Re-Defining the Office Perk


Kim and I were recently asked our view on the changing landscape of “workplace perks” for a Yahoo Finance piece exploring the impact of those trends on companies outside the tech sector (where a mind-boggling array of perks have been on offer for years).  Whilst the term “perks” now seems to cover everything from free cereal for breakfast to higher-impact offerings like work-from-home arrangements, it’s clear that businesses see these benefits as levers for improving both work-life balance as well as employee retention figures. And in a world where an average career now spans sixty-plus years but average job tenure has dropped to four and a half years, the war for top talent is becoming more critical  – and costly – than ever.

A recent McKinsey study focused on the components of organisational health across 1,700 businesses concludes that, “among the many ways that companies create meaningful workplaces, the ability of leaders to connect daily work to a grander goal stands out”.  Interestingly, those leading the study found that the traditionally-referenced motivations for employee attrition – salary, job title, etc – were actually far less correlated to the exiting employees’ decisions to move than were their attitudes toward several core determinants of organisational health:

  • Direction from leadership (helping to connect employees’ daily work to the company’s vision)
  • Sense of ownership (increased accountability and autonomy in daily work)

Though at first glance these conclusions seem logical and even obvious, we hear remarkably little in the tech and business communities about creating scalable solutions to address and improve these components of organisational health.   Certainly it is much more straight-forward to arrange for catered lunch, or increase paid holiday time, but with recruitment and on-boarding costs associated with new hires remaining stable or increasing for most professions, surely it’s worth considering how we might address these powerful – if complicated – organisational dynamics?  

At Just3Things we talk quite a lot about the empowering force of transparency, and how employees that understand the full organisational and strategic context of their daily work are more energised and less distracted in pursuing their goals. Understanding how your projects and priorities align with those of other teams, of your leadership, and of the business’ long-term vision not only brings comfort and reassurance that your efforts are understood and appreciated, but can help reduce the anxiety associated with cross-functional politics.  Everyone loves some snacks in the kitchen and a bike-to-work scheme, but perhaps the time has finally arrived to balance those more tactical perks with a cultural shift towards shared purpose and distributed autonomy?

Interview with Paul Niven, OKR Expert & Author

It makes for depressing reading that 40% of global CEOs cite failure to align as the single greatest challenge to executing strategy, and yet over 90% of employees don’t understand their company’s goals or the part that they need to play in order to achieve them.*

Paul Niven is no stranger to businesses who are facing these issues; a consultant and noted speaker, he is the author of six highly acclaimed books. His most recent (co-authored with Ben Lamorte) is “Objectives and Key Results: Driving Focus, Alignment, and Engagement with OKRs.” Paul’s six books have been translated into over 15 languages around the globe. Paul also delivers keynote addresses at conference events around the world and has published in a number of respected journals.

Just3Things is very pleased to be partnering with Paul to deliver a series of OKR accreditation programmes, launching in Austin in June with dates to be confirmed in London in September.

We caught up with him to discuss how OKRs help organisations to align their people to their strategy.

*Harvard Business Review, 2017

J3T: Hi Paul, thank you for taking the time to speak with us! Let’s start at the beginning – where do OKRs come from?

PN: If you will indulge me in a brief history lesson – for those who think that OKRs are a new idea, they really aren’t. We can trace them back to 1954, in a book written by Peter Drucker called ‘The Practice of Management’, where Drucker introduced a concept called ‘Management by Objective’ – every Manager should declare every year what they are accountable for, what they would rely on others for and what others could depend upon them for. This idea became popular, but like a lot of ideas it was not always implemented well and so fell out of favour. OKRs were resurrected by Andy Grove when he was CEO if Intel; he saw the latent power in this idea but thought we could simplify it. It is basically two things – where we want to go as a company and as individuals and how do we know when we have got there. And this is really the modern idea of OKRs as we know them today. Grove had an intern, John Doerr, who is now a Venture Capitalist in Silicon Valley and has funded a lot of well-known corporate names today, including being an early part of the Google story. So John bought OKRs to Google when they were a small start up of 10-12 people – and the organisation still uses OKRs to this day with their 70,000 employees.

A lot of people think OKRs are specific to Silicon Valley but that is not the case – we work with many different companies of all shapes and sizes. Public sector, start ups, tech businesses, huge enterprises – all can benefit from using OKRs.

J3T: So what are OKRs?

The acronym stands for Objectives and Key Results. An objective is a broad qualitative goal designed to propel an organisation forward – what do we want to do?

Key Results are quantitative determination of whether you achieve the objective – how will we know when we have got there? One objective can have multiple Key Results to define success.

Each key result also has initiatives or actions associated with it – what are we actually doing to move the needle on the measurable key result.

J3T: Why, in your opinion, are OKRs better than using conventional goals?

PN: OKRs help entire companies communicate company strategy and align employees around their strategic goals. Alignment happens naturally in that different departments or teams might be accountable for different key results within their department. OKRs should, as much as possible, be transparent to all employees giving everyone the context and ensuring that all are on the same page.  

J3T: So how would an organisation start to implement OKRs?

Every company is different but there are some standard steps:

  • Start with Why – why are we doing this, what are we hoping to achieve? I joke with my clients you can’t say that you are implementing OKRs because Google uses them – that’s not a legitimate reason. If you don’t have the “why”, it’s difficult to gain traction with your OKR programme.
  • Next thing: do we have an executive sponsor who understands OKRs?  We need to ensure that the senior team aren’t talking a good talk on OKRs and then simply focusing on financial performance only.
  • The next step is for the organisation as a whole: it is essential that you confirm or develop your mission (which I define as core purpose), your vision (a description of the ideal end state), and your strategy. These are the foundation and give context when you develop your OKRs.
  • Following on from that, it’s time to start defining OKRs.  If possible start at the top. I don’t use the word ‘cascading’, but I do often talk about connecting OKRs from one level to the next – connecting OKRs allows everyone to be on the same page.
  • As you are developing your OKRs it is essential to find alignment with other groups. Think about “who do we depend upon to deliver this objective”? “Who depends upon us to deliver their objective”. Having alignment with other teams so important – if we don’t connect with other teams we can overlap or fail to deliver.
  • Once you have created your OKRs, you need to think about how you incorporate them into your working rhythm – many companies make the mistake of putting effort into creating OKRs but then not looking at them again for 90 days. They need to be living and breathing to be effective.

J3T: What cadence should organisations be using to set OKRs?

The company level strategic OKRs, aligned against strategic pillars, can be set annually. However one of the core advantages of OKRs is that they shorten the cadence to quarterly – in today’s ever-changing world, a lot can happen in 90 days so having a shorter time horizon increases focus and likelihood of achieving goals.

J3T: Why do you think that it is a good idea for organisations to consider using software to embed their OKR programme?

PN: For organisations to realise the benefits of OKRs they need to think about transparency and alignment across teams – if not, they run the risk of duplication or confusion. Software can be hugely helpful here. Also, keeping OKRs live and updated is tough to do in a transparent way without software.

J3T: You have seen a lot of software tools out there, what is it about the J3T platform that you like?

PN: We’ve seen a number of tools designed to support OKR and we are extremely impressed with the intuitive functionality of Just3Things.

J3T: Why did you choose to start an accreditation programme?

PN: For your OKR effort to succeed, your organisation needs an internal OKR Champion and knowledge expert to guide and synchronize the effort, inspire and motivate your employees, push the effort forward, and collaborate with the C-level suite on progress.  It is crucial for the success of your OKR effort that your Champion, Ambassadors and Team Leads receive the best training available and we are the global leader in OKR Training.

J3T: How can we find out more?

PN: Please do take a look at our website for more details.

Celebrating International Women’s Day 2019

For my very first International Women’s Day as a female founder, I had the distinct pleasure of taking part in a panel discussion with some amazing women at Facebook’s London office, topped off by an inspiring keynote from  Kubi Springer of SheBuildsBrands.

Check out the video below for a sneak peek of some of the candid, heart-warming, and inspiring chat that was had from a range of inspiring ladies forging their own paths in the business world. Topics ranged from how we define and carve out “balance” in our daily lives, to how to know when to make the leap to a new opportunity. Special thanks to Maria Purcell, Dana Muntean, and the amazing Workplace team for hosting! See you next year.

How do Co-Founders meet?

In the modern workplace, careers are not so straightforward. The Economist featured Kim & Erinn’s journey together in becoming Co-Founders of Just3Things (spoiler alert – like all successful relationships, it is all about having similar values).

Behavioural Science in the Workplace

How is psychology used in the workplace?

Why is transparency so important to creating trust?

J3T founder Kim Atherton joined David Halpern, CEO of the Behavioural Insights Team and Octavias Black, Founder of MindGym, to discuss the practical application of psychology. (and yes, Evan Davis was just as wonderful and charming in real life as he is on the radio 🙂 )

Listen again below. Can behavioural science make us more productive and improve the workplace?

Source: Podcast from BBC Radio 4, The Bottom Line. Episode: Behavioural science in the workplace.

Annual Planning in 2019: Dreaming Big and Building Consensus

As 2019 kicks off, many of us will sit optimistically in a conference room somewhere and dig into annual strategic planning for our team, our department or perhaps even our entire company.  It’s a time to place big bets for the coming year, and to anticipate and debate some of the challenges we are all experiencing in a business environment that seems to accelerate through increasing stages of flux and disruption with each passing quarter. Whether disruption in your sector takes the form of new digital platforms, direct-to-consumer upstarts or new regulatory changes, the one thing we can all agree on is that striking the balance between agility and stability is amongst the most important jobs leaders must undertake.

 

As a recent Harvard Business Review article rightly proclaims, businesses achieving this balance successfully recognise that in

“confronting disruptive change, the heart of the challenge is a human one. Leaders understand that they must allocate human and financial resources to new-growth efforts or face a future in which start-ups and other rivals overtake them. Yet they are often paralyzed by the status quo and disagreement about the future”.

(HBR, Nov-Dec 2018).

 

The first step towards resolving that inevitable disagreement, of course, is providing an appropriate venue for colleagues to present and challenge their various strategic goals and priorities. This is precisely the sort of collaborative and creative environment that Matt Pitt, Head of People Development at Veolia UK, was able to create one Friday in December, as he gathered his direct reports to start to shape a view of 2019 and beyond that was equal parts ambitious and executable.  In preparation for the one day offsite, Matt asked each participant to complete a “dream canvas”, using a popular format for documenting and analysing strategic missions:

 

Matt and his team were kind enough to invite Just3Things to listen in to their presentations and debates, as the various objectives and evaluation measures were actually captured on-the-fly inside the J3T platform.  This data capture allowed us to immediately visualise clear accountability for each deliverable and align the various goals to Matt’s overall vision. Each proposed metric for evaluating success was documented explicitly and was ready to track as soon as January 1 rolled around:

Goal data has been changed to ensure confidentiality of client.

 

Of course, once these goals, metrics and measures are re-visited in the post-holiday light, there will be adjustments made and new priorities may be set, but the fact that the initial targets that were agreed on the day are preserved and can be easily adjusted will certainly help re-align everyone for a fast start in January.

 

Undertaking the exercise of publicly declaring the alignment of your individual and team goals to the company’s overall strategy is essential, as it immediately reveals workstreams that may not be aligned to a key strategic pillar at all.  If those workstreams are still considered valuable, but aren’t underpinning the company’s “north star” vision in any way, further debate will need to take place to ensure everyone understands why that disparity exists.

 

Ultimately, a quick glance at Matt’s team’s dashboard will reveal that there is already a solid balance between innovation projects and incremental improvements to existing processes that will increase key measures like employee satisfaction:

Goal data has been changed to ensure confidentiality of client.

 

It was incredibly gratifying to see how comfortable Matt’s team were in openly anticipating challenges and setbacks to each individual’s proposed “dream” statements, and we hope that dialogue continues to shape adjustments to their top priorities over the course of 2019 and beyond.