% time to put the kind of nimble, independent and iterative behaviour we so value back on the agenda.

Good news story

Despite the many tweaks outlined above, the introduction of OKRs at Onfido is a solid good news story. As a team, we have increased strategic focus, are more ambitious in our planning, more honest in our review and more collaborative in our work habits.

Amongst others, team leaders commented in our meeting last night that:
· “This is by far the best performance management system I’ve ever worked with”
· “More gets done the day before a check-in than at any other time during the week”
· “This system has been so good for my team; we’re getting things done which are so important, but which would have been pushed out in the everyday melée had we not committed them to paper and had regular, honest conversations about how we are doing”

As with all good systems, OKRs at Onfido are still under constant review, but we hope our learning so far will be useful to others out there giving it a go!

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.