Be an OKR Champion: Interview with Foodbomb COO, Josh Goulburn

In this interview, our OKR coach, Mirell has an insightful conversation with Weekdone user and co-founder/COO of Foodbomb, Josh Goulburn. Foodbomb is an online ordering platform for wholesale food products in Melbourne and Sydney, Australia. As someone in a leadership position at an SMB, Josh is the perfect candidate for our insider interview. 

Read on as Josh shares his experience as an “OKR champion”. This article touches on the positive benefits the company has gained from using OKRs, as well as tips for getting your team on board and excited about what the framework has to offer!

Mirell: What was the biggest change you needed to make in Foodbomb in order to introduce OKRs to the team?

Josh: At first, we had 2-3 people out of 25 who had actually ever heard of OKRs, so it wasn’t as simple as saying, “Hey everyone, let’s implement OKRs”. We really had to educate everyone on the OKR framework. Everything from what OKRs are, why companies use them, how they’ve been used in the past, and why they’re effective. But also, what can go wrong when you don’t have complete buy-in.

The second phase was the rollout and implementation. We sort of knew we weren’t going to “get it right” in the first quarter. I actually remember saying this to you – that I wanted to be really transparent with everyone in the company, to reassure them that we’re not going to get this right, right now, but we will. 

When you don’t have a team member that’s bought in – you can see that. So we had to double down in our communication back to the company on how amazing OKRs can be when they work. 

Mirell: How do you think it went?

Josh: I think it went pretty much how we thought it would go. We got a lot of things right, but also a lot went wrong. But this is exactly what we wanted, to find our baseline. From here we can learn and iterate pretty quickly. We're making it work for where Foodbomb is as a company, and that is great to see. So now we learn through each new quarter and make sure we get better at it!

Each quarter, we:

  • Measure each month as a team and make necessary adjustments
  • Do the retrospective on the previous quarter (what worked and what didn't) before we set the focus for the next quarter.

We do this within Objectives and Key Results themselves, but we also zoom out and ensure we're moving towards our long-term vision.

Mirell: Why do you prefer the quarterly cadence of OKRs? 

Josh: I love it! I don’t think annuals are appropriate for Foodbomb and where we’re at as a company. At a high level, we zoom out and try to paint a picture of what 12 months looks like, so everyone has their guiding light, but quarterly OKRs give you the framework to be more focused on what we want to achieve in that quarter.

Each team holds their OKR reviews at different periods during the quarter:

  • The Acquisition and Retention & Growth teams have weekly (reviews) because they're number driven – they tend to move the needle weekly.
  • Product, Marketing, and Customer Experience tend to sit down monthly. They’ll review the month and see where they need to make adjustments for the following month.

By breaking this down into quarters; you have 3 months of “room to move” if you need it. But it’s a good body of time to execute certain things you’re trying to do. The OKR structure helps and ensures you measure it.

For example, if you’re trying to build out a marketing campaign over a 6-week period, using quarterly OKRs can help you deliver, measure, and understand. If it were any longer than quarterly, you lose focus. Quarterly allows you to break it down into pieces of work (or time) that are easier to measure, review, and make changes. 

A 12-month block can be reviewed monthly and changed, but with quarterly, you can sit down with individuals or teams and can change focus if need be. It’s the perfect balance for us.

Mirell: That’s actually the best practice! We rarely see the annuals working – even in older, more mature companies. For some reason, the annuals face greater challenges. A year is a very long time – so a lot of things can change during that time.

Josh: Yeah, I think the other important thing is that so much of the OKR methodology for us is about ensuring it’s in the conversation every day – especially when we’re working our way through a particular challenge. 

For example, if someone is going on a tangent in a meeting, we say, “okay let’s bring it back to the OKRs”. Does this fit into the OKR, is this what you wanted to focus on this quarter, or this particular month? And if it’s not – maybe you need to question whether it’s important to discuss right now.

Go back to the OKRs as a guiding light each week. If it was annual, I feel like you would lose that.

Mirell: That makes perfect sense. Because with annual OKRs, it’s human nature to lose the rush of thinking about them. Things move a bit slower. 

Josh: Yeah, it works for us. For an early stage start-up it makes so much sense and it’s working really well.

Mirell: Great! I love to hear that. Let’s talk about you as an “OKR champion”. The person who learns and spreads the word, introduces everyone to the methodology, sets up the processes and so on. What do you think are the types of skills that helped you along this process?

Josh: I think the best skills (or strengths) are around communicating – because you need to be able to bring the leadership team together to begin to frame everything up and you need to be able to get “buy-in” from the rest of the company.

So I did the 4 CAPS+ Leadership course out of MIT. The 5 capabilities of being a good leader – it’s an amazing course. If you’re not familiar with it, they are:

  1. Sense-making 
  2. Relating
  3. Visioning 
  4. Inventing 
  5. Building Credibility 

And the reason I talk about this is because the relating part is one of the biggest skills I’ve had to sharpen. Relating involves building trust and supportive relationships, both inside and outside of your unit, team and company.

As a leader, you’re constantly working with others. Bringing the company together in order to understand what we’re trying to achieve with our OKRs. I think that’s the most important skill set, but also – outcome. We don’t deliver this from top-down; as the framework is sort of “bottom-up”. So we work hard at finding this balance, and if you don’t have an OKR experienced team, then you have to facilitate that as the OKR champion.

The skills are the usual things: Effective communication, listening, understanding when you don’t have that buy-in or alignment, but also being able to build that shared vision – that's a skill in itself. Getting everyone to believe in this strategic framework and the direction of the company.

So those are the key things for me. We try to make it as engaging as possible. So much of it is facilitating the conversation rather than saying “it’s A,B,C,D”. It’s about collaboration and ultimately finding alignment across all departments.

Mirell: My favorite question now – what kind of positive impact have you seen in teams? What benefits have you noticed over your time with OKRs?

Josh:

1. We have structure. We understand what we’re working toward each day, week, month, quarter. Otherwise people are running around aimlessly. Now, their day-to-day is impacting the team and the company objectives. That structure is super important.

For us it’s created transparency and purpose.

Everyone can see everyone’s OKRs across the board – company, team, and down to individual levels. It’s not a form of performance management – it’s how we’re working and contributing to the team and company objectives. 

2. Alignment and shared vision.

If everyone sticks to what they’re doing in the OKR framework, we know we’re all moving together as one. That’s a huge positive impact for us. When everyone has that guiding light, you see the results. 

Now do we always get those key results right? No, not always, but we learn and improve all the time! If we fall short of a particular KR in the first months review, we can scale back, assess, reassess, and adjust the KR. If we completely smash a KR, we ask ourselves if we set the bar high enough and then push it out, so we can continue to grow. 

Having everyone on board is the biggest impact. Along with the structure, building the shared vision, and transparency across the company I really like.

Mirell: Finally, what are 3 main recommendations you have for companies who want to begin using OKRs?

Josh: I had a company recently ask me this, I had a long chat with him about it. I’ll say the same thing I said to them.

First, it helps to have an OKR champion.

It helps to have someone who knows what they’re doing. I think you need someone that’s done it before, whether it's worked or not. So they can “champion” it. You need to roll with it and adapt, measure and learn – have someone facilitate that conversation. If you don’t have that person, you should look externally to have someone implement it. 

Another recommendation is to use Weekdone.

It's an amazing product that is solely built for this. I know people who use HR platforms with OKRs built into them, but there is nothing better than a platform built for the problem you’re trying to solve or the framework you're using it for.

I actually love your platform and I’m not just saying that! It’s super intuitive, the linking, gamification, and the teams. So use a good tool to house your OKRs so you can measure it properly and see the impact. You drag and link up and see how it impacts your team and company. People can use it as they wish and it’s super flexible, even if they want to use it at a personal level. 

And finally, if you’re going to do it, do it properly.

There’s a saying: “stick it out”. Don’t do it half-heartedly and pack it in – stick with it, believe in it, and make sure everyone believes in it or it doesn't work! It’s not there to waste time, or just to act as another tool to use. It’s there to make a positive impact on your company, and the best way to do that is by ensuring the company is aligned. That’s what the strategic framework was built to do!

So yeah, those are my recommendations.

Mirell: Yes, I think “sticking it out” is why many companies fail. They throw it onto their people without putting proper effort without education and proper training of the processes to the people using it!

Josh: Yeah, you can’t just set it and forget it. You need to put the effort in and make sure the shared vision is there. Incorporate it into your conversation – talk about your OKRs. If you have a team meeting and don’t talk about OKRs – that’s weird! That’s how I feel about OKRs 🙂

Thank you, Josh! 

A big thanks to Josh for his wonderful insight about training others on OKRs, and so much more. If you have any questions about implementing OKRs with your company, feel free to reach out to us at hello@weekdone.com. Learn more about how to use Weekdone and gain access to free OKR consulting here.