How strategy leaders can achieve their moonshot goals

Summary

Welcome to the inaugural episode of The Peoplebox Show, where we uncover the secrets behind the OKR success of top businesses around the world. In this episode, we have Austin Strong, the Director of Corporate Strategy at Weave, an all-in-one communication platform.

Weave made history by being the first Utah-based company to go through the prestigious startup funding boot camp, Y Combinator, in 2014. Since then, Weave has continued to make remarkable strides in the tech industry. It became a Unicorn in 2019 and went public in 2021, demonstrating its impressive growth and stability.

With a background ranging from managing Deloitte Consulting’s Strategy & Operations practice to leading product compliance testing and lean manufacturing operations, Austin is a seasoned leader and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the table.

Tune in to this insight-packed session to hear Austin talk about:

  • The strategies for crafting and accomplishing moonshot goals during uncertain times
  • How to achieve optimal alignment within teams and between different departments in large organizations
  • Strong’s personal experience with OKRs and key takeaways for others to learn from
  • Proven tips, tricks, and best practices to set and effectively manage OKRs

Below are some excerpts from the session hosted by our CEO & Co-Founder, Abhinav Chugh. You can also watch the full podcast below.

Complete Transcript

Abhinav Chugh: Despite the current economic downturn, most leaders still want to achieve moonshot goals— but now have fewer resources. Does it mean companies need to calibrate their strategy and tone down their goals?

Austin Strong: I don’t believe in reducing moonshot goals during economic turbulence. The challenge is not in the goal itself but in the approach or path to reaching it. For example, consider a company with a target of 30% yearly revenue growth. Rather than relying on conventional sales and marketing methods, the company could launch a product-led growth strategy with self-sign-up and self-onboarding that is more cost-effective and requires lesser resources. This shift in approach doesn’t alter the ultimate goal but rather the path toward it.

However, in some cases, revising the annual operating plan and financial model may be necessary, resulting in the tapering down of goals. But you should only do this after exploring all other viable alternatives.

Abhinav Chugh: Your organization went public last year. Has that changed your approach to strategy execution in any way?

Austin Strong: Definitely! Going public brings a higher level of scrutiny to a company’s operations. Instead of being accountable to just the board, and employees, the company now faces examination from analysts, investors, and public shareholders who want to know how resources and time are being managed.

So really, what it did for our strategy was that it forced us to sharpen our pencils. And it has necessitated a more mature and sophisticated approach to managing our OKRs, long-term plans, and metrics, as we are now accountable for these during every quarter’s investor call and the board calls leading up to it.

Abhinav Chugh: As a large organization, how do you foster alignment among teams and individuals to enable quick execution akin to that of a small startup?

Austin Strong: When it comes to effective strategy execution in a large company, there are a few key things to keep in mind. First and foremost, having a dedicated team or person in charge of the strategy and metrics is essential. You need to designate a single person to be in charge of the strategy and the metrics associated with it to avoid ending up in a situation where no one owns it.

Next, it’s crucial to have a written plan that everyone at the company can refer to. This allows everyone to be on the same page and understand the company’s goals and objectives. Additionally, having a written plan encourages debate and discussion, which can lead to a more robust and well-thought-out strategy. It helps in democratizing strategy, implementation, and execution. You’ll be amazed at how many companies don’t actually have a strategy plan written down.

If you think of a company like a military unit, the CEO is like the general who has a big plan for the company. Still, the success of that plan depends on each department (like the regiments or divisions in the military) understanding and working towards the overall strategy. This way, each department can act independently, making decisions and coming up with creative solutions that align with the company’s goals. This leads to faster execution, improved decision-making, and increased creativity while ensuring no department goes off track and does something that goes against the company’s strategy.

Another important aspect of strategy execution is having a centralized tool to track all the information. With a strategy plan involving multiple initiatives, metrics, and KPIs, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Having a tool like Peoplebox helps to manage this information in a digestible way.

Finally, constant communication is crucial for effective strategy execution. This means having regular meetings, newsletter updates, and other forms of communication to ensure that everyone is up-to-date and aligned on the strategy.

Abhinav Chugh: That brings us to the main question— When did you start implementing OKRs, and how has your journey been?

Austin Strong: We started using OKRs last August while developing our plan for 2023. It’s important to understand that setting up the right OKRs takes a lot of thought and effort, and it’s not something you can just throw up on the wall.

I’ve been with the company for 18 months, and at that time, the OKRs were in a primitive form. But now that we’re public, we need to clearly define what a successful 2023 looks like for us. So we went through a thorough process of defining our objectives, the key performance indicators that support those goals, and the key initiatives that will help us achieve them.

One of the challenges with OKRs is that you need someone to own them; in our case, that responsibility was given to my team and me. Another common mistake is starting too big. People often don’t want to make trade-offs and want to do everything at once, but that’s just not possible.

If you don’t prioritize your OKRs and say no to some ideas or objectives, your OKRs will become too sprawling and complex, leading to exhaustion and abandonment. However, if you focus on just two or three key objectives, you’ll have a better chance of success. 

Refusing to make trade-offs and having too many OKRs can quickly lead to burnout and the feeling that OKRs don’t work when it’s just a failure to embrace the reality of trade-offs.

Abhinav Chugh: How closely do you associate company strategy with individual performance and engagement, and what is your opinion on how it should be linked?

Austin Strong: Yeah, this is something that we’re trying to get better here at Weave— having a solid written strategy plan is key. When everyone agrees on the plan, and it’s clear how your team fits into one of the focus areas, each department and team within that department can create a plan for how they’ll contribute to the company’s goals. You can even break this down to the individual level. If you do it right, it should be a significant factor in their year-end performance review. We’ll be looking at what they did to contribute to the company, which will play a big role in determining things like promotions, coaching, and more.

Abhinav Chugh: How do you strive to build cross-functional visibility and transparency throughout the process? Is access to the company’s OKRs open to all employees, including interns and early hires, or is it only available to specific teams?

Austin Strong: At Weave, we have a strategy plan that includes sensitive information we don’t want to be publicized. We don’t want our competitors to know our exact goals or how we plan to achieve them. That’s why we’ve created a balance between having a detailed strategy plan that only a few key people can access and a simplified version called “strategy on a page” that we give to every employee. 

The simplified version still points everyone in the right direction but reveals less sensitive information. This way, everyone understands what we’re trying to do, but the leadership team has the full details. That’s how we balance keeping sensitive information secure and ensuring everyone is on the same page.

Abhinav Chugh: In your experience, who is the most suitable person or team to manage OKRs in a medium to a large company?

Austin Strong: That’s a great question you’ve got there. When it comes to OKRs, it really depends on the size of the company. For smaller companies, the CEO and the chief of staff often take charge. But as the company grows, they’ll need to delegate the responsibility to others.

In a medium to a large company, I’d recommend that the chief operating officer and their business ops or corporate strategy team own the OKRs. The COO and their team are broad across the entire organization and have a holistic view of the company, which makes them the ideal group to manage the OKRs. However, the ultimate accountability for the objectives and key results must fall on the CEO or the COO. When you delegate the responsibility to other functions, it tends to become too departmentalized.

Abhinav Chugh: How do you increase team productivity when resources are limited, like having less budget and fewer people available? As an experienced consultant and executive, what strategies have been successful for you in this situation?

Austin Strong: I’ve found that two things really work: simplification and communication. First, simplifying goals and focusing on one or two things at a time can help with execution. Secondly, communication is critical, especially in larger organizations. We have regular vital signs meetings to discuss strategy and progress toward our objectives. This helps keep everyone on the same page and ensures that strategy is not just a yearly or quarterly conversation but a weekly and monthly one as well.

Abhinav Chugh: How do you make sure that you stay focused on OKRs? Are OKRs talked about in every meeting or just some of them?

Austin Strong: The OKRs are the main focus of these meetings. For example, the Vital Signs meeting is all about tracking the key metrics, the project meetings are about the progress on the initiatives tied to the OKRs, and the monthly progress meeting is specifically to check in on how the OKRs are coming along.

And during our Quarterly Business Reviews, it’s like a check-in on our OKRs’ progress for the quarter. So the OKRs are not an afterthought or something pushed to the side, they are the center of attention in these meetings. And any other discussions or updates are taken care of outside of the meeting.

Abhinav Chugh: Have you also experienced a shift in accountability as companies grow, where people become more responsible for initiatives and tasks rather than metrics and outcomes?

Austin Strong: In small companies, it’s easy to hold everyone accountable to a single number, but as a company grows, it becomes more challenging.

At our company, with about 800 employees, we’ve found that it’s not always possible to hold everyone accountable to a single number. Instead, we focus on measuring the overall output of a team and then trust the team leaders to determine how to measure the accountability of their individual team members. It’s like empowering the division leaders to rate the soldiers instead of the general. If the departments know what they need to achieve, they can manage at a tactical level and measure the performance of their individual components.

Abhinav Chugh: What is your number one piece of advice that you want to give to other strategy leaders to ensure a very tight strategy execution in 2023?

Austin Strong: So, my advice for ensuring the successful implementation of your strategy is what I call “pre-wiring.” Essentially, it’s about ensuring that all the key players in your company are on board before you present your plan to the CEO. If you just go to the CEO with a plan and haven’t gotten buy-in from everyone else, it won’t be executed, even if it’s a great plan.

So, take the time to meet with all the stakeholders, get their input, and make them feel like they’re a part of the process. This way, when you present the plan to the CEO, you’ve got everyone else in the room nodding their heads because they helped create it. And they’re ready to defend it and make it a reality. It may take longer, but it’s 100% worth it. So instead of trying to dictate from the top down, build up momentum from the bottom up.


That’s a wrap for today!

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