Aptible’s ability to achieve its mission is contingent on building an exceptional team and ensuring that team performs at a high level. As a result, we’re committed to constantly improving how we operate.
We can’t control what is happening outside of Aptible, but we can be certain of one thing: Companies succeed when the “center holds.” This means that the core of our company—the team—must be strong. What does this mean? How do we get there?
Fundamentally, we work towards scaling good decision making across the company. We do this by investing in our team—building strong leaders—and creating clear accountability. We are building a great company because it is the best way to ensure we succeed.
Keith Rabois, former executive at PayPal, LinkedIn, and Square, compares the work of building a great company to building a high-performing engine. It will take years for us to achieve our mission, and over that time we seek to make the “engine” perform better, leading our company to execute more effectively and efficiently. That’s why we invest so heavily in working towards improving the way we do things.
Focus and leverage are foundational concepts to how we operate. We create focus by committing to a few ambitious goals each quarter, and review them and progress towards meeting them constantly. We create leverage by continuously working towards more effective communications management practices.
Goal Setting (OKRs)
We’re willing to set a goal we’re not sure of because it inspires us to act in the spirit of learning, reflect on the results, and gather valuable data about what to try next.
Like many successful companies (such as Box, Google, Intel, Salesforce, and many more), Aptible uses OKRs. Objectives and Key Results, or OKRs, is a framework devised by Andy Grove of Intel, based on Peter Drucker’s The Practice of Management. (You can read more about the history of OKRs in Measure What Matters.) Google re:Work provides a quick summary of how OKRs work.
Aptible sets 2-4 ambitious Annual Objectives to guide company focus throughout a year, such as “Nail the Team and Culture” and “Aptible Comply Product-Market Fit.”
About a month before the beginning of each quarter, the Leadership Team begins brainstorming about quarterly Company Objectives (qualitative statements about the future state of our company or product) and Key Results (quantitative measures that show we are achieving the Objective) that can help us advance towards our Annual Objectives during the upcoming quarter.
About two weeks before the beginning of each quarter, we finalize Company OKRs and begin working with each functional area to draft Team OKRs that help us ensure that we are applying the right focus in our day to day work to ultimately lead us to achieve our Company OKRs. Some teams also choose to use individual OKRs, which is highly encouraged, though not required.
We review final Company and Team OKRs for the coming quarter as a team on or around the beginning of the quarter during the weekly Win Column. Once finalized, we publish OKRs in Ally, our goal-setting system, where we track progress towards attaining our OKRs.
Goal Performance Tracking
The importance of setting and evaluating OKRs properly cannot be overstated. It’s imperative that we measure progress, not motion; being diligent about setting ambitious but focused OKRs and tracking performance ensures that we don’t allow ourselves to be distracted by motion that isn’t progress.
Each week, we do the following to ensure we maintain focus on making progress towards achieving our OKRs:
Teams provide progress updates via Ally.
Leadership Team reviews progress towards Company OKRs during the OKR Sync.
We discuss our OKRs, and progress towards them during the weekly Win Column.
Shortly after the close of a quarter, we evaluate our performance towards achieving our Company OKRs during a Win Column. Each team also scores and reviews progress towards Team OKRs, as well.
A Note on OKR Performance: Setting ambitious goals is an important part of using OKRs effectively. Hitting 100% attainment each quarter would mean that our goals aren’t ambitious enough. We generally seek to hit 70% attainment of our Company and Team objectives each quarter, striking a balance between ambition and reality.
Because we are a distributed company, Aptible takes care to ensure that we are generating leverage through our opportunities for synchronous communication (i.e. meetings). As Andy Grove describes, meetings are a medium for work; however, our time is valuable and it’s important that we are using our time together most effectively. (See the section regarding Communication Norms.)
Throughout the week we have many meetings, both recurring and ad hoc, that we use to communicate strategy, ensure focus on our OKRs, and empower other team members to make progress.
There are four types of required recurring meetings at Aptible.
1:1s. We use 1:1s as an opportunity for managers and their direct reports to sync on important issues related to work. Though it’s easy to focus on the minutiae of everyday work, the goal of 1:1s is to create protected space for managers and direct reports to share feedback and concerns, focus on personal development, brainstorm, and set new goals. 1:1s should happen no less than once every two weeks, and should be for approximately 30 Minutes each week (or 60 Minutes every other week). The direct report should own the agenda.
Team Syncs. We use Team Syncs as a way for managers to ensure their team members understand what is going on within their teams and in the broader company. These are to be used for cross-team collaboration, decision-making, and providing updates. For example, the Leadership Team has a weekly Team Sync on Mondays, where it reviews the progress towards meeting Company OKRs and talks about specific ways we are working to advance our OKRs.
Win Column. We use the weekly Win Column as an opportunity to discuss Company OKRs and strategy as a team, specific Wins towards achieving those OKRs, and to welcome new team members. The Win Column is our Company All-Hands and there is also an open opportunity to ask questions of other teams or of the Leadership Team.