The superpowers
of OKRs


Neil Slabbert

Managing Executive:
Business Enablement, Absa CIB


How the four superpowers of OKRs facilitate excellence in executing the Absa CIB strategy

Absa CIB has set itself the ambitious goal of being the leading Pan-African CIB, and for it to execute on this goal, it needs to focus on prioritised objectives and key results (OKRs).

The events of the past two years have fundamentally changed the way in which the world works and interacts with stakeholders, and it is clear that the worlds of finance and technology are rapidly intersecting. The future will belong to the most nimble and robust businesses.

In a technology-driven world, organisations need to be agile and responsive to a myriad of challenges. We have adopted OKRs to not only help us achieve goals, but also to measure what truly matters. OKRs focus on excellence in strategy execution and have four “super-powers” that determine successful outcomes:

  • Stretch
  • Alignment
  • Focus
  • Measurement

Absa CIB believes that OKRs are not simply another management “fad”, but rather a proven system that turns good ideas into execution. OKRs are different from other goal-setting techniques because of the aim to set very ambitious goals (stretch). OKRs can enable cross-functional teams to focus on the big bets (alignment), and ensure that outcomes and the associated work required is prioritised (focus). These aligned teams chasing ambitious targets are regularly tracking progress to learn from both success and failure (measurement).

OKRs are not a way to control the way in which your employees spend their time; they are a way to share your vision so that they can make their own judgement calls.

As a bank, we are acutely aware that many competitors and disruptors to the status quo come out of the technology sector. OKRs have been credited in driving growth in tech organisations, including Google. One of Google’s early backers was US venture capitalist John Doerr, who introduced OKRs into the business.

What was important about this decision is that instead of focusing on goal-setting, OKRs were designed to help organisations aim for “moon-shot” wins or big ideas, and the focus was on inspiring and ambitious ideas. There were very specific stretch targets, and the OKRs were broken down into short-term targets that were aligned across the organisation, between teams and individuals. Importantly, these were transparent across all reporting lines, and stakeholders could see how the organisation was tracking.

Today, it is one of the most valuable organisations in the world.

Other disruptive technology businesses that have made good use of OKRs include LinkedIn, Spotify, Atlassian and Netflix… we feel that we are in good company as we position ourselves as a leading CIB on the African continent.

The CIB Executive team initially embarked on this project in 2021, when it was formally adopted. This messaging was subsequently shared across the business via various Townhalls and other interactions, and we take heart from the positive adoption of these metrics. This included conversation around how we would be able to learn and pivot as the organisation evolved, and we started to access real-time goal-tracking.

A good example of getting several teams behind a single ambitious and inspirational objective is our aspirational pursuit to enable our clients to transact on the same day we first onboard them. Dependence on technology and the requirement for multiple teams to work seamlessly across the value-chain makes this an aspirational target. With our absolute commitment to our client’s experience these teams have reduced the onboarding time by over 30% since 2020. This cannot be delivered by a single team – instead it is an opportunity for several teams across client service, operations, technology, sales, and relationship banking to identify their contributions to us achieving this objective. Each team has their own metrics to measure, but together we can achieve a significant outcome and jointly celebrate with each success.

We enjoyed some rigorous internal debates around the difference between KPIs, and OKRs and whether a corporate bank could really equate itself with rapidly evolving technology businesses.

The short answer is a resounding yes – the worlds of finance and technology are inextricably interlinked, and a perfect example of this is the digital migration of our clients and stakeholders to our state-of-the-art technology platforms. All parts of our business need to be aligned, and internal stakeholders need to be able to not only communicate to our clients, but also to ensure that we are tracking in real time how we are progressing on meeting our goals. These metrics are all transparent and visible across the organisation. We have a transparent tracker that leaders can review in real time that is accessible on both desktop and mobile.

Throughout the organisation, the various teams have bought into this vision, and they are actively using and monitoring the OKRs to see how we are tracking.

The digital transformation of the organisation and the customer journey is something on which we can gather real-time insights and that we can display in dashboards across the organisation, and identify where we are on track or need to focus further efforts.

OKRs represent genuine superpowers for our organisation, and as we are focused, aligned, stretching for ambitious goals and measuring our impact in real time; we believe that these investments will benefit all stakeholders and are a key element of our commitment to enhancing the customer experience as part of the OKR journey.

Neil Slabbert

Managing Executive: Business Enablement, Absa CIB

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Sir Winston Churchill once remarked: “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results” …. For a bank whose goal is to become the leading banking group on the continent, the sentiment of this resonates with us.