Michael Marcellin, Juniper Networks

MICHAEL MARCELLIN
Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, Juniper Networks

WorkBoard at Juniper Networks

Sponsor:
CEO

Business Process Owner:
Chief of Staff to CEO

WorkBoard Scope:
Enterprise-wide

Key impacts:
Alignment and acceleration

Customer since:
Summer 2019

This is a transcript of our recent podcast with Mike.

We sat down with Michael Marcellin, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at Juniper Networks, to talk about the power of their OKR practice and platform during the sudden move to work from home Spring 2020, what his personal leadership essentials are, and how his team achieves its best possible outcomes.

WorkBoard: Let’s start with a little bit about Juniper and what it’s doing and then what your role is.

Michael Marcellin, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at Juniper Networks: Juniper is a B2B technology company based in Silicon Valley. We provide the underpinnings of the networks that we’re all using nowadays so frequently — from the largest telecom providers to virtually every business that requires connectivity to do what they do.

I’m the chief marketing officer and am responsible for articulating our value to our customers, helping our salespeople be successful, and driving revenue for the company by finding leads and engaging customers.

How long have you been using objectives and key results as an alignment and accountability technique?

We’ve used the OKR methodology formally for about a year within my organization and the company has been using it a little less than that. We were one of the first adopters, but our transition to OKRs was eased because we’ve set measurable objectives for a while and were data-driven in almost everything that we did. The transition has been a journey, but we were already determining what we needed to measure — and therefore do — and how that all related to the company’s business objectives.

Talk to us a little bit about that transition to a quarterly cycle of thinking about outcomes and focusing on them.

That’s one of the things I love about OKRs, because our industry, like most, is moving very quickly. As such, while you certainly need a line of sight on where you’re going in a year, if you’re setting measurable results at the beginning of the year and hoping by September that all of those are still going to be relevant — and you haven’t made some strategic pivots — it’s not going to happen.

The notion of setting aggressive quarterly results, trying to achieve them, and then debriefing and setting the next quarter’s OKRs really helps us get into an agile mindset where we can inspect our activities and the results they’re driving.

I give my team a little more grief for achieving 100% of their KRs than for falling short. I think that goes hand in hand with setting ambitious goals — not penalizing people for hitting 70%, but making sure you’re figuring out how to get better and better over time.

Tell us how you think about establishing what your best possible outcomes are and then being ambitious about what you and the team want to achieve in a given quarter. What is the transition like for people to whom it doesn’t come naturally.

Everyone likes to get an “A+” or “100%” on what they’re doing. So, the idea of setting something that is the best possible can be a little uncomfortable. Going through this as a company helped with that. I embraced the notion of best possible and encouraged people to stretch themselves. So, when people were hitting or exceeding a hundred percent in the first quarter or two, I had to call them out because that sandbagging is, to me, worse than falling short of the best possible and learning along the way.

People need to know you’re serious about the OKR methodology and that they aren’t going to be penalized for not hitting that one hundred percent. I give my team a little more grief for achieving 100% of their KRs than for falling short. I think that goes hand in hand with setting ambitious goals — not penalizing people for hitting 70%, but making sure you’re figuring out how to get better and better over time.

We stretch ourselves. I know when my sandbaggers are setting their targets that I’ll have to ask if their targets are truly the best possible. When they set a target they met the quarter before, that’s clearly not the best possible.

The hardest OKRS are probably the ones related to revenue, because, if there’s anything sacrosanct in the company, it’s achieving your revenue targets. Marketing’s contribution to those targets is the sales pipeline. So, we’ll have a plan for that, and, since we’re aiming for best possible, we’re okay if we fall short — we’ll keep striving to do better.

One of the things I hear from a lot of leaders, particularly leaders at big banking or tech companies, is the importance of a culture of ambition versus a culture of safety. But there’s a shift there, and usually an accompanying history of putting a number out there you can under-promise and over-deliver on. But what it often means is that you end up ultimately under-delivering on your actual potential.

Yes. It’s funny — every company that I’ve ever worked for, including Juniper, encourages risk-taking as part of their culture. But while that’s always written on a nice banner on the wall, it’s often not what’s lived. I think that goes hand in hand with setting ambitious goals and not penalizing people for hitting 70%. Instead, you make sure you’re figuring out how to get better and better over time.

If you’re setting measurable results at the beginning of the year and hoping by September that all of those are still going to be relevant — and you haven’t made some strategic pivots — it’s not going to happen.

There’s a real culture component in practicing OKRs in an authentic way with integrity to the principles of them. And with the transparency of teams making it clear what they’re trying to achieve and how they are doing.

Absolutely. And that’s something that has always been important to me. I’ve been the CMO of Juniper for about five years. When I came in, marketing was not very transparent in the sense that the team had its spend, and most of the rest of the company didn’t exactly know all the things marketing was doing.

Very early on, I pointed out that the only way we’re going to be successful as a function is if we’re clear on what we’re doing, the outcomes we’re expecting, and what we’re actually delivering on. OKRs, as a concept, and certainly the WorkBoard platform, have given us that kind of transparency company-wide.

Hopefully, people aren’t spending too much time looking at other people’s things, but if they want to, they can — especially if they want to make sure they’re aligned. Getting and staying aligned is one of the management panaceas that every company is striving for. OKRs helps us make sure that we strive toward that alignment.

We were at a very cool, high-alignment kickoff together in January. What struck me about it was this notion that this new alignment and accountability were going to be competitive advantages for Juniper. Sure enough, months later, you can observe that happening. Talk a little bit about that event and what that set the company up for this year.

That was our sales kickoff in Las Vegas. Where, in addition to bringing all of our salespeople from around the world together, we also brought the roughly one hundred top leaders from our leadership teams to interact with them and experience the great content, momentum, and excitement of the kickoff.

Because we had all our leaders there, we decided to hold a leadership meeting after the kickoff. We had you all there as well, which made it the official launch of OKRs in that we got people talking about why we’re doing it and also started the process of alignment.

Since then, the company has performed extremely well, even with everything that has happened this year. I have to attribute at least some of that to being very purposeful about getting that alignment. As I said, getting everyone rowing in the same direction is a leadership panacea — and OKRs and WorkBoard have certainly helped us do that. That meeting was a great start to the process.

I will say through all of the phases of the last few quarters, the company has performed extremely well through all the things that were going on, and I attribute some of that to WorkBoard making us be very purposeful about getting that alignment. We started to see the results.

Having that muscle and motion in place in January and February — and flexing it fully under challenging and unpredictable circumstances — led to strong Q2 results and momentum for you and the company, which is very exciting. You had a great OKR quarter.

Yes. We’ve got a few teams that are still learning to stretch themselves, but all in all, I was really pleased with what we were able to actually deliver coming into Q2. So that was coming into April, when COVID was just starting. We were all switching to working from home and didn’t know if this was going to be a month-long or year-long thing. And so, based on what we knew, we took one of our most important KRs, which is how much sales pipeline we drive for the company, and took what we thought it would be coming into the quarter — and then we backed it down pretty significantly because I didn’t want to accept defeat before we had done the work.

But then, we built in a COVID mitigation KR and determined we weren’t just going to assume things are going to be down. We committed to driving like we normally drive and to doing the best we can to mitigate — and, with WorkBoard, we achieved roughly 90% of what we originally thought was our best possible. I was just floored by that. OKRs became a tool for us to manage through uncertainty and to call out potential risk, but then also mitigate that risk. And it was powerful.

Juniper has performed extremely well through work from home and the pandemic, and I attribute some of that to WorkBoard and being very purposeful about getting alignment.

Getting and staying aligned is one of the management panaceas that every company is striving for. OKRs helps us make sure that we strive toward that alignment.

Let’s talk about lateral alignment. A lot of organizations have a history of vertical alignment within silos, but not much history of lateral alignment across functions, which I think is the difference-maker in so many instances. How has the alignment focus shifted at Juniper? Do you see a difference in how aligned teams are across sales, marketing, product, etc.?

I’ve definitely seen an improvement, though we’re not completely there yet. When we started using OKRs, I included a KR for all teams to have their OKRs by a certain date, which people started to get used to within the first few quarters.

I also made sure we confirmed all dependencies explicitly because a person can be moving along with their own KRs, but if they’re relying on someone else who didn’t see it as the same priority or the same expected outcome as them, it’s not going to happen. So, we got explicit about that.

There have been a few instances of realizing that getting a KR done required another team’s involvement, but we hadn’t had the conversation and they were not necessarily aligned with what we thought was best possible or what it was going to take to get there. So we’ve definitely learned, and I do think we’ve gotten better.

As a leader, what’s your practice for driving results? How do you drive the focus that gets you there?

It’s about hearts and minds (no surprise coming from a marketer). The objectives should be the constant drumbeat that drives the organization. Keeping people motivated toward them is half or more than half the battle. If you’re not looking at how you’re progressing, then you’re likely in for some unfortunate surprises by the end of the quarter. So I think your best practice is to review them weekly and at staff meetings — just pull up the business review to look at where you are.

I’ll go into WorkBoard once or twice a week to ensure I have a good sense of what’s happening. And, certainly, if there’s a burning issue and we’re 10 days away from a conversation in a staff meeting, we’ll address the issue sooner. But as far as overall inspection, we pull up the business review to look at where we are now and how that compares to where we are in the quarter. We’ll determine if we think we’re on track and what we’re going to do about it if we’re not. It’s a practice of “inspect what you expect.”

You have tapped in a couple of coaches on our team and within your org who are skilled in alignment measurement, tell us a little bit about that.

Because we were one of the early adopter organizations, your coaches were great with getting us up to speed and helping us the first couple of go-rounds. You all helped us get going and understand the best practices. We’ve had four or five folks from my team that have been certainly instrumental in helping us keep up the momentum that we’ve also loaned out to the rest of the organization.

As other organizations have started using WorkBoard and OKRs, you all have been very involved in answering some of the basic day-to-day questions about either about the platform or the methodology, which has been important for us. Our quarterly review and KR setting going forward is a pretty streamlined exercise right now because we know what we need to do — and also have the expertise on the team to steer us at my level and at the team level. I think we’ve really hit our stride and having those people, who are passionate about all this, embedded in the organization has helped us a lot.

If you’re setting measurable results at the beginning of the year and hoping by September that all of those are still going to be relevant — and you haven’t made some strategic pivots — it’s not going to happen.

What advice would you give to other leaders who are considering starting or furthering an OKR journey?

Hopefully, through this conversation, people understand that I’m a full believer in the value of doing OKRs. If people don’t know how what they do ladders up to the success of the business, then I don’t know how you really lead an organization. I don’t know how you prioritize the next thing or agree to a given investment, et cetera if you don’t figure out what matters and then figure out how to measure it. To me, OKRs, as a construct, is the best one I’ve seen in getting at that.

I think the inspirational objectives and quarterly, rather than annual approach is much more modern than how we’ve done things in the past. It has the right tweaks on what we’ve probably always done to some extent. It’s something that is also easy and approachable so that the whole company, as you’ve seen at Juniper, can adopt this in six to nine months — it’s not a three-year transformation journey. The first quarter, we were finding our way, by the second quarter we almost had it — and by the third quarter, we’re going.

I set out to become someone who could materially change the direction and the outcomes of a company. It’s transparency, it’s looking across, it’s understanding dependencies, it’s understanding what’s important. WorkBoard is a mechanism to do that. Honestly, I wish I had these tools back at the start of my career.

  Click here to download a transcript.

About Michael Marcellin
Michael is Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, leading the global marketing team responsible for marketing Juniper’s product and services portfolio and stewarding the brand, driving preference for Juniper in the market, training our partners and account teams, and developing a differentiated information experience for our customers. Before joining the global marketing organization, Marcellin led business strategy and marketing for Juniper’s industry-leading portfolio of high-performance routing, switching and security products.

Prior to joining Juniper in 2010, Marcellin served as Vice President of Global Managed Solutions for Verizon, where he oversaw product development and marketing. He also served as Vice President of Global Product Marketing for Verizon Business, executive director of Verizon Business’ IP and Ethernet portfolio. Marcellin holds two patents and was a Rodman Scholar at the University of Virginia, where he received a bachelor of science degree with distinction in systems engineering.

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