In conversation with
“We wanted to use OKRs to define and measure what we needed to do to establish ourselves as part of the new business.”
Alex De Angelis, Strategy & Business Transformation @ Exxaro
Exxaro Resources is a true South African success story – a listed Resources group, on the transition from predominately mining Coal to a sustainable, future-fit organisation, powering a clean world. Its Growth strategy, which was developed during 2019-2020 provided a unique opportunity to focus the business on what matters most – both external ‘must win battles’ as well as the transformation of the organisation itself – how it works, builds new capabilities and innovates its way, to thrive in the future.
Here are three particular ways in which the Exxaro leadership team and Strategy & Business Transformation, in particular, made OKRs a valuable contributor to the transition:
1.Demonstrating Adaptiveness – OKRs were introduced, in leadership discussions, early in the transition. Taking such an adaptive and flexible approach allowed leaders to recognise what Big Moves would underpin the transition and which gaps the growth strategy must address. Rather than wait for the strategy to be ‘perfectly in place’, they embraced the Agile principles which OKR’s are founded on, and that truly made a difference.
2.A living management system – OKRs were seen, from the outset, as a management system – not a mere tool or a framework that might be useful for a while. It truly fit into a clear intent to transform how the business is managed, and so the Strategy & Business Transformation team embraced the key elements which make OKRs a ‘living system’, such as the Cadence, Check-in’s, OKR training and a robust system, from which information can be shared transparently and inform decision-makers, in the broader organisation.
3.Recognising the Human element – OKRs, after all, are set, managed and (yes) changed by people. Technology and data capabilities can certainly help but it was, in our view, the continued engagement of the broader business, challenging when necessary and allowing for space when that was called for, as new business units came into being, while let us not forget, the COVID-19 pandemic was raging. In short, playing the long game was reflected in how they approached and adopted OKR’s, as a people-centred management system
Well done to the Exxaro team, on this significant effort, as they deepen and accelerate their transition, into a sustainable, clean future. Saar Ben-Attar, Founder of Ascent Growth Partners and Managing Partner of its South-African office, in Johannesburg.
We asked Alex~ ‘What was it that lead you to seek our services? What was your challenge’?
“Our challenge was two-fold. Firstly, we had spent much of 2019 and early 2020 redefining the strategy of the company as a business, with some moves beyond what we did traditionally. We needed to find a viable way to measure the progress of that shift, and defining the objectives around that was to use OKRs as one of the tools. At a macro level the situation was we had a new strategy and we needed a way to measure progress against that.
In parallel to that strategy we revised some of the internal functions of the business and formed my area of the business which is ‘Strategy and Business Transformation’. Ultimately, we are the custodian for the strategy of the Company, and we had to establish ourselves as a function and ultimately find a way to measure our progress. We wanted to use OKRs to define and measure what we needed to do to establish ourselves as part of the new business.”
We asked Alex~ ‘What work did we do together’?
“We started working with There Be Giants basically from the beginning of this journey. At that time we only had a tentative seconded team, I was the only permanent team member. As a team most of us had experience of six-sigma, agile, lean etc.
Essentially OKRs was a new concept to most of the team, and I admit I had read a few books and watched a couple of videos, that made me dangerous! Like a lot of people, I believed I knew more than I did. Roger came in and one of first things he did was to instil the team with confidence, that it was a workable model, and a philosophy that appealed to and inspired my team.
There Be Giants helped up define what OKRs are and what they’re not! We then went through the process of building up our experience and where and how to apply OKRs.
You also helped us develop coaching skills; it was my intention that our team would have OKR coaching skills to take OKRs more broadly into the business. We worked with each other in the workshops to implement our OKRs, and at the same time develop our OKR coaching skills.”
We asked Alex~ ‘What outcomes were achieved? What was the impact on growth’?
“We scoped out the roles, responsibilities, key outcomes and what the intent of those functions should be. We had also driven visibility on this to other parts of the business, which was important.
We set-out our first annual and our 3rd quarter OKRs.
We are six months down the line and have completed our 3rd quarterly OKR setting and our 2021 annual objective reviews. We’re getting much better at the process, but I’d say there’s still significant room for improvement. We’ve had a number of team changes, and the coaching has allowed us to upskill new members and other parts of the business.
I’d say we achieved 70 / 80% of our committed OKRs from a functional point of view, but only around 50% success on those that touch on other functions within the business. We were admittedly a little aggressive and bullish on some KRs and timelines!
As a team we’re at different levels of understanding and ability around OKRs, but we are all continually improving at defining good objectives and key results.
Implementing Koan as our OKR software and instilling the importance of weekly check-ins and reflections has also made it easier for us, and more transparent which is vital. It helped set cadence from the start. We are getting better at challenging each other on our KRs, refining what the impact is, ensuring it’s not a to-do list!”
We asked Alex~ ‘What would you say to someone like yourself, facing the same challenge you had’?
“Be prepared for the journey and don’t underestimate the time pressure relevant to the cross-functional element. OKRs are a great philosophy, for driving and defining strategy long-term. Having There Be Giants to assist in the process of educating us and helping embed them was paramount. I have nothing but positive things to say about the journey with There Be Giants. Thanks Roger and the team for all your support and guidance, it’s been a great journey.”