Notes by Nero Okwa
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Notes by Nero Okwa

#24. Strategy, Management & Teamwork for 2022 — Part 2 — My Experience.

Last week, I commenced a new series on Strategy, Management, and Teamwork with the first article on Management. In that article, we learnt 3 things:

Being a manager is about how well you translate your knowledge to the team’s performance and output”, Management is the coordination of people and resources towards the achievement of a specific goal, and the OKR Method which stands for OBJECTIVES (WHAT is to be achieved) and KEY RESULTS (the HOW that objective would be achieved).

Today I would highlight some of my personal experiences of Management and goal setting.

The Ford Years

During my placement year at Ford Motor Company, I worked as a quality analyst in the Powertrain team for Ford Europe. The goal of the team was to investigate any failed engine part, identify the root cause, and implement a corrective action or improved design. At the time, all decisions and communication at Ford, were top-down.

Once a month, we had an ‘all-hands’ Europe-wide meeting with the Head of Powertrain, Europe. I remember that it was a very ‘formal’ affair with different department heads presenting their updates. Other junior members of the team (such as myself) were not ‘expected’ to ask questions.

Throughout those meetings I struggled to relate the high-level objectives discussed, with the activities of my own team. Besides the monetary value (in potential savings) attached to each action, there were no other figures for the objective or key actions required.

Also, the lack of clarity and communication on goals meant that a lot of teams worked in silos. The result of which was duplication of effort, more office politics, and unrealized impact of a corrective action (as the new process/design hasn’t been communicated).

Another detriment of a complex goal setting environment is that when a team member leaves to another role, handover is difficult due to inadequate documentation.

Despite being underestimated as a student; I was eager to contribute and set myself the ambitious goal of achieving annual savings of $1m. I began reviewing all the component failure reports I could get my hands on (translating them to English). Based on the frequency and cost of failure, I chose one component to focus on.

Armed with this data, I was able to get buy-in with my manager, the engineering and product development teams, and the component supplier. Together, we identified that the failure was due to a false software error code, and promptly implemented a solution (an updated suite of tests).

This resulted in a month-on-month savings of $50k (annual savings of $600k) bringing me closer to my goal of $1m. It also reduced the (testing)time taken when customers bring their cars into the dealer shop by 50%.

To ensure the new process was implemented effectively, we authored a guide article in the company magazine and did a workshop for dealers in Germany.

My manager, and my manager’s manager were pleased 😊. It felt good achieving something that positively impacted my team, the department, and the entire organization.

The Why and The How

In retrospect, I believe I was able to achieve this through an effective goal setting system. Having an objective and key actions, that were measurable and clear, provided something for the entire team across the firm to rally around and focus on.

Hence, why I am advocating that you use the OKR method, this year for your team, organization, and even your personal goals. OKRs provide accountability and transparency across the organizational structure, cutting through bureaucracy.

The Oil and Gas Years

I had a similar experience working at an oil and gas firm in Nigeria. Here the overarching goal was to optimize production whilst reducing cost. The JV (joint venture) nature of projects in partnership with the National Oil Company provided an additional layer of complexity and bureaucracy.

We had an annual strategy exercise which involved each department ‘defending’ their strategy and budget for the year with their counterparts. Afterwards, the senior management of the company and the National Oil Company have a series of meetings to reach a final agreement.

SMART Goals

Internally we used a SMART goal setting system, where SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable Relevant, Timebound.

This sounds like an effective system, but I noticed it was quite ‘tricky’ to implement. The SMART system at my firm produced monolithic goals that were siloed within a specific department or team and largely constant till the next planning session i.e., active monitoring and update was not the priority.

Because the goals were monitored using a traffic light system (Green, Yellow, Red), this led to ambiguity around if the goals were completed and the percentage completion.

OKRs on the other hand encourage accountability and transparency. They enable objectives throughout an organization to be interlinked. Most importantly they are simpler to implement, and demand more frequent and transparent check-ins.

Conclusion

Past experiences of management at work taught me the importance of a goal setting system that works. The SMART system (and traffic light) is effective, but not adequate.

The biggest advantage I believe OKRs have over SMART is its simplicity. This supports implementation, by ensuring objectives are transparently shared, measurable, and constantly reviewed. It is a live (vs static) document.

OKRs can also be applied to our personal goals. In 2022, as you write new goals for you, your team, and organization, I hope the OKR system would be a useful tool in achieving your key results, objectives, and vision.

Goodluck,

Nero

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If you have any questions about this or previous articles, kindly email me at notesbynero@gmail.com .

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Nero Okwa

Nero Okwa

Engineer, Developer and Entrepreneur. In love with Business, Technology, Travel and Africa.