Driving Epic Growth at Microsoft

Andrew Kisslo, Chief of Staff at Microsoft Azure Marketing, shares how OKRs have transformed their business.

Deidre Paknad, WorkBoard CEO: Andrew, welcome and thank you for joining us! Let’s start with what drew you to OKRs and WorkBoard.

Andrew Kisslo, Chief of Staff at Microsoft Azure Marketing: One of the reasons why we pursued OKRs was because the cloud business at Microsoft Azure is measured in billions — and it's growing 76% year on year — and they don't teach you in business school how to operationally support that kind of business. So OKRs help us to drive alignment and transparency in a very agile way.

Previously we were in a waterfall cascade mindset, typically with yearly reviews of the priorities. But you need 30, 60, 90 day sprints in order to keep up in this business. So OKRs became a much more agile scrum-based way to think about driving strategic priorities for the business.

We elected to launch OKRs across the organization all at once rather than using a phased approach, either starting with the executives in a secret process and then going down, or the inverse: a skunk works project from individual contributors who are fighting for relevance upwards. So we launched all at once by design to bring everybody along in the journey.

OKRs help us to drive alignment and transparency in a very agile way.

What impact and change have you seen in the organization because of adopting OKRs, and what shifted?

Andrew: The number one thing I've seen is teams becoming aware of what their sister teams are doing. Executives have a great view from a top-down perspective. But OKRs have driven a massive amount of transparency between teams that are actually striving towards the same goals — people are actually saying to each other, "Oh, I didn't know you were driving that. I thought I was driving that." Being able to rally all of our resources into one common direction has been great.

With WorkBoard, we can just bring up the tool in a browser. Everyone's looking at the same data up and down, left to right. And the timeliness of the data means we're all on the same page. It's always fresh. It's always relevant. And we know where we are at any given moment.

Our business reviews in the past were four hour meetings, and the work required to prep for those meetings involved three weeks of building a deck of 40, 50, 60 slides. And because we were assembling all of this content over a three week period, we found that every slide had data with different time periods, so the freshness of the data that you were looking at was always different. And the calories required across the org to pull this together was massive.

We are all on the same page with the same data. The alignment and transparency have been great benefits.

One thing that has come out of the shift to OKRs has been the concept of "embrace the red." We've really tried to get out of a mindset of "here's the activity I'm driving for," which is what people can feel in the initial stages of doing OKRs. We've tried to shift more towards an empowerment mindset. What if you're able to say, "I'm red because I know the blockers that I'm facing," and you can actually have executives work on your behalf. You can raise your hand and say, "I need help in this area in order to get to green." That's where you get massive alignment across a leadership team — they can say, "If this is still important, I need your collective help to unblock me to get out of the red." That alignment, that transparency has been one of the greatest benefits.

We aspire to get to a place where OKRs are almost ambient, where they're living all the time and they're part of every conversation.

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