MiNODES is the leading European Retail Analytics and Omnichannel Retargeting solution, on a mission to equip brick and mortar retailers for the future of commerce.Our magazine met COO Volker Hollmichel at their offices in Berlin. Hollmichel introduced OKRs to the fast-growing company in 2016.
When was the first time you heard about OKRs, what was your first impression?
The first time I heard about OKRs was in my last management role in a Fintech Startup when I was doing research for a framework to better align strategy and execution between different locations and business units. Initially I was not sure if the model would not only fit for bigger tech companies but also for an early stage venture. However, after talking to various companies working with Objectives and Key Results, I became convinced that the framework can work in any type of organization.
Where and how did you educate yourself and the team before the introduction of OKRs?
I learned more about OKRs when I stepped into my COO role at MiNODES and discovered that a couple of colleagues came across the model in previous jobs as well. Besides ongoing desktop research, I started talking to entrepreneurs and founders, who also introduced the model in their organizations. There are more and more events and online resources, like this magazine, where you can learn about best practices and experiences, also for European teams and their requirements.
What was the primary challenge you wanted to tackle with OKRs, what did you expect for your organization?
The top priority was to create more overall strategic alignment and transparency between the different business units and stakeholders and thereby to leverage the efficiency and focus of the organization. We faced the challenge of different product teams working on independent roadmaps, while our products and services are actually highly integrated. Even in smaller teams of 30-40 people, clear goals and the alignment around them is crucial for us.
How did you approach the introduction of OKRs in your organization, how did you onboard the team and start the initiative?
I learned from my interviews that it’s key to create a buy-in for the OKR case with our two co-founders before I started to approach the rest of the organization. As a second step, I prepared a leadership workshop with all team leads to introduce the model and draw a business case but also to get their feedback and understand any related concern. Based on this input I created a project plan and split up the tasks.
Volker Hollmichel, COO von Minodes
How did you get the buy-in of your managers? Was it difficult to convince the leadership team?
We knew our challenges and that we have very limited resources for any new management tool or process. We also wanted to change our top-down problem solving approach and empower our people to make more informed decisions. I showcased how a couple of startups addressed similar topics with the OKR model. The beauty of OKRs is that they are very simple but powerful. You basically only need an excel sheet to start working with them and take your first steps.
Did you have any other teams or stakeholders, who were particularly sceptical about OKRs? What were their concerns?
One of the concerns in the team was that we do just create more bureaucracy at the cost of flexibility and customer focus. Most colleagues however, could soon be convinced that quite the opposite is the case. Another fear in the team was that we use the OKRs also for compensation relevant performance reviews.
How did you respond to these concerns about the possible impact on compensation?
We split OKRs and performance relevant compensation parts wherever possible, although that is in parts not easy, like in sales. Therefore, we are still in the progress of carefully refining and adapting our incentive systems.
How did you define and measure success during the initial phase with OKRs?
We set up a milestone plan with timeboxes and worked during the set-up phase with the 80/20 model trying to avoid over-engineering at the cost of speed. Secondly, we implemented a lightweight approach for the OKR monitoring that became part of our weekly team meeting routine.
How does a typical OKR cycle in your organization look like?
The MiNODES top management reviews and adapts the company wide OKRs quarterly. Based on that, all teams draft their team and personal OKRs. We have weekly checkups to monitor the progress and at the end of each quarter we evaluate the success of all OKRs on a personal, team, and company level.
How are new people in your team being introduced to OKRs?
We created a OKRs @ MiNODES handbook that every new hire receives as part of his or her onboarding process. It’s a handy guide, explaining all the basics of the framework, but also guidelines and tips that we developed internally.
Do you work in all teams with personal OKRs? If so, do the OKRs rather focus on personal development or on the contribution to operational goals?
Yes, we started rolling out individual OKRs with a focus on personal development. By doing this, we also fostered more trust and buy-in for those, who were more sceptic about the new methodology. The goal is to shift to a mix of personal and operational goals within the next six months.
Did you establish any guidelines or tips regarding the goal setting scope?
The goals should stimulate innovative thinking and challenge the status quo. They should link strategy with results, boost engagement and enable to crowdsource the team’s knowledge. With regards to results we work with the SMART model (Specific Measurable Actionable Relevant Timebound).
How do you coach employees to come up with high quality Objectives and Key Results?
The most useful thing I was ever told about writing effective OKRs is that the “key results must describe outcomes, not activities. If your key results include words like “analyze”, “help”, or “participate”, they’re describing activities. Instead, describe the end user impact of these activities.
How do you make sure that ambitious goal setting is not influenced by concerns about failure or incentives?
As mentioned before, one prerequisite is to somehow split OKRs and performance-based compensation parts, so that people feel comfortable to be more critical and ambitious with regards to goal setting.
What role do OKRs play in your day-to-day communications and meetings?
We always ask, how a topic contributes to one of our OKRs and make this conversation part of our weekly meetings.
What is the most important advice you would give to an organization that is just starting to work with OKRs?
1. Be clear about the challenges you want to solve with OKRs.
2. Create a buy-in on the leadership level.
3. Set up a project with clear milestones and responsibilities
4. Use the 80/20 rule and get going.It is a process and especially larger organizations need a few cycles to make goal setting with OKRs a habit and part of the daily routine. That being said, it’s clearly worth it!
Overall, what was your best experience after the introduction of OKRs? Do you have any positive stories to share?
The introduction of OKRs did not only help us to align on ambitious goals, they also serve each team lead now to achieve more meaningful and tailored personal feedback and development talks. In this way, OKRs empower our people to develop into better coaches and drive the growth and learning of all team members.