Creating Organizational Alignment to Transform Your Company (In as Little as One Quarter)


Let me tell you about a nightmare scenario. You're working for an anachronous company that drives accountability through fear. If you don't hit your numbers, you're fired. Your manager keeps nagging you. You keep fudging and padding your targets. You know you can sell ten units, but you promise seven—that way you can haggle your boss down from thirteen.

You work in a culture of dishonesty and indifference. If you tell your boss you're having trouble with your quota, you are out the door. Even worse, you're miserable because the company demands accountability from you, but your superiors aren't accountable to you. No one knows what anyone else is doing. There is zero alignment because everyone is scrambling to hit their own targets.

I have worked in companies like this. My guess is that you have too. To paraphrase the inimitable Weird Al Yankovic: I would rather spend an eternity eating shards of broken glass than spend one more minute in a company with this sort of culture.

This model is presented as a formula for individual success, but it’s a recipe for collective failure. 

Thankfully, times have changed. The world has moved on from the hard-selling pitchmen and the tough-minded bosses of the 1950s. However, creating a culture of accountability and building organizational alignment is still a matter of balancing individual results and collective success.

        (Struggling with misalignment, execution, and accountability? You're not alone. [0:46])

Balancing Personal and Collective Goals

As Founder and CEO of Influitive, I've strived to find such a balance for our company. At Influitive, we deliver the most powerful form of marketing for our customers: advocate marketing. We help businesses harness the voices and experiences of their loyal customers to power their marketing and engagement strategies.

Influitive works on a principle called social proof. This means buyers are more likely to choose a product if other people like them have had positive experiences with it. To put it another way: Potential customers don't believe what you say about your brand. They believe what other people say about you. They'd rather read user reviews or customer stories than your ad copy.

In a business like ours, engagement is top of mind, and organizational alignment is all about engagement. It is the process of appealing to every person at every level of our company to meet our collective goals. That’s even harder than it sounds.

In the past, we tried a couple of pre-packaged applications to automate goal-setting and departmental alignment, but they didn’t work for us. After that, we put together an in-house solution using Trello, ProjectManager, spreadsheets, and colourful things on the walls. It was a cross-departmental initiative we called Installed Base Success. It got us part way there, but it was very labour intensive. Our chief of staff, Bronwyn Smith, would spend at least ten hours a week talking to people about their goals. Then she'd collate everything and update everyone with PowerPoint presentations that were shared manually.

I was frustrated. Our team at Influitive is top notch; our market opportunity unbounded. Something was missing in the mix. We were consistently missing the same targets. Execution was a problem. Working with spreadsheets, PowerPoint, and elbow grease to create some sense of accountability wasn’t enough. We had seen some sporadic success, but everyone knew we could do a lot better. Our board of directors agreed. We needed to solve our execution and alignment challenges and I needed to solve them quickly—without a COO to delegate the responsibility. This needed to be my number one objective as the CEO.

Advocating for Organizational Alignment

Our alignment issues were consistently at the top of my 360 reviews from our team. Our people ranked the executive and management teams low on accountability. Good employees were leaving and specifically mentioned that our culture was not high-performance enough. We had a trailblazing product and an excellent work environment, but something wasn't clicking. In traditional advocacy fashion, that's when I decided to start to ask around for a solution.

When I meet with other CEOs, I always see how I can help. I frequently end our meetings by asking: “What's the main boulder you're trying to move?" Inevitably, I get asked the same question back. “Execution” was my big rock. When I talked with other leaders about creating a culture of alignment and accountability, several suggested Workboard. They used words like "revolutionary," so I decided to check it out.

I asked my network for an introduction to Workboard CEO Deidre Paknad, and we soon met over lunch. Her understanding of organizational alignment blew me away. This woman was put on Earth to figure out this problem.

What most impressed me was that Deidre is a high-level executive who had struggled with the same alignment issues I had at Influitive. The ideas at the core of Workboard were solutions to problems she experienced firsthand.

Primary among these concerns was the human element. It's one thing to implement a software system to create organizational alignment. It's another to change people's behaviour. Workboard respects how human beings actually work, which is why it's so effective at getting everyone to buy into it.

           (Goals are set—and accomplished—by individual contributors. Influitive needed 

                   software that harnessed human drives and motivations. [0:29])

I felt confident I'd finally found the right solution for Influitive, but I was still somewhat hesitant. Could we finally pull this off? We'd tried before and hadn't seen the results we wanted. Deidre knew the history of our organizational alignment initiatives and wanted to prepare us.

Workboard knows you can’t implement the change management processes on your own, so they flew a team to our Toronto headquarters to train us. She started with the senior leadership team and worked her way down. The Workboard team met with every single person in the company. They made sure everyone was on board.

Once we were ready, we handed the reins over to Bronwyn. She had done her best with the Installed Base Success initiative, and now it was time to give our Chief of Staff the opportunity to truly shine with a solution like Workboard. She made our organizational alignment process her top priority. She put up posters all over the office. People were excited and things started to take off.

Making Results a Habit

Once we implemented Workboard, our focus began to shift. Instead of looking at either vague or overspecified goals, we switched our attention to OKRs—Objectives and Key Results. These are goals we set, track, and evaluate on a quarterly basis. We refine them constantly and make them the core of every single meeting. Expressed as a metric, 100% of our meetings at Influitive discuss our objectives. It's a change that's stuck.

               (The result of complete organizational alignment: a brighter future. See how 

                 Workboard helped Influitive smash our Services goal by >160%. [0:38])

We have just completed our first full quarter using Workboard, and our mindset has already shifted. Workboard has its own flavour of OKRs that is quite thoughtful, born from many years of implementing them in companies like ours. You could say our new motto is "Make results a habit," and it has caught on. Influitive has had a record-breaking quarter in almost every area of the business. I'm sure there are many reasons behind this, but one of them is certainly our new system around execution. I've never seen this company more focused on results, individually and in their teams.

Transparency, accountability, and organizational alignment empower everyone in your company to lead by example. @WorkboardInc

One of the results that floored me was the increase in the accountability scores. We first started tracking this metric when we realized good people were leaving because they didn’t feel management was accountable.

We score accountability on a scale of 1 to 10, and our score went from 7 to 8 in our first 3 months using Workboard. That may not seem like a big leap, but in the past going from 7 to 7.2 would have signalled a significant change. A shift from 7 to 8 is off the charts, but I also realize that the better you get, the tougher it is to improve. It'll be quite the challenge to get to 9, but I know we’ll get there.

What's even more impressive is how the team at Influitive pulled together. I try to be a hands-on CEO, but I spent a good chunk of this last quarter travelling. I've been working on our next round of funding, which inevitably takes me away from the office. Seeing all of this terrific execution happen with me on the road gives me even more confidence in the new system we have in place.

Driving Accountability Through Transparency

All this is driven by transparency. In our previous organizational alignment projects, individual employees could only view their own OKRs. Here were their goals—they had to hit them and had no clue what anyone else was doing. There was no ownership, only milestones and targets to hit.

                 (An environment of transparency enables employees to make the right decisions, 

                                                 while driving agility and success. [0:48])

Want to build trust with employees? Make accountability a two-way street. Management must be accountable for employee success and results.

Now, all employees can see what everyone else is doing. Anyone can click on an individual, team, department, or company view. They can even take a look at my CEO view. I am as accountable to them as they are to me.

This level of transparency is what makes Workboard so powerful. It is flexible, not doctrinaire. It empowers anyone in the company to say, "I don't think we're working on the right thing. We should be working on this instead." This goes even for our frontline employees: the people who are dealing with customers all the time.

Most systems leave no room for variance at the edges of an organization. Building accountability at every level of our company means our frontline workers can make great decisions without running everything up the flagpole to me.

Workboard’s system has also helped me crack a tough problem that has vexed me throughout my career: How do you create a culture where people can develop and grow, while still being accountable for results? By explicitly defining core must-hit goals—while still supporting stretch goals—our managers have the right conversations with employees to encourage creative thinking and a growth mindset. Our teams feel like they can shoot for the moon, but managers know we’ll at least hit the stars. I have already seen this style lead to some astonishing results. Just this last quarter, our professional services team blew out their target by nearly 200% by creatively defining supporting stretch goals, which led to obliterating their core revenue goals.

Workboard is helping me build a high-performance culture at Influitive. We take good care of our people here. We work hard to accelerate their career growth and development as much as we can—these are the “soft” aspects of culture. But what keeps me up at night is getting the “hard” aspects of culture right too, and seeing how these two feed off each other. Living and breathing our goals—while not compromising our culture of caring—is inspiring. The unique capabilities of Workboard have helped me navigate these tough waters while never feeling seasick.

My next goal is to start using Workboard for one-on-one meetings with my senior direct reports. We use several different systems to do that right now, but I want to streamline and standardize the process.

               (OKR success impacts every facet of an organization. See how Workboard helps 

                            Influitive tackle the hard aspects of company culture. [1:03])

Workboard's one-on-one meeting feature will allow my team and me to set the agenda in advance. We can add and share topics, action items, and goals. We can also visualize progress on our alignment goals and OKRs in the app, and fill in the gaps. It will bring even more purpose to our meetings. The new process will further enable the conversations that will help us switch gears and take on exciting new opportunities.

Building Connections and Leading by Example

Alignment is so important because a tiny shift in perspective can yield massive results. Dropping a goal that isn't working and moving on to a new one—that is better aligned with your priorities—can bring in tens of millions of dollars. This is the agility we will need to build Influitive into the company we all know it can be.

"Poor company goal setting and alignment sapped our company of employee confidence, productivity, and happiness. The value of getting this right is in the tens of millions of dollars for us." -@markorgan

Nine out of the top ten software companies in the world use Influitive today, which is awesome, but we want to add number 10. Then we’ll go after the top 25. I’ve never been more confident in our ability to get there. The progress we’ve made in one quarter has been inspiring, and we are only at the beginning of our transformation.

Workboard has shifted our mindset at Influitive, and it’s even altered the way I think about my life. I’ve taken to OKRs—not just at work—but also at home. I've made them part of the family routine at our house. One of my personal OKRs is to make my kids laugh five times before I get them on the school bus every morning. Sometimes I cheat by tickling them, but I still count it. Now I just need to set my kids up with a Workboard profile so they can keep me accountable!