WorkBoard at National Grid
Chief Information & Digital Officer
Business Process Owner:
Director of Performance Management for Global IT and the Digital Business Office
Full CIO Org
Transformed operating model in 60 days, CIO org is aligned on OKRs with full transparency, Business Reviews are now digital and focused on aligned outcomes.
National Grid has a global impact. Tell us a bit about the company’s reach across the U.S. and the U.K. and the role of the IT and Digital org.
Brianna Ringen, Director of Performance Management for Global IT and the Digital Business Office: National Grid is a utility company in the United States. We work directly with customers delivering energy into their homes. In the UK, where the company was founded, we have multiple roles. We're comprised of multiple business units and functions, and I work for the function of IT and Digital.
Our IT and Digital organization is made up of just shy of 2000 people. We’re global and we work directly with the business units and functions in the broader business to help deliver the projects and programs that it takes to keep the lights on, deliver energy, and keep everything moving. So, we support technology to the sense that we make sure that those in the field who are going out and repairing poles are equipped with the right iPads, cell phones, laptops, all the way to the customer service representatives who help answer questions, to the interfacing that our customers use to pay their bills.
Take us back to the beginning of your work with OKRs and WorkBoard. What drove the decision? Who drove the decision? And how did you end up with all the OKR expertise you now have?
We are really lucky in IT and Digital at National Grid because our Chief Information and Digital Officer, Andi Karaboutis, really noticed that there was a need for OKRs and the cadence that comes through using WorkBoard and that transparency and accountability with her executive team and for herself. So, she took the initiative to seek out a tool that would really help fulfill that gap and make her job and her executives’ jobs just that much easier.
Starting with a senior leader, in this case a CIO, who genuinely feels the need and has urgency for her own strategy and increasing visibility around how they're executing against it, is so incredibly important and not too common. Teams often have a hard time getting the attention and engagement of a senior leader.
That's been critical to how we've been successful in doing this. Having the senior leaders, including Andi and her reports, be the ones to champion this created a great cascade down into the organization and really helped it be a strong, solid rollout and process.
“Most people actually did not understand the overall strategy and how their work tied into it - not just the IT and Digital strategy, but the broader business strategy as well.”
You attended our recent WorkBoard Community Event on Strategy Operation and you spoke about the results of an employee survey at National Grid that uncovered how well people understood the strategy and how their understanding impacted their ability to execute it. How did these results influence senior leaders’ urgency to implement OKRs and increase alignment?
We conducted a survey with a core group of the IT and Digital organization, and what we found was that most people actually did not understand the overall strategy and how their work tied into it – not just the IT and Digital strategy, but the broader business strategy as well. So we really quickly understood that that makes it hard for individuals to be accountable and to understand why they're being asked to execute and complete these projects and programs if they don't understand how that work fits in to the greater strategy.
Has alignment improved since implementing WorkBoard?
It definitely has improved. We've really just focused on having more personalized conversations with some of the groups within, and you can already feel that. Folks refer back to WorkBoard now, which is really great. And that's how we know it's really getting in there deep because we're having conversations where it just naturally comes up and they know that this work ties back to this particular piece of the strategy or the larger body of work.
Tell us a little bit about the previous dynamic around business reviews. How were they being conducted? What did that look like and feel like for people before you made the move?
“Moving through mud” is my favorite way to describe that. It's relatable, right? It's that slow kind of trudge, and that's what it was like to get ready for business reviews each week or month. It involved a lot of hands-on deck, a lot of looking for information. And even if we knew where information was, it still was difficult getting access to it, validating it, and just going through those chains of command. Almost all of those reviews would end in the same way - with Andi and her team needing more information or slightly different information, or wanting to know more particulars about the data that they were getting. There weren't deep conversations and discussions because there wasn't readily available access to accurate data to allow those deep conversations to happen.
It makes the prep work that much more cumbersome, but it also derails the conversation later on because now you've got a massive deck with too much information and you can't actually have a focused conversation on what's really important because you have to go digging through all these slides. We need to know the strategy to know exactly what the conversation needs to be and we just keep building on it and moving forward.
“The critical piece is having that leader that believes in process and knows that you can go fast.”
From the start, you had the belief that you could move quickly to launch, deploy, get aligned, and transition business reviews to a digital and structured format. Talk a little bit about the mindset of going fast and getting to value fast.
The critical piece is having that leader that believes in the process and knows that you can go fast. And so we were really fortunate because we a had top leadership that was on board, but we also had a really strong core team. I'm really lucky that I'm working with a tight group of people who are just as passionate as I am and incredibly hardworking.
And we all have that same mindset that if you want to go fast, you can just go fast. There is no reason not to just get in there and start digging through. Assuming that you have to really take your time and be very meticulous and slow and methodical, there's certainly times and places where that's appropriate, but for getting this off the ground and getting going, we just said we're diving in headfirst and here we go. We took off sprinting.
“If you want to go fast, you can just go fast. There is no reason not to just get in there and start digging through.”
Companies adopt OKRs and a digital operating to gain agility with better data to make faster, better decisions. The idea that we need to go slowly in order to eventually go fast is a bit of an oxymoron. Sometimes people think that if we go fast, it might be messy, and they forget just how messy it already is.
Yes. There's no reason why you can't go back and then clean something up or give it another look or streamline it a little more, but just getting in there and going at speed is critical.
You chose to implement a single source of truth for operating decisions, not just document your OKRs. Tell us a little bit about the tactics you use to get there and what that looks like if you do it well.
To get to that one source of truth, it wasn't even so much about getting everyone on board and in agreement as much as just giving them the ability to access it. So when they had a question, if a leader or one of their reports had a question, we would say, let's go into WorkBoard and look for that. Let's find where that is. Because it's all linked. There are those great alignment views. You can go into a business review, you can click in, and that's the beauty of WorkBoard – it’s so transparent that there's no reason why you can't dive in deep. So instead of doing it for them, we gave them the ability to self-serve. They had control, they were accountable, and they realized how simple it was.
We often see leaders in the middle make the mistake of delegating strategy execution. But this often prevents them from a having a strong understanding of the plan, where the team is now and what's the gap to where we want to be. How should leaders be using results data to drive decisions?
We're fortunate we have an organization that's fully on board with not delegating that out. You know, there was definitely hesitation with some individuals and it really was just more about being comfortable using WorkBoard. But once they understood how simple it was and that there isn't the ability to break anything, you can't hurt it, it was an eye-opening experience.
Many leaders have the experience of, wow, I can see what's happening in the organization. I can actually make decisions that are based on real data happening now because it's refreshed automatically and I don't need to go chase someone, or I can just ping them through WorkBoard and I just saved myself a whole meeting, or I'm more focused because I'm adding it to my meeting agendas. You know, there, there were some leaders who really took off quickly and began using the whole tool very broadly and it was great. And there were others who stayed more focused a little bit longer, but it's just getting in there and once they realized it, was magic for them.
“Instead of doing it for them, we gave them the ability to self-serve. They had control, they were accountable, and they realized how simple it was.”
You’ve taken the approach of showing people how to “make their lives easier.” Tell us about this approach.
It's really a mindset that I have when I look at how something will work in IT. You come face to face with a lot of different tools, platforms, software, and there's a lot of fun new things. I mean, we know that from apps on our cell phone, right? We have more social media apps right now than we probably know what to do with. And when I see things like that, my first thought is always, “could this make my life easier?” Cause I've got enough going on, I don't need to add to it, right? So with WorkBoard, I took the same approach in my mind. And when I first saw it, I immediately saw the value in how it could make my life easier. I thought, well, I'm not the only one who does this particular job, which means this could make other people's life easier.
As we started to roll this out, we were very focused on just one specific group really testing it and kind of flexing ourselves as a team. And we realized that there's value add for multiple players in here. So it just became the natural approach. You know, folks are tired of having another system brought in that they need to manage. So we said, no, this isn't more work for you. We're making your life easier. This is a single source of truth. This is a one stop shop for information. Let me help you make your life easier. Let me show you how to do it. And instead of doing it for them, they did it and still made their lives easier, even though they did the work. And that was really cool to see. I mean, there's not really a better word for that. It was just cool to watch folks be that engaged and get that much from something, especially doing it themselves.
My favorite part of a day is anytime someone says, oh, I've gotta do this report and I'm trying to pull this together. And if I have an opportunity to say, Hey, you know what? I actually know how to make your life easier because I've done this for myself, or I helped so and so do this, let me show you here. Again, it's that magic of, wow, I can be accountable, I can get this done, I'm doing it myself, it's easy and it's right there. I can send anyone I need to into WorkBoard and they can see the big picture and that's great. And it happens frequently, which I love.
“Folks are tired of having another system brought in that they need to manage. So we said, no, this isn't more work for you. We're making your life easier. This is a single source of truth.”
You’ve talked a bit about the cadence or the operating rhythm itself as a really important part of quickly achieving alignment and transparency. What is the operating cadence that you're using now and what did you start with?
We’re very much multiple spinning cogs because we do have those smaller teams nestled within the broader IT and Digital organization. We started with the understanding that we needed to have certain cadences. We knew we needed to have business reviews. We knew we needed to talk about some of the nitty gritty operational things. We knew it needed to tie to strategy and we tried to do it - we had some monthlies, we had some quarterlies, but it just never really tied together as smoothly as would be beneficial.
Where we've transitioned to now is being able to sit down and say, okay, this is the plan for the year. Here's what we'd like to achieve. Quarterly ties right into the strategy, everyone can see it. And then we sit down quarterly and we can at the end of the quarter say, this is how far we got, yes or no, we hit the target, let's reevaluate, give a shift if we need to, and reset for the next quarter. And while that happens during the quarter, there's those monthly business reviews during which we’re making quicker decisions, it's transparent and it's aligned. So we're going quick, our projects have more visibility, we can see the results faster, so we can adjust and keep moving forward. And then anything that comes up that's a red flag or suddenly pops up as a potential risk gets elevated onto a weekly conversation. We’re not sifting through a deck with way too many slides, it's focused on what needs to be addressed.
“Anything that comes up that's a red flag or suddenly pops up as a potential risk gets elevated onto a weekly conversation. We’re not sifting through a deck with way too many slides, it's focused on what needs to be addressed.”
So when you look forward, what's the next stage on this climb for you and your team?
We’d love to continue to tighten in and see WorkBoard really consistently used across the entire organization. We’re a large enterprise, so we need to keep driving, keep reflecting on those OKRs and doing that quarterly reset. And then we'd love to continue to roll it out and get that opportunity to other folks within the broader business because IT and Digital is a function that works closely with all areas of National Grid, not just amongst each other. And so that would be really great to continue to help people make their lives easier.
Because you touch so many parts of the company, there’s a really interesting opportunity in many CIOs orgs to have joint or cross-functional Objectives and Key Results. Is there an opportunity there for your CIO org?
There is, and we get to see that now on a kind of micro scale - we in IT and Digital are essentially set up as a mirror of the broader business. So within our org, we already have groups that are aligned to specific jurisdictions and business units, and we have shared services groups. Those shared services groups are going to have a joint relationship with their IT and Digital business unit. By creating those kind of cross-functional teams and those joint OKRs, we're able to see the benefit that would be available to the broader organization if we decide to step out of our own shared service.
“If you can use a cell phone, you can use WorkBoard. So just get in there.”
To those people and teams who are thinking about getting started, what advice would you give?
I would say dive in. Just go right in. Don’t be afraid and just start moving. I really think we get stuck, especially in our large businesses, with this idea that it has to be slow. And it doesn't. Sometimes decisions take time, but just get in there, start putting information in, see how it feels and flows, and keep adapting and iterating until it hits the right chord and hits what you need it to say and do and deliver.
I definitely am a huge fan of ‘don't do it for other people.’ Let them get in there, let them be the ones to drive and put their information in and set it up. It’s user friendly. I'm sure everyone I work with is sick of hearing me say, “if you can use a cell phone, you can use WorkBoard.” So just get in there, don't be scared of it. Too often we think that things need to be overly programmed or tinkered with on the backend, and that's not the case. So just dive in, go fast, but do it yourself. Once you do and you realize that it makes your life that much easier. It's eye-opening and you're hooked.