Ally.io
December 16, 2021

How Roambee uses OKRs for strategic execution with a distributed team

Mariel Breton
Senior Manager for Corporate Programs at Roambee
How-Roambee-uses-OKRs

“The key purpose is to empower people. OKRs create a social contract in the company.” –Roambee CEO, Sanjay Sharma

Roambee offers verifiably better supply chain visibility on demand, for on-time, in-full, in-condition delivery of shipments and assets anywhere in the world. Their innovative AI-powered platform and end-to-end monitoring solutions deliver reliable, timely, and actionable “supply chain signals” that drive logistics automation.

Gartner identifies Roambee as one of the 9 global supply chain technology companies in “2021 Gartner Tracking and Monitoring Business Process Context: Magic Quadrant for Real-Time Transposition Visibility Platforms.”

Roambee is also behind the safe and timely distribution of temperature-sensitive vaccines for one of the largest global COVID-19 vaccine makers and food assistance for one of the largest humanitarian organizations in the world.

Acquisitions and scaling with OKRs

In the last twelve months, Roambee acquired two companies and is scaling at rapid speed. Roambee started working with OKRs back in October 2019 right before the world forever changed due to the Covid 19 pandemic and the lockdowns that followed.

In our case, the entire workforce went remote.

Roambee is the textbook example of a distributed, digital and asynchronous communication organization. We have employees based in locations in the United States, Mexico, UK, Germany, Switzerland, UAE, India, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia, etc. We relied on all of our tools, such as MS Teams, Ally.io, and our intracompany portal to keep the business going and thrive through the very difficult seventeen months of becoming a majority remote organization for a time. Even on a normal day, Roambee is a global organization requiring remote collaboration and orchestration across teams as well as location collaboration on site.

In many ways, Roambee became a poster child for a hybrid virtual model, meaning a combination of remote and on-site working; a model where some of our employees are on premises, while others work from home.

Does this sound familiar?

Why OKRs for Roambee?

The OKR (Objectives and Key Results) framework is a simple and effective tool to drive meaningful and measurable goals. The OKR methodology aids companies to better communicate objectives and shine a spotlight on what’s most important.

A well executed OKR program mitigates distraction by empowering your people to stay focused on what really matters, and say no to everything else.

The OKR program at Roambee, after two years of hard, constant work, has:

  1. Increased employee engagement
  2. Fostered alignment to our company’s vision—to transform business by democratizing access to better supply chain visibility—and provided an environment of psychological safety, removing the fear of failure and promoting cross-team collaboration
  3. Given our corporate culture a common language. OKRs are a form of communication now spoken by all employees, both new and old.

The OKR Disclaimer

Before this all sounds too good to be true, here comes the disclaimer. It took Roambee hundreds of hours of meetings to get to this ideal state.

We would have meetings to plan the OKR meetings at the companywide level, team level, and at the executive team level. We continue to have these meetings. The strategic planning and thinking must run in parallel to the implementation of an OKR program. At Roambee we invested heavily in the OKR program and continue to do so. In order to reach mastery, you must put in the time, and that comes at the cost of continuous repetition and iterations. This is a philosophy built on both top down and bottoms up iterations.

As with all good and meaningful changes, it takes time, sweat, and a rollercoaster of ups and downs. Despite the apparent and misleading simplicity of the OKR framework, when you are embedding and shaping it to your business it is truly deceptively taxing and requires loads of time, patience, knowledge and leadership.

Executive leadership and endorsement are the cornerstone to a successful OKR program.

We held meetings for the design of in-house OKR resources to drive employee education and adoption in the form of transcripts, publicly posted slides, and recorded video seminars and trainings, presentations, and meetings. We wanted to create a repository of material that individuals can view asynchronously.

The time invested in meetings paid off.

Our OKR champions from the Corporate Programs team and function managers, in addition to providing teams clear objectives, accountability, and autonomy for delivering them, were given a platform to later discuss them openly and transparently.

This came through via the shape of the biweekly OKR check-in meetings at the team level. In those meetings, our team leads were able to guide, inspire and enable their smaller teams, helping them address and overcome bureaucratic challenges that were blocking progress.

The change in mindset was in making our team leads aware of focusing to monitor the outcome-based measurements that only the OKR framework can deliver.

The Ally.io software platform provided the structure to better track and trace those outcomes so we could strengthen our organization’s performance culture.

When you take on real change, which is exactly what is demanded in embracing an OKR program, it actually is quite similar to what marketing professionals describe as a torture test to an organization, or what a doctor would call a stress test.

My personal experience with corporate programs had in the past involved leading six sigma training and project teams. I was overly confident when it came to writing my first OKRs for a quarter; it was more difficult than I thought initially. I only improved at it after a couple of quarters.

OKRs when done well are designed to get at the very fabric of what makes your organization tick. The process of OKR crafting and setting is a very deliberate and intense test to determine the stability of the way your company was organized or not, prior to deciding to organize your company strategy though OKRs.

In many ways, at the beginning stage, adopting OKRs will feel like a reset.

You will find that just deciding what OKRs to select at a company-wide and annual level will feel like a breaking point, but you will come out of it stronger. This will demand energy from your Executive leadership team to rally around the OKR program you have decided to deploy because it will demand more from your operational capacity and under extreme intellectual conditions.

This is not to be taken lightly, because you are intellectually tasked with choosing only a handful of priorities for a quarter or a year. Deciding what to do, in the OKR language is literally deciding what not to do, it is a conscious choice for sacrificing or renouncing everything else – at least for that specific period.

Rallying culture and onboarding around OKRs

The Roambee team is comprised of a mix of achievers with decades of experience in Fortune conglomerates, as well as entrepreneurs who have built one or more startups. What binds us together is our passion to put enterprises in control by harnessing the power of sensor-driven visibility technologies and data analytics.

Roambee values in its employees, what it calls as being responsibly rebellious. A Responsible Rebel at Roambee questions everything, digs deep for every decision, and always has a bigger picture in mind. At the same time, we don’t think rules or processes are draconian, we see them for the positive discipline and structure that it brings to help us realize the bigger picture. This mindset helped accelerate the OKR adoption at Roambee.

Work culture is the most important catalyst for a company’s success.

Just like Facebook has a “Hacker” culture, and Netflix built a culture of “Freedom and Responsibility,” Roambee’s Responsible Rebel culture fosters rapid innovation and growth. We believe in people who love to innovate and positively disrupt everything. We thrive on people who rebel against the norm, people who challenge the status quo, people who don’t just follow a process because “it’s how things are done around here”.

Our aspiration is that all of our new hires are introduced to the OKR way of working, and we got a chance to prove this when Roambee first acquired Arnekt, a cloud analytics services firm with expertise in data science, natural language processing (NLP), and artificial intelligence (AI).

The acquisition bolstered Roambee’s capabilities to deliver better business outcomes using Honeycomb – its immersive, location-aware platform. Arnekt’s artificial intelligence and machine learning infused frameworks are proven and already implemented by Fortune Global 500 customers including Honda, Epson, and HPE. This acquisition launched the OKR program as an important building block for our company onboarding program.

Not long after, Roambee acquired Swiss-based Modum to dominate the Pharma cold chain monitoring market. So, we then had the opportunity to improve our onboarding process further where it applied, to train in the OKR methodology, an entirely new group of employees.

Using Ally.io for a flexible OKR framework

OKR is a framework that must be adapted to your business, and to get the most out of it requires first deep knowledge of its principles, history and practices.

Our CEO, Sanjay Sharma and our COO Rainer Kuehling took deep dives into first understanding where the OKR framework came from before thinking of committing to it.

We believe it’s important to create your own OKR program playbook that works for your specific environment, and refine it over time, as you learn, grow and evolve. We have an [email protected] framework that was honed and tweaked for several months before the full-blown company roll-out.

As outlined by Roambee Chief Operations Office, Rainer Kuehling, “OKRs is a critical thinking framework and ongoing discipline that seeks to ensure our Rebels (i.e. employees) work together, focusing their efforts to make measurable contributions that drive the company forward”.

For example, we are comfortable allowing for shared OKRs/projects across multiple teams and even under more than one owner. When both the teams are supposed to commonly own and work towards the outcomes, it is good to tag multiple stakeholders and not just a single team/owner as accountable. Ally.io fortunately has this set up and others that can cater perfectly to our needs.

We value this as the Ally.io software tool is working for our managers instead of our them having to work around or under the OKR software tool.

We embed flexibility even in the adoption of the OKR program, as it has to cater to specific needs and ways of working for the Engineering and Product management teams. Ally.io has set the table well for us to run both horizontal and vertical alignment for our OKRs.

Reimagining the future with OKRs

Our next challenge as an OKR practicing company is how to keep the program fresh and innovative. We will be constantly challenged to prove the business value of OKRs to our employees and to continue to improve its processes. The OKR program needs to remain relevant to our business.

The OKR program will continue to justify its existence to both the company and its employees on a daily basis. This is part of the social contract and what is needed if you aspire to turn OKRs into real business value.

The wage you pay is, quarter after quarter, delivering on even better and tighter quality OKRs that drive results, reduce silos, promote collaboration and are gradually embedded in your companies business rhythms and successfully manage dependencies.

This is where Ally.io has been a third leg to our organization. Ally.io provides expertise coaching through its community and the deployment of OKRs as a framework that can drive business results for improved operating performance.

Roambee has in the last 12 months continued to improve business processes, quality processes and fight customer churn, just to name some concrete successes.

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