Remitly shares 5 ways to align every team in your org for growth

How a unicorn company uses OKRs to align & grow

Seattle-based startup Remitly became a unicorn earlier this summer after an $85-million funding round resulted in its $1.5-billion valuation. This didn’t just happen by chance. 

The digital remittance company makes it easy for people to send money across borders, so that people who are working in a different country can send money back to their families overseas. 

COO Josh Hug said that the company has been really fortunate to see an acceleration of results in the last six months, even with the pandemic. 

“(In the last six months) we definitely see and feel our employees working harder, just the change we’ve had to go through moving into a fully remote environment,” Hug said. “But our team has adjusted really well, and I think it is because of their hard work. We’ve also laid a significant foundation that enabled us to transition into this new world.” 

So what is that foundation? Hug offered five key tips for cross functional alignment and growth: 

1. Plan holistically 

Hug emphasized the importance of company-wide planning in an environment that is rapidly changing. 

“We’ve always put a lot of focus on planning around goals we are setting,” he said. “They’ve always been ambitious.” 

Remitly is always trying to focus on continuous improvement, Hug said. They do this by conducting a retrospective during annual planning and looking at how they did in the previous year, and how they can do better in the new year. 

“What we can look at self critically and think about what we did poorly, and that’s resulted in an evolution to really focus on what we would call our strategies we set for the year,” Hug said. “We limit them to three core business ones and try to set measurable goals within those.” 

2. Develop a cadence 

In the early stages of the company, Hug said leadership would set annual goals and then do two-week company sprints. They quickly started to scale beyond that, however, and started to separate different teams and started establishing monthly goals, eventually leading to setting quarterly goals. 

“What we found though was that our team felt like we were changing the goals more rapidly. We didn’t have as much stability in goal setting, even though, from our perspective, we had some annual goals that we rarely changed...but we would change our focus on a quarterly basis and that became disruptive,” Hug said. “That’s when we decided to land on OKRs, because we felt like it created a framework to allow for permission for the team to recognize that they have a set quarterly goal and that they’re going to change it on a quarterly basis…” 

Hug said their teams manage their goal check ins and that they have autonomy in how they do that. 

At the company level, Hug said they do a pretty rigorous process to set quarterly goals. 

“One of the things that I love about OKRs is that they are quarterly. I don’t tell people they can’t change their goals during a quarter, but that you shouldn’t spend time on it. You set your goals, and should stay focused on execution. Even if you have the wrong goals, it’s better to learn from that than go through the process of resetting goals.” 

Hug said he loves the continuous improvement and flexibility aspect of OKRs. 

“We are always learning what are the better things for us to focus on and refine our focus. I like to embrace that but not really screw around with the goals mid-quarter.” 

3. Foster transparency

Hug said Remitly is a huge believer in transparency. 

“We actually have pivoted internally a little bit more to talk more about authenticity vs. transparency, we think transparency is a means to authenticity.” 

Hug added that authenticity is the outcome that they try to drive for, and that transparency is critical to give people agency over the information that is necessary for them to be able to know what they are doing moving forward.

One way they strive for transparency and authenticity is making all of their goals public throughout the company. 

“A goal that isn’t put out in public isn’t really a goal,” he said. “Overall it’s better to put the goals out in front of people and have a culture of aiming high so that we can actually stretch ourselves with goals and also have an empathetic culture where we aren’t beating people up for setting the wrong goal or not reaching the goal.” 

Hug said they’ve always been transparent, but that the step in OKRs kind of forcing teams to put their goals forward is critical.  

At the end of each quarter, Remitly’s main teams conduct transparent retrospectives where they write documents that discuss what they’ve learned, how they scored against their OKRs and plan goals for the next quarter. 

“We have those fully available to the entire company so everyone can see the discussion around OKRs, which I think creates a huge amount of buy-in to the team on how we make decisions and where we are going,” Hug said. 

4. Incorporate everyone 

The bottoms up and tops down process really creates engagement and buy-in, Hug said. 

Leadership will set guidance as a company for quarterly planning and then assign owners to create OKRs in the area they are responsible for. 

“We try to avoid crafting the goal so they can have agency in crafting the goal and buy-in for their team. Merging top down and bottoms up creates a lot of buy in,” Hug said. 

5. Drive accountability and inspection

For quarterly reviews, Hug said they ask everyone to document their hits and misses and what they’ve learned to create accountability. He said they emphasize always looking forward to goals they are going to be setting next. 

“One of the things that is really important and key to a goal-setting framework is you have to stay focused on the future and not beat yourself up over the past,” Hug said. “That’s what we try to foster. We want to learn from the past and do better in the future.” 

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