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    Disrupting Fintech From The Top-Down and Bottom-Up With OKRs


    Disrupting a sector like Fintech does not happen by accident. It happens by design. Disruption is nearly always an act of intent. You see a valuable established market with dysfunction and you look to improve it. The genesis for disruption is often one unifying goal, and for technology companies, that usually means an OKR – Objective and Key Results.

    There’s about a 70% chance that you’re reading this post using a Chrome browser. But, did you know that when Chrome was just getting off the drawing board at Google, it started life as an OKR?

    Objective: Develop the next-generation client platform for web applications

    Key Result: Chrome reaches 20 million seven-day active users

    Nearly every team could look at this and know where the company is going. They could start to work out how best to help the team succeed. These cross-functional discussions are happening every quarter where teams discuss what the few game-changing OKRs should be. These goals sit outside the normal business-as-usual. The bottom-up part of OKR planning.

    This drive to bring more purpose and greater empowerment and autonomy is central to OKRs. If you want to disrupt a big market with huge competitors and high-performing teams, then use a goal-setting framework like OKR. These teams are highly collaborative, agile, productive, and innovative. They are not a luxury; they are table-stakes.

    Aligned Goals

    OKRs that would align with the Objective above are highly likely to be cross-functional. Each department would be involved in planning. If you’re launching a new product — that takes a cross-functional effort. You’ll look at every quarter and discuss whether an OKR should be carried over.

    OKRs are more than just aligned Objective and Key Results

    It’s a common misconception that OKRs are just about learning to write an objective and matching it with 1 – 4 Key Results that align with other Objectives and Key Results. If you’re good at using OKRs you understand the small details that unlock their hidden superpowers.

    Total Clarity With OKRs

    If you’ve planned OKRs well, you will have clarity on a few game-changing goals and will have imagined what success would look like. You will then commit to achieving them—the more focused, which means the fewer goals you have, the better.

    If you’re trying to describe your business-as-usual as OKRs or shoehorn every KPI you track into a Key Result, it has gone wrong. When you get up in the morning, they should never wonder what the company and team have committed to achieving.

    Different teams, roles, and responsibilities in the business will be involved in OKRs in any one quarter. Of course, you have named owners and collaborators, but you might also have different people doing initiatives to deliver the outcomes you’ve specified. If in Legal and launching a new product that needs Terms and Conditions, you know what when needed, you’ll drop what you’re doing to help achieve the committed OKR.

    Having a shared sub-set of KPIs called Health Metrics (meaning the health of the company) will help for clarity. These tell you and everyone else how a team is performing. OKRs can then be hyper-focused on the areas of most value. The company’s business-as-usual performance is measured by these metrics. If any of them become an issue or opportunity, perhaps they will become an OKR focus going forward.

    Genuine Ambition

    There’s something about hard to achieve goals that help most of us perform better. It’s the science of goal setting. The benefits of being stretched are:

    • Creating a greater focus on the most relevant activities
    • Prolong effort for a greater amount of time
    • Stimulating learning, collaboration and innovation

    Taken to the extreme, this ambition becomes a Moon Shot, but the default for OKR is just ‘Hard.’ If goals are hard to achieve, you also need to redefine success. The idea that 100% is not necessarily the desired end-state is at first odd. The sweet spot, when targets have been well-calibrated, is somewhere around the 70% mark. Much less, and perhaps there were issues, much more, and perhaps you were not ambitious enough.

    Cadence

    Once you’ve defined OKRs, cadence and communication are what drives the outcomes. Weekly check-ins become the flywheel of achievement. Priorities, progress and problems are shared for the week ahead. Check-ins show accountability, collaboration, dependability and productivity. It will enhance the ongoing commitment to your desired end-state.

    Performance Culture

    If you’re going to have honest debates about what priorities should be, if you are going to be genuinely ambitious, if you’re going to work cross-functionally as well as in your teams, if you’re sometimes playing a lead role and sometimes supporting. You’re going to work in an agile way, sharing priorities and problems as you go; you need to have the right culture.

    Embracing and embedding OKRs improves culture through time; even if to start with, it just points out where the issues are. Cultural pillars like accountability, collaboration, Psychological Safety, and learning and development will become central to everything you do.

    The behaviors and habits that define how the company works, how managers and teams behave, and how the day-to-day happens are the glue that will hold everything together as you move from scale-up to unicorn.

    It’s A Journey

    If you’re looking to disrupt the establishment, try using OKRs. It takes a few quarters to make OKRs cultural, and there will be bumps in the road and mistakes might be made. However, once you’ve got the framework in your toolbox and culture, the only limit to your success becomes your level of ambition and willingness to fall short occasionally.

    Matt Roberts

    Matt Roberts is SaaS founder. He helps ambitious companies push through the OKR adoption curve with software and training at ZOKRI.

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