WorkBoard at LexisNexis
Business Process Owner:
Senior Director, Special Investigative Unit.
Outperforming in their market and enthusiastic alignment.
We sat down with LexisNexis Special Services & Risk Solutions Government CEO Woody Talcove to talk about how he quickly gained competitive advantage using OKRs and WorkBoard.
WorkBoard: Tell us a little bit about your role at LexisNexis.
Woody Talcove, Chief Executive Officer, Government, LexisNexis Risk Solutions, and CEO of LexisNexis Special Services Inc.: I’m the CEO of LexisNexis Special Services and have been for the past 13 years — which is a while to be in a position like this, but I do it because I love our mission. We do four things in our business: stop fraud, help catch bad people, enable digital government, and protect our democracy. We use our tools, data, and analytics to help our over 9,000 customers at the federal, state, and local levels, and are considered the market leader in each of those segments.
People often ask me, “How do you lead an organization like this?” As the business leader, I work hard at aligning, which is a never-ending journey because the market changes, technology changes, and customers’ needs change. I’m always working to ensure we have the right people in the right positions, and that they have as much clarity to our purpose and how individuals contribute to it as humanly possible — because the more people understand what we’re trying to do, the faster we go and the more delighted we make our customers.
What led you to OKRs?
I’ve disliked the performance measurement process in every organization I’ve led. We’ll write performance measures in January and evaluate our people 12 months later — and when we look back at those performance measures, 80% of them aren’t relevant anymore because, as we worked our way through the year, the environment changed and we had to adapt. And it was that thinking that started me down the path of OKR.
I love to read, and last holiday, one of my friends gave “Measure What Matters” by John Doerr. I read that book for 18 straight hours and realized we needed OKRs. I wanted something that had flexibility, that could work in an asynchronous environment, and that would force and create alignment. I called a friend of mine who headed up Sun Microsystems, and he told me he used OKRs there — that was the tipping point for me to get going. I started by having two high-potential people, Monty and Kendra, organize a task force to figure out how to implement OKR in the organization and make them ours — not Google’s, not Adobe’s — but ours at LexisNexis.
They went through an exhaustive process — interviewing several companies to find the right tool, which was a recommended step. We had experimented with spreadsheets, OneNote, and PowerPoint — and those don’t work because an asynchronous, transparent platform that every employee can see is necessary for OKRs. We chose WorkBoard after an incredibly competitive process. Workboard had the combination of an easy-to-use platform and expertise in implementing OKRs, which takes considerable work. In our case, Lexi (Britton, Director, Strategic Services) helped us integrate OKRs and worked with us through the process, which was incredibly useful.
Once we selected the company, we started the process. Bringing the staff together and asking them, “What are our priorities?” was one of the most interesting experiences in my 13 years at LexisNexis — and probably in my career.
The ultimate measure is our financial performance, and we are doing very, very well in the marketplace at a time when most of our peers are struggling. I believe it’s because we made the investment upfront in WorkBoard.
How did that process go?
It took us roughly six hours to get clarity on what we thought was important.
At one level, we knew what was important, but we had never gone through the process of writing it down. Forcing that alignment is one of the benefits of OKRs. The team was very engaged in those intense — and all done by video — conversations.
The first objective was around our financial performance, the second around our innovation, and the third around efficiency — and it took us six hours over multiple days to get to those three. And for the first time, I felt like we aligned as a leadership team; we all agreed that those were the three most important things
After that, we had each of the business units take those objectives and create their own OKRs, which forced a series of conversations — not in a silo, but in an ecosystem — where they all had to think through how they were going to meet those objectives.
I thought it would take a few hours to get the specific measures in place, but it ended up taking weeks. One of the things that we were very clear about was that this was an opportunity to be ambitious — not a basis for evaluation.
One of the early concerns people had was about the time and effort that OKRs would take. We explained that, as Lexi showed us, there are 538 hours in a quarter, so it’s worth spending a few days at the beginning and end of it to make sure we’re all aligned.
WorkBoard is a competitive advantage that allows us to execute better than others right now.
How has that alignment played out since you got started?
As the CEO, I can tell everybody what my priorities are for the business, but OKRs ensure that those are meaningful to every individual in the organization. Those priorities are also transparent, so people can pitch in and think about ways to contribute and innovate — they can get creative about generating a solution to our challenges and opportunities. We’ve been through this for a few months, and it’s pretty incredible. We align as a group now — the conversations within the business units around performance, efficiency, and innovation are happening.
It’s amazing how much better the organization performs when priorities and work are completely visible in WorkBoard, due to the heatmap and several other analytic features. I would say, to any leader considering implementing OKRs, that our conversations are different — we now base them on a very clearly articulated strategy with very clearly articulated results. And when we’re not getting there, our coaching conversations are not meant as performance conversations.
As a result, we’re going to have a record year of revenue growth. Our pipeline is at a record level, and our employee satisfaction is at its highest level — and that’s all during a worldwide pandemic. It’s all during a situation where, on March 13th, we had to send everyone home to work remotely. But getting WorkBoard and OKRs in place and having everyone share the same vocabulary has allowed us not only to survive a pandemic but actually thrive. WorkBoard is a competitive advantage that allows us to execute better than others right now.
That’s fantastic, Woody. Kudos to the effort you put in and the hard conversations at the beginning that drove a change in velocity and connection over the course of the quarter and certainly fortuitous to have everything in place for the shift to working remotely — to have the connections and the cohesion in place before suddenly being not physically cohesive at all. What are you hearing from employees? What are you hearing from people who are not your directs, but a couple of layers deeper in the organization?
Anytime you’re introducing something new into an organization, you end up with three basic camps: one camp thinks it’s a great idea, another thinks, “I’m going to sort of watch and see what happens,” and the third resists — “Why do we have to keep on doing these initiatives? We’ve done a couple of big initiatives over the years, so I’m really comfortable in that environment.”
After several conversations and rounds of feedback, I now see our employees providing suggestions on what we need to do better — as well as how they can help us accomplish our objectives more effectively.
People are excited right now. They’re looking forward to the updates in Q4 that will make things even greater. We’re in a lot better shape today than where we were as a business before WorkBoard. In fact, I’d say one of the most important things for us, especially in light of the pandemic, is that WorkBoard has really helped unify the organization in this remote world that we’re currently living in.
That’s fabulous. When every team is learning every quarter about how to achieve their best outcomes, it adds up to incredible potency for the organization as well as a culture change where everybody’s invited to learn and improve at a team level. Can you talk a little bit about the cultural implications for you and your org?
We were really intent on enabling the culture in a few areas using OKRs and WorkBoard: first, we wanted to focus on achievement — it’s all about getting it done. How it gets done is up to the individuals. But we either meet a growth objective, or we don’t — and if we don’t, let’s have an honest conversation to see what we could have done better.
The second area was risk-taking —we wanted to better enable our employees to take risks. When I started here 13 years ago, this was a small business. Today, it’s large and complex, with four different units and 9,000 customers. Now that I am confident our OKRs align with what we’re trying to accomplish, all the decision-making needs to be pushed out using them. We want employees to take more risks, and they are — they’re enabling different marketing programs, different sales programs, and engineering is doing things that I never thought we could do so quickly.
The third part of the cultural change was decision-making — we like to study decisions. We will put a lot of time, effort, and energy into every decision that we make.
We’ve got great people that love LexisNexis and what we do. Because of OKRs, we now have an achievement-based culture with passionate leadership, risk-taking, and the right amount of information to make a decision.
WorkBoard has really helped unify the organization in this remote world that we’re currently living in.
What three words would you use to describe or characterize the impact of using OKRs as a process and using the Workboard platform for the transparency and support of that process?
The first is alignment. It forced alignment with the Executive staff — without building or going through a 200-slide PowerPoint deck. Getting my team aligned gets the entire organization aligned. If you don’t have that, then you don’t have the speed WorkBoard and OKRs provide. If everyone knows what you’re trying to accomplish, you can go so much faster.
The second is speed. There are so many things that go on in this business every day that need to occur to meet our customers’ demands. The issue is there are some things that we really want to get focused on, and by clarifying what those things are and making sure that we’re engaging the organization in that process, we just go faster.
And finally, winning. Ultimately, what this has done is we’re winning more — we’re winning more with our customer satisfaction, our speed to market on our products, and delighting our customers. The ultimate measure is our financial performance, and we are doing very, very well in the marketplace at a time when most of our peers are struggling. I believe it’s because we made the investment upfront in WorkBoard.