WorkBoard at Accenture
CEO, Future State (part of Accenture)
Business Process Owner:
Accenture is both a WorkBoard Customer and Partner
Threat Intelligence Department-Wide, OKR Coach Certification, and Results Management Leader Certification
Strategic alignment across a globally distributed workforce, adoption of Digital Operating Rhythm, streamlined MBRs and meetings.
Cyber threat is a major focus for enterprises and government leaders as we transition out of the pandemic. Tell us about your role in Cyber Threat Intelligence Operations at Accenture?
Rich Barger, Global Director, Cyber Threat Intelligence Ops & Product Strategy at Accenture: We're a global multi-disciplinary team of cyber threat intel professionals. So we enable modern enterprises to reduce their business risks and we provide early warning and timely delivery of various actionable insights, and we do this through integrated data and analytic services.
What I tell my mom is that we use computers to catch hackers, and then we warn our clients so that they can protect their computers and not usually collect. So I imagine one day that there will be some sociologists that come together and study the discipline of cyber threat intelligence, both the collections and the analysis, again, that multi-disciplinary mix of specializations and tradecraft, and sometimes artistry. All of this comes together within various teams, which will maintain their own lexicons, they have their own tools, they have their own processes, and indeed they have their own cultures. So we're a specialization or a sub-discipline within information security, where we're proactively looking for individuals and groups, all with the capabilities and intent to do great harm with ones and zeros.
How do you approach cross-functional alignment within a global, distributed environment?
When we step back and you kind of look at the world of cyber, every narrative or issue that you see playing out in a new cycle is just the tip of the iceberg because, under the waterline, there's a hidden cyber component that's attempting to influence or surveil it. And this is largely the world of culture that we come from. To further frame this notion of why we need to unite these cultures further, we have this cross-pollination of public and private sector experiences and backgrounds. All of which have their own unique leadership styles, resource management styles, and they'll influence team constructs and execution in different ways.
Some of our teams have existed for 10 and 20 years within software companies. It was their longevity, it was their operational experience, that made them acquisition targets in the first place. And so we have this blended family of cultures who are great at doing their own things in their own ways, but they're now being fused together inside a global services integrator, which maintains its own unique culture. Now when we start to add global market units and geography into the pot, we throw in a dash of increased partner integrations, interlock with other global joint functioning teams, such as our incident response, and manage security and crisis response, we have this culture calculus that increases in complexity.
We needed to almost establish a point of neutrality, a switch-man of sorts, that could bring leaders and individual contributors across teams to interpret the strategy, localize it, focus their conversations through their planning and negotiation, and then move into execution.
Why is now the right time to focus on accelerating Strategy Execution in a large enterprise like Accenture?
Coming into a large organization like Accenture, you go on your listening tour, you connect with your customers and your partners, and you start asking your questions. You're really trying to seek to understand what that foundation looks like. And once you get a feel for what's working and where opportunities for improvement might be, I start thinking, "Where can we get tighter alignment? How can we get more joint functional alignment for greater leverage? And really start to minimize organizational fragmentation and enable these teams to modernize and decision at a local level.” I’m really looking to ensure that we have commensurate energies being applied between both individual contributors and leadership.
I fell in love with the idea and promise of the OKR. But the implementation at the time was without a plan. The execution was really the object of PTSD for me and inside jokes for others. I didn’t want to be a disconnected, out-of-touch leader, I needed to buy insurance. My requirement is that I had to find coaching, in and alongside a platform, where those two could go hand in hand. And I knew that I needed a partner, and I needed that partner to help me marinate the idea and the notion. The organization had to understand deep in their hearts and minds what that outcome mindset was. And it had to have the staying power, beyond the team, and allow us to kind of take that torch and light a fire to some of our peripheral teams where we needed to find greater alignment.
We needed to almost establish a point of neutrality, a switch-man of sorts, that could bring leaders and individual contributors across teams to interpret the strategy, localize it, focus their conversations through their planning and negotiation, and then move into execution - that had everybody running in the direction of commonly recognized impactful outcomes, not activities. At the same time, I knew if I was going to establish myself as a credible, caring, empathetic leader with a soul, I was not going to subject my team to tracking all of this in Smartsheets and Excel, like I once had to. It was a very painful and wounding experience. We needed a digital platform. We needed something that was purpose-built for this use case that allowed us to enter into the digital operating rhythm.
I just continue to be fascinated by the WorkBoard and Accenture team. They've been very, very effective in helping us deliver both sides of the coin: the OKR mindset, as well as being supported by a technology that's reinforcing and integrating the outcome mindset that individual contributors, our teams, and our broader organization can point to in our various gatherings to discuss.
Like all pioneers, your journey needs to be journaled. So it’s essential to have an integrated digital platform that's going to ensure the survivability of this progress within a modern enterprise.
Accenture has evolved to become both a WorkBoard Partner and now a WorkBoard customer. Tell us about your introduction to the WorkBoard Strategy Execution Platform after Future State was acquired by Accenture in 2021.
So this transformation story starts like many. I Googled OKR solutions, and I came across WorkBoard. I requested the demo and was very impressed and compelled by what I saw. But on my second call with WorkBoard, my situation significantly improved because I was handed a big gift. I learned that Accenture was already in partnership with WorkBoard and had developed an offering. So not only could I lean into all the thought leadership resources that WorkBoard had offered, but I also got to align with a fellow Accenture colleague who was already championing the outcome mindset, helping others adopt these digital operating rhythms. And so Accenture Cyber Threat Intelligence would become one of the first teams within Accenture to implement WorkBoard and the digital operating rhythm, which was pretty inspiring. And what I see is to be the differentiator in the market.
I became a WorkBoard-certified OKR coach and enrolled in the WorkBoard Results Management Leadership Program. And we built a cadre of OKR coaches. And we've begun to plan and launch in and alongside the WorkBoard Accenture team.
The Accenture-WorkBoard pairing was exactly what I needed to tell this story to influence the organization to invest in driving transformation and modernization. Now, I knew where I wanted to go, I just didn't know where to put my feet. And I especially didn't know how to navigate at this scale. So Kathy, Matt, Elizabeth, and everyone from the WorkBoard-Accenture team, was able to help me lace up my boots so I could explain the why of the OKR, not only to my teams, but to leadership or to partners. They helped me read a map so that we could see and set what the operating rhythms would look like to ensure that the OKRs that we talked about permeated the org at every turn.
Like all pioneers, your journey needs to be journaled. So it’s essential to have an integrated digital platform that's going to ensure the survivability of this progress within a modern enterprise. At the end of the day, my confidence in my guides is what gave me confidence. They were the comfort in the discomfort, they were the familiar in the unfamiliar. And so there was just a lot of trust that was given, and they have been excellent stewards of that trust.
Our reactive activities are now being replaced with aligned and collaborative outcomes.
Accenture has over 700,000 employees across the globe. How do you promote collaboration in a distributed environment with such a large, cross-functional workforce?
Much like that of a first responder, operational security teams can get quite cynical and desensitized. They start moving from crisis to crisis. When you start doing this over the course of five, 10, 15 years, this takes a toll. Our reactive activities are now being replaced with aligned and collaborative outcomes. The organizational chiropractic session is underway. And we are applying different pressures at different points throughout the week to ensure we're forcing those right pressures and applying them to those right areas of focus. We're improving because we have strategic anchors that we can point to as a collective, we can speak a common language around them, and we're generally aligned in becoming more collaborative.
Coming into the organization, I found silos and disconnected teams and team members. Now we're seeing teams integrating - they’re working together with joint working groups. Team members are taking on new challenges, they're leading initiatives. They're collaborating with production across geographies. So as we're writing reports, we're getting various perspectives from other locales. We're actually leveraging physics. We're looking at how the globe spins around a star to drive greater impacts. So when the next vulnerability hits the news cycle, our European team who's now trained, they're funded, they're aligned, they can have a body of work waiting with a handful of hours put towards it, to hand off to team members who are in North America as to when they come online.
Now we have a single, purpose-built Strategy Execution Platform that lets everyone communicate about the work that is or is not getting done in one place.
And with this new alignment, what are the business results you’ve achieved across your distributed teams?
Before, we had multiple systems and artifacts, namely PowerPoint and Confluence. Highly leveraged Slack and Teams to carry various types of conversations. But now we have a single purpose-built strategy execution platform that lets everyone communicate about the work that is or is not getting done in one place.
The results that I'm seeing - were 45, 50 days left in the quarter. And we have about 40-60% complete on some of our declared Objectives, which tells me, we might be able to be a little bit more aspirational in certain areas in future quarters. But we're starting to get that 360 visibility, that transparency, for all of us to see and for our stakeholders to engage in around one another. And we can do this really at any time. The days of that tired argument of, "I don't know what I'm doing or why I'm doing it," should be gone. It should be very, very clear to the organization and available for new joiners as well.
One of the main points of feedback I got early on, was we had team members who didn't understand how their work mattered, or they would spend hours and hours on soul-sucking administrative work that was the weekly status report, which is now a two or three-button click export and email function. And so we're seeing the delta between our conversation and action shrinking because we have active discussions throughout the week just happening normally, that allow us to get ahead of any risks or unforeseen show-stoppers. And when they occur, we can be much more in front of it than we were before.
This digital operating rhythm is manifesting in greater alignment across our teams. Everyone has visibility, transparency, and there's accountability to what we've committed to doing.
Tell us about your journey transitioning from a manual, analog operating rhythm to a Digital Operating Rhythm.
Our digital operating rhythms are examples of where we're intentionally placing the conversation around our priorities in our path. So we have to regularly walk and talk through them so that we don't forget or lose sight of them. This digital operating rhythm is manifesting in greater alignment across our teams. Everyone has visibility, transparency, and there's accountability to what we've committed to doing. And as the organization is subjected to any of those unforeseen forces that we talked about across our vast client base that again, has many competing priorities. We're now able to have various conversations, and as part of those conversations, we have that artifact to point to as that North Star.
I have a digital operating rhythm with the WorkBoard Accenture team. So, weekly as we meet as a team, we're engaging with the coaches, we're taking in feedback, we're iterating. Other examples would be our weekly leadership meeting with my leadership team. We're able to present and discuss our OKRs, we're able to see where folks need support, action, or attention and we can get really laser-focused on the items that do need that attention. Again, we're continuing to reinforce the notion of headlights and taillights. Getting ahead of risks, creating diagnostics when we don't have visibility or certain levels of confidence or accuracy.
We’ve talked about the value of bringing OKRs into Monthly Business Reviews, Staff Meetings, and Weekly 1:1s. Tell us about how you prepare for and structure meetings within your department and ensure your team members are focused on the right outcomes.
In terms of the one-on-ones, I've always had a bit of a pet peeve of meetings without agendas. I think that's cruel and unusual. But the functionality within the platform, we can include agendas, but we can also take action items that roll right into workstreams that get us to capture action items and assign them to folks versus waiting to the end of the day, looking through your notebook, just to send out your follow up emails. Everything is there for historic reference. And for me, one thing I love is displacing that cognitive load because it's one thing less that I have to remember. I talked a little bit about the weekly status reporting and alluded to that earlier. Again, we had distributed a series of emails rolling from individuals up to managers, senior managers, and directors, and they're boiling down those insights, which is really watering down any detail that one would need to make a decision with any meaning or accuracy. So my negotiation with the team was like, "Listen, help me adopt WorkBoard and you don't have to do this again, and just interact within the platform. And this will be your weekly status report.”
It really is that permission to say no to the business, and if the business wants to renegotiate priorities in a quarter, that discussion could occur in a mindful and purposeful way.
Accenture is particularly good at building Systematic Learning into all processes and quarterly planning. What has your team tested and learned since committing to a Digital Operating Rhythm?
Really, what we're learning to do here is to focus. Our focus is the client. Our focus is saying no to encroachment that would allow us to protect our clients' equities and our desired outcomes. So, we're setting pragmatic objectives, we're giving team members new paradigms, new opportunities that I would've loved to have when I was just starting my career.
We were very, very far from this, and I'm quite jealous of others and their ability to jump into the journey where they are. Ultimately, what's unfolding here is broad enablement, permission to focus, allowing the business to get to decisions and outcomes in a much more rapid manner, where we're able to be more proactive than reactive, building feedback loops along the way to mitigate risks. It really is that permission to say no to the business, and if the business wants to renegotiate priorities in a quarter, that discussion could occur in a mindful and purposeful way, and without this, we can protect from that corporates' quarrel.
The global economy, political dynamics, and the cyber landscape are all changing fast – how are you using your learnings today to respond to dynamic markets and regulations tomorrow?
In the lead-up to the invasion [in Ukraine], we had been watching in open sources as well as running our own collections for various cyber events. We are partnering with our managed security teams, as well as our incident response and crisis response teams. So the ramp-up was occurring in parallel to our OKR planning and title sessions, and our global threat team had identified the work that they desire to do, but this war-time footing had shifted them to daily threat briefings, night and weekend work, increased demand for subject-matter expertise and briefings for our clients. It was like a Denial of Service attack, where folks were just coming to us saying, "Hey, come talk to our client. Come talk to our client. Give us a briefing." It was quite an ordeal.
This team was able to really roll with the punches. We were able to deliver multiple versions of an unfolding situation report that it's outlined various cyber events and our assessment of it. This team was able to navigate the unforeseen and capitalize on opportunities to deliver value to our clients, at a point in time when our clients needed decision support, the OKR sheltered our strategic plans within the storm, and this has allowed the team the ability to flex and shift, giving them the experience to apply that organizational agility that we looked at earlier.
The lessons learned in how we aligned, in terms of an organization, around crisis response, bringing expertise to our clients, are now stronger, and it will be the impetus behind positioning the OKR around our global crisis response, in order to drive these higher-order functional alignments, when these source of major world-changing events occur in the future.