The company where J3T was born became a UK Unicorn – OVO Energy was founded ten years ago with a mission to disrupt the UK energy market and has since secured investment valuing the business at £1bn.
Much of OVO’s success has been due to its ability to balance sharp focus on strategic priorities with the agility to innovate and adapt. Back in 2012 OVO was an energy retail company; over the years OVO have expanded beyond energy retail and today the company is helping it’s customers reduce energy consumption and even using energy from their cars to power their homes.
Rapidly scaling a business at the same time as evolving the strategic direction can be chaotic and unsettling for employees, customers and stakeholders. It was key that OVO remain oriented around its key priorities if we were going to avoid being derailed. Specifically we needed to be outcome focused – too many goals are about process or project completion and even experienced organisations can lose sight of why these projects are being invested in. It was also key to align effort throughout the organisation to these company goals.
Focusing on outcomes is only part of the equation if, like OVO, an organisation has many potential opportunities. The discipline to prioritise goals and to stack rank in order of strategic importance was really tough to acquire, however without this confusion would have resulted. Communicating the focus on ‘just three’ strategic priorities at any one time ensured alignment throughout the business, even when these goals were the responsibility of entirely separate teams.
However focus alone could lead to rigidity; being able to move at speed and to nimbly respond to strategic opportunity was the real secret of the company’s competitive advantage. Clearly communicating the overall strategy, the three priorities and any change in these, went some way to helping OVO be responsive but to be truly adaptive we needed to make more wide sweeping changes.
I clearly remember standing up at the ‘Town Hall’ (OVO’s all hands meeting) in 2014 to announce our organisational design principles; we described the move toward a ‘network of teams’ organisational structure using an analogy of moving from an oil tanker to a flotilla of smaller ships. Each ship was very clear on the overall direction of the flotilla, however they were also free to navigate their own path, to be nimble and innovative in navigating the waves near them to get to the optimal outcome. Each team would have within them the skills required to reach their goal, and each would be focused on optimising a customer outcome.
This structure allowed OVO to to remain focused on and committed to the customer whilst we grew, to empower teams to innovate toward an outcome and to speed up decision making in parallel.
However, these noble aims bought with them many new issues; now the HR system did not clearly show who was in which team. The previous method of goal cascade through the hierarchy was not valid, and we ran the risk of empowerment leading to duplication of work and a lack of focus.
The problem was clear; we needed to balance focus with agility at the organisational level, and to empower and motivate employees at the individual level. Therefore working closely with OVO’s employees we built Just3Things; The software platform allowed the organisation to clearly set out their strategic pillars and aligned goals, and also to highlight the current three priorities. Complete transparency of both the traditional hierarchy and the cross functional network of teams structure allowed employees (and the leadership team!) to make sense of the world, and each team and individual declaring their top three priorities linked to the company goals ensured alignment and much less duplication. Most importantly the transparent nature of the platform underpinned the distribution of decision making, allowing a more adaptive and resilient system of organisational learning.
What’s next for OVO?
In the words of the CEO and Founder, Stephen Fitzpatrick, OVO is “only just getting started”. There is a long way to go to achieve the vision to “deliver a zero carbon system that is affordable to everyone” but retaining the balance between focus and speed will be key to the organisations future plans.
What’s next for Just3Things?
We span out of OVO as a separate business in 2018 and we are now working with organisations across Europe, the US and S. America. We are at the start of our journey and learning a lot from every client we work with, but whatever the size and stage of the business, transparent goal setting appears to help increase productivity and engagement. We are genuinely only just getting started…
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