WorkBoard at GHX
CFO and CRO
Business Process Owner:
Leader of Global Strategy Execution
Enterprise wide platform and expert coaching services
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We sat down with Ryan Padilla, Leader of Global Strategy at GHX, to talk about how he’s using OKRs to keep distributed teams around the world aligned. Ryan talks about how OKRs have helped focus time and effort more efficiently and united teams in every location around a shared language for accountability at GHX.
WorkBoard: Ryan, tell us about your role.
Ryan Padilla, Leader of Global Strategy at GHX: My role came about because we needed to improve our efforts with planning global, cross-functional alignment across the organization. And we felt that the OKR methodology was a great way for us to drive some impact and improvement in the organization.
Once we define our strategic priorities, my role steps in to think through how we operationalize and execute to deliver on the priorities that we’ve defined in the organization. So, I work cross-functionally with many business leaders and teams across the org to make sure that we’re defining the right outcomes and delivering those results in the business.
Describe the GHX program and how you’ve organized it.
We like to describe it as a two-year journey. 2019, our first year, was foundational. We got a lot of the critical building blocks in place with launching the methodology. And we had a lot of coaching and training in the organization around what OKRs are, and what they’re not — and how to build the right kind of OKRs to have measurable key results that are outcome-based. We had a lot of success in getting the organization to understand why this could be impactful and how it was going to drive clarity and structure in the organization.
There’s now a greater focus on advancing and maturing the process across the organization. So, in tandem with launching this, we adopted WorkBoard and have been excited about the way it brings this whole process to life in the organization.
We’re talking about outcomes, and they’re quantified. We’re diagnosing dependencies, and we’re having tradeoff discussions. We’re challenging each other. This process forces structure, clarity, and prioritization.
What impact have you seen in the organization because of adopting OKRs, and what shifted?
We were probably typical of a lot of organizations. We have a lot of different functions — close to 20 core functions in the business — and had a lot of siloed, functional planning in place.
OKRs have given us a foundation and a language to be intentional about alignment and full transparency. This process has given us structure and dedicated time and effort every quarter. We’re on a quarterly cadence with our OKR process, and we go top to bottom across the organization. So, it starts with our executive team.
As we’re planning through 2020, the executive team is getting together and talking through critical priorities and outcomes. Those will be translated — management layer by management layer — very intentionally and strategically down the organization to ensure that the teams at the very end of the process and the frontline have clarity and localization of the outcomes that each team is responsible for delivering. I think we’ve made significant progress.
You’ve had a few breakthroughs on accountability as well in terms of reducing the effort in improving transparency. Can you describe your operations review and some of the improvements that have taken place with that?
We realized there are a lot of inefficiencies. Again, probably not the only organization that would have that realization, but with this process, we made a focused effort to address it. Something that we’ve all realized is that, while we think we can manufacture more time, it’s just not the reality. There are so many things that we need to focus on, but like every organization, we’ve got finite resources and finite capital. The companies that are aligning those in the most effective ways are the companies that win.
That’s a mentality shift for us that we’ve tried to bleed into the organization — particularly at the leadership level — with a change in our management philosophy. For instance, we used to have a monthly operating review, which required roughly 60 stakeholders to attend a big, monthly meeting with a lot of status updating and readouts. People would define key initiative progress with stoplight status, red, yellow, green — all totally subjective.
We realized we were already defining key results with the OKR process and didn’t need to be redundant with that meeting and its structure. WorkBoard gives us a great feature set with their business review, a part of the platform that enables us to hone in on areas of risk with key results. And so, we’ve completely transformed what was a massively expensive meeting across multiple layers of leadership in the organization into an hour-long meeting we now call our monthly business review, or MBR.
When I think about the past year and our OKR process and WorkBoard, the impact has, first and foremost, been engagement. It’s provided clarity on what we’re working on, why it matters, and how people are contributing. There have been a lot of areas where we’ve seen an acceleration and execution in our understanding of why we’re working on things — and where we’ve got gaps and opportunities for improvement.
What’s your favorite feature of WorkBoard?
The business review component. It’s great because it allows you to customize in a lot of different ways. You can keep it team-specific with current objectives and key results. And you can create different trays that allow you to bring in or query any other teams’ key results.
So, we’ve adopted this and used it in a lot of our weekly leadership meetings, managers have their own customized RBRs, and it allows them to keep their focus on their specific quarterly OKRs. But then they can also pull in other things of interest to them where they need to be informed. Maybe they don’t influence it, but they need to be informed so they can help mobilize or problem solve.
We also love the hotbox, which highlights the key results that need attention. They’re in the hotbox because they’re in the red. So, we’re being very intentional about driving focused attention on the things where we need to drive progress.
There’s a really effective feature set within WorkBoard, and it’s been fun to see it picked up and customized team by team and leadership team by leadership team.
WorkBoard gives us a great feature set with their business review, a part of the platform that enables us to hone in on areas of risk with key results. It’s been fun to see it picked up and customized team by team and leadership team by leadership team.
You use OKRs to manage OKRs and the platform yourself day to day to be the change you want to see. Tell us a bit about that and how it helps you personally.
In essence, it keeps me accountable for driving the right results. In my role, we joke that I’m the CEO of OKRs at GHX. And obviously, I’m accountable, and I’ve got to be leading by example. We derive OKRs for my team to provide governance, not only about the rollout of our OKR process within the organization, but also the things we need to make sure that we’re executing on.
We define OKRs to govern processes, whether that’s reducing the cycle time with our retro reset process, launching our communication plan, or working on enhancing training and building communities of practice in the organization with OKR coaches and super users.
With other things that are within my scope of responsibility, I’m just like any other team in the organization, and I go through the same process that everybody else does. I sit in a retro reset with my leader, who happens to be the CFO. Together, we determine the key results I’m accountable for delivering to him and the organization. It’s been highly effective to embed this as part of the way that I do work. And it allows me to lead by example to show the commitment that we’ve got behind this process.
In terms of one-on-ones, it’s hugely impactful, again, because of the accountability. So, when my CFO and I meet and have our one-on-ones, and we’re pretty religious about a weekly touchpoint, it’s a quick and easy way for us to use the time effectively. We typically meet for 30 minutes or an hour, and we both recognize we’ve got to be intentional with the time — we’re both busy people — and this allows us to cut to the chase.
It’s been powerful because we’re putting the appropriate preparation time into making sure we’re using the time in the most valuable way when we meet.
What have been the key ingredients for organization-wide success and the global rollout?
There are a hundred teams, so we’ve had to be very thoughtful and intentional about building the coaching capability in the organization. We almost have too many people raising their hands because they see that it’s a great professional skillset, so we’re intentional about rotating coaches across different functions and teams in the organization.
It’s very easy, whether you’re in a commercial, development, or marketing role, to only live the purview of where you sit in your organization. And so, this has given our coaches a way to get exposure to various different functions, meet new people, and create their own connections about some of the work that we’re doing.
It’s been a constructive way for us to scale this. And frankly, this process wouldn’t happen without their support. So, it certainly has been a necessity, but we’ve been thrilled with the engagement. And related to that, we’ve tried to be intentional about ensuring that different levels in the organization are part of our coaching community — not just people that are individual contributors or managers. We’ve got senior leaders involved, middle management, people that are on the frontline again, so it’s representative of all the different pockets of the organization.
There’s a lot to celebrate when alignment and accountability become an organizational superpower, right?
We’re talking about outcomes, and they’re quantified. We’re diagnosing dependencies, and we’re having tradeoff discussions. We’re challenging each other. We’ve got a package that we can now deliver to the organization and say, “This is hard, but this is where we’re placing our bets in 2020. And this is how we’re using those to place bets to set the stage for three- and five-year growth. Here’s why.”
And now we’ve got a place to say, “Here’s what’s in.” And equally as important, that also means we’ve got a list of what is out.
And that is almost more important for the organization to hear because I think we’re like a lot of organizations — we want to do it all. And we chase a lot of new things, and there’s a lot of distractions. This process forces structure, clarity, and prioritization. It’s not to say that things don’t come in mid-quarter or there’s no new work — there’s a lot of that. But this gives us a framework to say, “Timeout. We spent a lot of time and effort defining that this is what mattered. If something new comes in, something has to come off the plate.” We can’t just add more and add more. That’s not how this process works.
And that was a real evolution, wasn’t it? To go from, “I want everything” to focusing only on a few things and saying, “It’s okay not to do something.”
You always have to make imperfect decisions with limited information. That’s just a fact. And now that we’re defining outcomes and we’re doing it for a bigger list of things, it’s giving us a common framework to make more informed data-driven evaluation and decisions on what should and shouldn’t be in.
And that’s been hard because, even though we want to do all the right things, we haven’t always gotten to 100% complete on them. And I don’t think that’s inherent just to us.
Now that we’re defining outcomes and we’re doing it for a bigger list of things, it’s giving us a common framework to make more informed data-driven evaluation and decisions on what should and shouldn’t be in WorkBoard.
Are there any anecdotal stories of teams where you’ve experienced Aha! Moments in an OKR retro reset?
One great anecdote comes from a group in Atlanta. This group is in our customer support organization, and these were frontline teams of individual contributors. And we had their first retro reset. And in some ways, it was probably a little bit like a therapy session, but in a positive way. I don’t know what my expectation was going into the OKR session, but I remember just smiling throughout the entire session because this was a team that felt like they had a voice, which is the beauty of this process. Their leader was there, but I was there to facilitate, not issue a top-down mandate.
It was such a powerful regulatory experience for all of them to feel like somebody was listening to them and hear, “We’ve got great ideas. Let’s get all these out, and then let’s figure them out through the prioritization exercise.” And I was able to see them realize, “Hey, we get it. We can’t do all of this in a quarter. Let’s parking lot some of these, but we’re all aligned — this team is unified.” And, “Wow, if we could drive down the amount of call volume that came in because we’re delivering better customer service, or we’re more equipped to deliver the right answers and have first contact resolution — that has a massive impact for the organization and for our team. And it gives us opportunities to do things.”
So, it was a great example of the localization part of this process, which to me, is the marriage of the top-down and the bottom-up. People had a voice — they felt like, “Hey, there’s somebody here that’s willing to listen, and I can be a contributor to this process.”
That was a perfect example of, “Hey, we all dove in. We trusted each other. We came out of it in a really positive place. And there was clarity.” And I think that energy percolated throughout the office. To this day, the Atlanta team has run with a lot of the functionality in WorkBoard. We set them up for success, and they have just gone off to the races and use it to govern a lot of personal work. They use it to govern the management of teams’ critical outcomes. They link them to key results. So, it’s been fun to see just their whole engagement with OKRs and with WorkBoard.