Discover how to create team alignment that improves your company’s growth. One critical factor for a leader is to create team alignment so that each person is going in the same direction. Most companies find it easy to align when they are small (less than five employees) and tend to struggle in creating team alignment as the team grows. Our guest today is Diedre Paknad, co-founder of WorkBoard. Diedre’s company creates software to help an organization with their OKRs (Objectives and Key Results). Discover how to create team alignment in this interview with Diedre.
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Target Audience: Diedre is the CEO & Co-Founder at WorkBoard Inc. 3-time entrepreneur, software category creator that took an idea from 0 to $300M, from start to IBM acquisition. Twice inducted into the Smithsonian Institution for innovation, 18 patents granted/pending, and believe customer relationships are forever. Committed to mentoring and helping others.
Deidre Paknad: The Transcript
Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.
This is leaders in the trenches and your host today is Gene Hammett.
Gene Hammett: [00:04]
Hi, this is Gene Hammett I’m the host of leaders in the trenches. My question for you today is how do you create team alignment? What is team alignment? Well, we’re going to talk about what it is and this interview today is really fantastic and an alignment term alignment is where people are really going in the same direction together. They really are connected to each other on not only what you’re doing, but you know the kind of metrics that you’re going to do measure to get there, but they’re also going together. It really is going to be a fantastic conversation day. We had the CEO of workboard, it’s Diedre Paknad and hopefully, I got the name right, but she really is an impressive woman around out there in many aspects, but just a depth of knowledge.
Gene Hammett: [00:49]
She knows how to get teams to perform at a higher level. The thing I love most about this was she talked about the conversation of teams setting these objectives and key results together. Normally it’s done individually, but when the teams come together, it really is a great impact to add more to that, we talked about how do you get them to take more ownership of it, which you know, I love this word ownership. So here’s the interview with Deidre.
Gene Hammett: [01:16]
Hi Deidre. How are you?
Deidre Paknad: [01:17]
I’m good, I’m good. How are you?
Gene Hammett: [01:19]
I am fantastic. Well, I’m glad to have you as leaders in the trenches. Tell us a little bit about you and who you serve.
Gene Hammett: [01:36]
Well, alignment’s a really important issue for companies and we know what it’s like when we don’t have alignment. So let’s what it’s like from your perspective when you have alignment at the highest levels.
Deidre Paknad: [01:48]
So one way to think about alignment is if everybody is actually on the same page and working in the same direction as an organization, we can achieve extraordinary things when only a few people understand what direction we’re headed. Maybe the leadership team knows what the strategic priorities are and everybody else is just doing what they did last week. We grow slower and we go slower. Ultimately, one of the big advantages that young companies that startups have are they have an extraordinary amount of alignment on the mission and the metrics and it allows them to skyrocket past slower-moving, less aligned, larger entities. Right, but can’t get everybody galvanized around the plan.
Gene Hammett: [02:29]
Now, I just did an interview with someone. We talked a lot about mission, so you’ve got some of the data behind this. What does it look like when you have alignment on mission?
Deidre Paknad: [02:38]
Yeah, I think an actual, I think alignment and accountability are our twins and if you’ve got an alignment, but nobody’s accountable for what we aligned on, it’s a hollow victory.
Gene Hammett: [02:49]
Deidre Paknad: [02:50]
So I think you need both a high degree of alignment and a high degree of ownership and accountability for what we aligned on. Right. When we have that, what we see in our customer base is that organizations achieve about 19% more in a given quarter than they themselves saw in prior quarters. Actually really material boost in their outcomes and their impact quarter over quarter.
Gene Hammett: [03:16]
That is really impressive. Like 90% doesn’t sound like much to some of those fast-growing companies, but that level of increment quarter upon quarter upon quarter of just really is astronomical.
Deidre Paknad: [03:26]
Well, when you look at a company’s growth rates and you ask really ask any CEO anywhere in any size company if you’d like to grow 19% faster, and I can tell you it’s an unequivocal yes.
Gene Hammett: [03:40]
I will say this. I mean I interview a lot of people that have astronomical growth rates. I think, you know some of my backgrounds, but the Inc5000 like the last interview I did just earlier today was 9000% over a three-year period.
Deidre Paknad: [03:56]
Your period is a little misleading. What was last year? What was last quarter?
Gene Hammett: [04:01]
I can tell you that many of them are growing at three, 400% a year.
Deidre Paknad: [04:05]
Gene Hammett: [04:06]
It’s harder as you get bigger, right? Because of the math and elements behind that, that curve. But I think everyone would want, you know, and even in my company, you know, a 19% improvement with each person on the team working, I mean that starts to compound in a really great way. Where does all this come from for you? Like why is studying this side of business performance something that really caught your interest?
Deidre Paknad: [04:31]
A couple of reasons. The headline right is that a company’s growth rate is the single biggest factor in the company’s value, right? It’s the one thing really the one thing, first principle, it’s how fast are we growing, right? The second and sort of more personal reason is my last company we had a high degree of alignment on mission and metrics. I’d, everybody was really highly aware of only one where the company was going, but where their team contributed into that and how each of the peer teams contributed into the whole right. And when IBM bought that company many years later and I was running a business inside IBM, I was trying to drive the same level of alignment and clarity and measurements to drive high growth inside that environment. And a couple of things there. When the market opportunity was very large, the market was growing so we of course had the opportunity to grow, but we had a lot more layers in the organization, so we needed the strategic priorities to go down seven, eight, and nine layers and of course we operated in many more countries so we had to, it had to flow across time zones as well, and what I found was in that large environment, there’s a lot of friction on getting everyone aligned and driving a high degree of measurement and accountability that doesn’t exist in younger startup growth and high growth companies.
Deidre Paknad: [05:52]
I started looking at what it took to get that same degree of alignment and motivation and ownership in a large entity and realized we were poorly armed, we didn’t have the right toolset, and in fact, we had no toolset or tools or people in PowerPoint, which really at this stage in 2019 that’s the wrong toolset. It needs to be digital, it needs to be data-driven, it needs to be transparent. The process of getting aligned and driving accountability for a plan should be the best run process, the most automated process in our business, not the least automated process in our business and that seemed clear as day to me. So I left IBM, went back to my original investor’s prior company, and said there’s a whole area of business that’s not running as well as it could and it’s an area of business that getting aligned on the plan and driving accountability for the plan in the area of the business that you shareholders care most about? This matters, let’s go solve this problem.
Gene Hammett: [06:50]
I liked the way you think about this because you know you don’t sit around too long. I mean, I can be honest with you and I didn’t have the courage when my business got to a certain point. I got a little bit complacent if you will. But you looking back at the history, you see opportunities and you take action. Is that fair to say?
Deidre Paknad: [07:08]
Yeah, this is the third company I’ve founded and yes, that’s fair to say.
Gene Hammett: [07:13]
When you think about this new kind of gap that opened up and you saw it, did you have any struggles getting people to pay attention to the new way to do it?
Deidre Paknad: [07:24]
Yes, absolutely. And it’s an experience I’ve had in prior companies as well, right? What’s clear to a founder, entrepreneurs early on is often not clear to anyone else yet. Right? And a big part of entrepreneurship is belief, right? That they don’t see it, they don’t see it, they don’t see it. Wait, it’ll come. It’ll be clear to everyone else soon. Right? And you just have to have this sort of patience to let others arrive at the same place. And in this case, a couple of years ago, I spent a lot of time saying, hey, you really need to have everybody aligned on the plan and you need a high degree of accountability. If you want to participate in high-growth markets where there are disruptive forces, people say, no, no, we’re fine. It’s good. We’re all good. And maybe 2018 that started to tip were all of a sudden it was really clear to everyone that the transition to SAS business models or as a service business model put a premium on lateral alignment across sales, marketing, development, and customer success and that started to break as companies move to that as a service model so they are wait, wait, we need to have better alignment and then the external rate of change, right?
Deidre Paknad: [08:32]
How fast markets are being disrupted, how fast markets are changing. That put a lot of pressure on how quickly we could get everybody on the same page and then this change in millennials in our workplace and what they want from their job. If they don’t know how they drive value at your company and that their work matters, they’ll just go to the startup next door where they can see their impact. As those pains got more acute, it got a lot more obvious to a lot more people that we need to quickly align on strategic priorities that are evolving and we need to be able to execute really well against those. If we want to lead our market space and these need to be fundamental capabilities of the company, not accidents or happenstance, board luck.
Before we jump into the content, let me just remind you that today’s podcast is brought to you by Audible. If you like to listen to podcasts, you’d probably like to listen to audible books and I want to give you a free 30-day trial and all you have to do is use this URL which is audibletrial.com/leadersinthetrenches. That’s the name of the podcast. Just go there. You can buy any book you want. I’d love for you to buy the trap of success. That’s my book that came out earlier this past year and if you want to get that 30-day trial, just go to audibletrial.com/leadersinthetrenches. Now back to the show.
Gene Hammett: [09:58]
You know we went this far. We, I don’t think we said the word goals and side of this, but what we’re really talking about is kind of a new way to cast the way we sat and think about goals and sat in an organization. Would you agree with that and go a little deeper?
Deidre Paknad: [10:13]
I think goal is a kind of a red flag word and everybody loads it up with something different. And I specifically don’t use the word goals and I use strategic priorities instead because goals have for many have become the thing by which you measure an individual’s performance and I think it’s important to measure individual performance. What I’m talking about is how do we grow the business. Yeah, and that’s a little different than how we grow people, and where I think there is a vacuum is the conversations and the direction setting that happens at the team level through the organization. And what’s this team’s impact? How does it align with what the company is trying to accomplish is what this product team is building? The same thing as the marketing and the product management team. They’re trying to get into the marketplace are those different? And so they end up thinking about those things, not as individual goals at all, but I ended up thinking about them as what’s our growth plan for the company and what are the strategic priorities that help us drive that growth plan and is the organization aligned up around that so that we have functions working in concert to drive that growth.
Deidre Paknad: [11:25]
And when I say goals, most people think we’re talking about the performance review at the end of the year. And I think most of us would agree that if having goals and performance reviews at the end of the year was going to be the big driver of grills, we wouldn’t be having this conversation today. The missing, right?
Gene Hammett: [11:41]
Yeah. I talked to a lot of people that have, you know, a yearly survey or they do the once-a-year kind of review of that performance. My thought is it’s just not, it’s not often enough for the pace of change that we’re going through. And your people want more feedback for their own level of growth. Are you seeing that in the data that you have across these companies?
Deidre Paknad: [12:04]
Yeah, we’re seeing two things there. One is, and we’re big proponents of having teams set objectives and key results, aligned objectives and key results at the team level where it’s the team coming together to articulate its best possible outcomes that are in alignment with the strategic priorities of their organization. And that team-level conversation is often completely missing in organizations. The teams manage activity. They never stop and pause and think about, well wait a minute, what are we trying to accomplish and does that align and what value are we creating here? And then let’s drive the right activity. Right? And so the team conversation setting and aligning, okay, the team is really, really potent. And then in addition to that, how does a manager give team alignment on OKR? Does it connect to the company strategy? How does a manager then give good and regular coaching to help an individual make their best contribution to the team?
Gene Hammett: [13:06]
I love the way you’re talking about this because I talk, I do so much research on how to go beyond responsibility to take ownership. That’s what I talk about on stages and whatnot. But one of the key aspects is a lot of people, and you’re good willing to take the team perspective. They’re not taking ownership because they didn’t create the goal. They didn’t create the end strategic priority. And you’re saying that you know, if they create it, they take more ownership. Is that fair to say?
Deidre Paknad: [13:36]
Yes, actually we, there’s a set of things we think in our lace. So if you want accountability, you need to provide clarity. Right? Which is your own comment. If I don’t know what it is I’m accountable for, I’m simply unable to own it. Mind reading isn’t on anybody’s resume, right? So what I love about OKR is at the team level is it is a vehicle by which we get radical clarity on what it is we’re trying to achieve and how we’re measuring success. And now I can be accountable for it. But if you really want amazing extraordinary accountability, you want ownership, not forced accountability, then you also need to go to the next level, which does not only do I own those, okay ours, but I offered them from a place that imagined to my best possible. That was a team talking about what would be great things that inspired us, things that we were really excited about how they were going to contribute and we feel a sense of ownership because we in fact really want to go achieve those things because we think that would be great.
Deidre Paknad: [14:38]
And then I own it in a completely different way. Let me step back and think about the company level. The company needs innovation. It doesn’t get that without inspiration and companies’ needs, and we don’t get speed unless people have enthusiasm. And the goal process of old robs organizations of inspiration, of enthusiasm, of any sense of ownership. It’s a forced march and we’ve all been down it and it didn’t breakthrough for any of us. It’s time to move that aside and rethink how we grow our companies now in the markets in which we operate now, which was very different than when Peter Drucker in 1948 wrote his first management black. Right. Which is where most of our goal processes originate from. It’s a good time to reinvent the process.
Gene Hammett: [15:25]
It’s well ever doing right, Deidre. You know, I think too, you know, to take it even a level deeper because when you as a team are defining those, okay. Ours, you are able to take ownership of the process to get there, right? Whatever changes that happened, whether there needs to be a new technology that needs to be in place, but you have taken ownership as opposed to someone handing you a set of tools or a set of steps. Right. Yeah. When you get it, is there anything else that you would say this as far as what you’ve seen helps people take real ownership of the work that they’re doing?
Deidre Paknad: [16:05]
Yeah, I think we use them in old-school goals. You think we’re going to cascade goals, right? We think of it a little differently and we liked the word localize. I’m going to localize the strategic priorities to our team. Localizing meaning translated into the nouns and the verbs and the numbers of what this team does. And the verbs in marketing are different than the verbs in sales, right? And the verbs at the top of the development organization are different than the verbs and their frontline Dev team working on the mobile app, right? But when they translate the company’s strategic priorities and localize those into their own language and inform it by what they know to be true, their expertise, their insight, their truth, their starting point, right? What their fan base is and what their own intellectual contribution is, they have a different relationship to that local version of the strategic priorities.
Deidre Paknad: [16:59]
And I love this combination. We have a global set of strategic priorities and a local set and they connect and they align, right? But I owned my local set and I’m deeply connected to them. It’s my language, our dialect in the Dev ops team, just different than the dialect in the marketing and demand Gen team. Right? And it’s that the cascade notion is a little bit more dictatorial. Localizing it is a reference to the strategic priorities above and then really translating it into our language and informing it by our insight. And I think that’s the shift where if it’s our nouns in our verbs and it’s our intellect in it, our ownership and our connection to it much, much stronger. I think the other thing about OKR’s is very different than traditional goal setting in part I really attached to as an entrepreneur is that the conversation is around what’s our best possible, not our most predictable, not our most probable, not our mediocre, what’s our best possible.
Deidre Paknad: [17:57]
And then we have a conversation in our own nouns and verbs. It’s aligned with the company’s strategic priority about what our best possible is. A couple of things happen. If we imagine our best possible, then we can organize to achieve it. And if we imagine it and organized it, we’d greatly improve the probability that we, in fact, do achieve it. Old School, we don’t even imagine it. We just go with the most predictable and then we organize for the most predictable and then we get exactly that. The most predictable, which is slow growth, steady, kind of baking mediocre into the process. This shift to OKR is change changes what we talk about and changes it to include, well what would be great and yeah, I don’t know Atlanta nine teams that don’t want to have that conversation, what would be great. That’s why they come to your building in the morning to do something that really matters and this process actually rings that forward. It actually makes it a regular habit of the company to have conversations about in alignment. What would be great from our team’s perspective,
Gene Hammett: [18:58]
Deidre, that’s such a smart way to look at this. And I know there’s probably a lot of things we haven’t touched on as it comes to team alignment and accountability. So what have I left out as we begin to wrap this up?
Deidre Paknad: [19:11]
one of the big moves we see is rethinking what the team is. So not just functional teams, right? But the pods and the squads, the product level teams, groups of people who come together to accomplish things, so reimagining what teams are and providing them with a common framework for defining and aligning the impact they’re going to create in a quarter time period. I think we see everywhere this shifting in the way people team and I think a giant acknowledgment of the fact that teams are the engine of value creation in our organizations. So thinking about, okay, ours as a device and thinking about teams as fluid and hyper-flexible is really a potent way to unlock growth and to unlock innovation, and unlock more inspired teams in our organization.
Gene Hammett: [20:00]
I don’t know your answer to this, but I want to ask you anyway. I ask a lot of fast growth leaders. As a leader, what’s more important? Your employees are your customers. What would you say?
Deidre Paknad: [20:11]
I would say that my favorite word is AMP.
Gene Hammett: [20:15]
What if you had to pick one?
Deidre Paknad: [20:17]
I don’t think they’re in competition with each other. Yeah. If we set it up that they are, I think we’ve sort of, we’ve missed the mark. I think there’s, I’ll say in the first instance, the relationship we have with other human beings, its first trends. We relate from a place of value, of respect, and compassion. Then we’re whichever constituents you are, right? We should behave and operate I think and expect from each other. A level of engagement that is, has a lot of integrity in it and has a lot of personal connection.
Gene Hammett: [20:50]
I don’t know how much I’ve shared with you before, but when I asked most inc 500 or 500 level leaders, it’s 94% going to be employees first as they see such the importance of the people and the teams inside the organizations and how they translate into serving clients and customers. So I really appreciate you being here at leaders in the trenches and sharing your insights on team alignment.
Deidre Paknad: [21:15]
It was a pleasure. Thank you very much.
Gene Hammett: [21:18]
Fantastic. Love this whole concept. It was so much for there to sink my teeth into. I had so many questions swirling through my head. Hopefully, I created the kind of interview that you’re used to and you really got something out of it. If you’re having questions about what you’re doing within your company, within your team alignment, I love to get to know you as a leader. Just send me an email at [email protected] And as always, leads with courage. We’ll see you next time.
Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.
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