How to build an impact-first organization

The year 2020 is challenging our beliefs on what work means in so many ways.

Essential workers are putting their health — and lives — at risk to keep the world going. Meanwhile, it’s hard for non-essential workers to feel their work matters and believe that their work is still important amongst everything that’s happening around them.

For years, people have been chasing productivity at work. Getting more done. Checking things off their to-do lists. But that’s changing. I think that the future of work is much more about the impact that each of us will have on our customers and their missions, than it is the productivity that we have been so desperately seeking over the years. To be engaged at work, people need to see their impact.

The question is: how can you increase this impact? How can employees see (and believe in) the impact they’re having? I have so much to learn on this topic. Last week, I had the opportunity to chat about it with Frederic Kerrest, the COO and Co-founder of Okta, during SaaStr Enterprise. We discussed the things he and the Okta team have implemented to increase employee and customer engagement. I learned a lot so I thought I would share the biggest takeaways.

Constantly find tangible ways to connect with customers more closely.

Okta’s #1 corporate value is “love our customers.” At Okta, they invite customers to give keynotes in their weekly All Hands. This allows the team to directly hear customers’ voices, understand their phrasing, see their viewpoints, and know what they care about. “We encourage customers to ask us questions that make us uncomfortable,” he said.

“We encourage customers to ask us questions that make us uncomfortable.”

It’s also important to find ways for all teams, like product, marketing, engineering, etc, to connect with customers, not just the customer facing teams like sales, support, and success.

Frederic said they operationalize this at Okta by discussing customer “go-lives”, not just the moment you make the sale. That way, you reframe it to include all the work that goes into making a customer successful — the marketing, the product, the sale, the support for getting up to speed.

Take action to improve the team as a whole, not individual output.

A lot of people talk about being productive as what they’re aiming for at work. But pursuing productivity for the sake of productivity can lead you to feel a lack of purpose. It’s what leads to burnout. Frederic said for leaders this means changing your thinking: “don’t confuse productivity and impact.”

“Productivity is highly personal — how much did I get done? How much do I have left to do? Impact, on the other hand, is really more collective.” He said that the harder part for leaders is helping your team achieve the latter.

Instead of thinking about how you can help your team do more in a given day, think about the team more holistically: how you can put in processes for better transparency (like a weekly email update with progress towards goals) or how you can give the team more access to the information they need (like a knowledge center or wiki). Working to help the team as a whole, rather than focusing on the individual output of teammates, will improve your collective impact.

Motivate your team by connecting individual goals to company goals.

One of the best ways to motivate your team is by keeping the team tightly connected to goals. The Okta team sets up goals for the fiscal year with the VMT goal structure. At Front, we use OKRs. Whatever structure you choose, you have to make sure that they cascade down so that your individual goals align to the corporate goals.

Some other ways you can make sure your team is motivated that we discussed include:

  • Run weekly All Hands to keep people involved directly (here’s how we do All Hands at Front). Frederic runs All Hands every Friday, even with 2,700 employees.
  • Take days off with no meetings. For instance, Asana and Facebook do no-meeting Wednesdays so people can have focused time to get work done.
  • Have dedicated step back time to plan with no computer (I have a time block on my calendar on Thursday afternoons for this).

“Dogfood” your product.

I have written about before how we use Front at Front every day. I think it leads to higher employee engagement scores because my team understands the product deeply and can tangibly see how it helps customers because it helps them too.

Frederic also does this at Okta (and it’s called “dogfooding”). They built a program to encourage adoption of Okta within the company at scale, which they call “Okta on Okta”. Frederic says the end goal is this: “Think: how can I make my company the #1 customer of my company?” And this thinking, when you constantly keep it in mind, will keep you and your team on a good path.

“Think: how can I make my company the #1 customer of my company?”

I’ll be talking more about impact and our vision for the future of work in a keynote tomorrow, on August 11th. Anyone can join. At the event, I will also do a Q&A with Ryan Smith, the CEO and Co-founder of Qualtrics, who will tell us about impact within his company.

LEGO builder. Co-founder & CEO @ Front (frontapp.com)

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