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OKRs Worldwide. Does Culture Affect Implementation?

By Betterworks
October 5, 2021
5 minute read

OKR Matrix is a Brazilian-based OKR consultancy that has successfully managed over 200 OKR program implementations worldwide. The team has extensive experience working within different countries and business models, making them a knowledgable Betterworks partner. In fact, as soon as we got to know their team we knew we had to share their insights with you! Check out this interview with OKR Matrix CEO, Antonio Zubieta, to learn more about worldwide OKR implementation programs, and how culture affects process and execution.

  1. OKR implementations can certainly vary. What are some of the major differences you’ve noticed when working with a multi-national, regional, or business local to South America? 

There are certainly some relevant differences among countries. Culture is an issue that I always have to adapt to because it impacts the way we implement OKRs. Before starting an implementation, I like to consider the culture of the country and the company’s culture. I use that information to adapt and tailor my work to each client’s needs. 

Basically, the internal hierarchy is similar in all companies, nearly all organizations have a CEO, directors, managers and teams below them. But, this hierarchy doesn’t tell us how the employees are really working. What we need to know is how these companies manage their activities and interactions among employees. This will define how I share and build collaborative objectives with the teams, or instead, if I have to keep the goals vertical (top down) if I am working with a more traditional company.

The platform is a fundamental part of an implementations success. Some platforms make it difficult to achieve your objectives. It’s important for us to work with platforms that allow us to facilitate OKR alignment for alignment for teams, have a user-friendly UI, and integrate well with other platforms.

  1. Walk us through an OKR implementation process with a multinational company. How does an OKR program grow within these companies? Does adoption happen from country to country? 

Yes, for example one of my clients is SKF, a Swedish company. They decided to implement OKRss in all their operations worldwide. There were two criterias in order to decide where they would start the OKR project: a revenue and wherether the locale had the capacity to absorb change (as in, was their culture flexible or inflexible).

Latin America is responsible for 10% of all the SKF revenue, and this region was considered to have a more flexible culture. So, the team determined that the OKR implementation would start in Brazil, along with five other countries in Latin America.

A crucial point about the OKR implementation is the diversity of culture within these groups. For example, in SKF Peru they decided to change the governance proposed model, adopting a program of twice weekly check-ins, which is more frequent than other groups. This change (among others) is different when you compare the program to other countries, and it is supposed to be more controlled at the beginning to understand how the changes impact the business.

In SFK Mexico, we had more frequent meetings with the board of directors, creating OKRs and validating them with the teams in draft mode. In other words, the top down system worked better in this phase of the project.

SKF Group wants to analyze the results obtained about OKR in Latin America by the end of 2021 in order to determine how they might implement the same methodology in other countries. 

We have written a case study case study about this OKR implementation, and in due time we will deliver this business case.

  1. How do your clients think about OKRs and performance, especially as organizations transition to a hybrid work environment?

We manage OKRs so we can understand how well a strategy is working. OKR teams are built so those teams can achieve greater results and they are more successful when implementing strategies. Invariably, companies adopt individual OKRs to measure individuals’ performance contribution. 

The challenge is whenever you want to recognize an employee, you need to consider a few key points. In most of the companies behaviour and deliverables are taken into consideration. In this case deliverables are “individual OKRs” where most of the OKRs are being written as tasks and initiatives. Consequently, the relevance of OKRs drops significantly when problems arise.

In my opinion, the transformation doesn’t start with a hybrid model. Rather, company leadership needs courage to lead the changes. Leadership should also show that the model is in progress from the beginning, acting as an example to the employees. Leadership should lead the process of change management, be a sponsor of the best practices and stimulate the teams towards their mindset.

There are many concepts around this idea. I have already tested some of them described in the book “Evidence based in Leadership” by Stacey Barr.

  1. Do OKR rollouts and implementations vary in speed depending on the global region?

As I mentioned before, the culture from the country and the culture of the company define how fast the OKR implementation will be, and this order should be kept. In a global company we always suggest starting in one country before expanding to the other subsidiaries. Although we recommend it, some implementations start in many countries at the same time. When this happens, we manage a global strategy by elaborating a map of impacts in the culture, setting the capabilities we want to develop in each quarter, establishing a cadence of transformation and visualizing the changes we want to achieve.

  1. What types of organizations or industries do you believe are set up for the most success when using OKRs?

When I started to build OKR programs in organizations I was convinced that technology and services were the companies’ markets more open to start OKR implementation.

After eight years of OKR experience, I’m sure that the most important issue is not the type of organizations or industries but rather, having the CEO and/or leadership involved in the process to get the expected results. The OKR framework was not developed for a specific industry, but rather for leaders that are ready to have better communication and focus on their business.

  1. Typically how long does an OKR program need to be in place before people begin to see a return on investment? 

It depends on how the leadership is investing time and energy to manage and establish a conversation with the teams to achieve results using the OKR framework. I have had the opportunity to follow up with companies that reported significant results in the first quarter of an OKR implementation. On the other hand, there are some companies that, until now, have not seen any return two years after an OKR implementation. 

As you see, it is important to consider that managers need to establish a leadership based on evidence to implement a structured feedback process with the team.

  1. What does the future look like for OKR methodologies globally? Do you predict more multinational enterprises will adopt this performance management method? 

I don’t believe that multinational companies are in this direction. Instead I’m seeing more companies give the country manager of each subsidiary the independence to choose which model of management is better to get results. 

As I mentioned, the culture of the country, the local culture of the company and the challenges of the market that each company faces, are relevant to define the strategy to organize teams and areas.