A conversation with Cliff Hazell on Scaling companies

Cliff Hazell helps scale-ups to remove their growth pains. This Stockholm-based consultant also has ‘roots’ in South-Africa where he gained his experience in scaling up companies.

One of many highlights in his career was his role in helping Spotify to scale. He supported the formation of leadership teams, acquisitions, and new openings in other countries for the much-talked-about company, not only famous for being a digital music podcast but also for its groundbreaking ways of working.

I recalled a conference where both Cliff and I were speakers, at the African Lean management conference in Cape Town, South Africa, in 2016 –

I vividly remember Cliff focusing on a slide showing a picture of two people in near proximity relaxing in separate hammocks. Cliff paused and smiled before saying – This is a picture of a coaching session at Spotify.

He is very active on LinkedIn, and one of many posts emanating from Cliffs’ mind that I value is about the dissemination of information within organizations –

Ways of communication in an organization

The goal of a Scrum or Kanban board is to be an information radiator, but most companies build information refrigerators instead.

Refrigerator – Most companies utilize communication as you would use a refrigerator – they store communication, and you must retrieve it when you want to and try to make sense of it.

Radiator – Through proactive and daily or regular stand-ups, we can ensure that the correct information is ‘radiated’ through the organization and not simply stored where it could be easily forgotten.

For more ‘Gems’ such as the above, follow @CliffHazell here

Cliff has deep experience with Agile methodologies but does not call himself an Agile coach, and I asked him about that during our interview.  ‘ Agile is a methodology, and so is Lean management, and various tools can be applied in isolation and in combination to help companies scale up.

That made me think of the sustainability and success of OKRs. The success of OKRs can only be preserved in an environment wherein complementary methodologies are smartly applied and wherein OKRs are underpinned by leadership and a culture conducive to jointly achieving far-reaching goals.

According to Cliff, ‘Agile Framing takes things out of context most of the time and makes people focus on a ‘rule book’ (How to implement Agile) over meaningful impact. Instead, when we creatively combine complementary and applicable methods, we can create a potent combination that helps companies to scale.

Cliff counts on his vast experience applying Leadership skills, complexity science, lean management,  agile methodologies, and more to help companies scale up effectively and make scaling up sustainable. This approach empowers him to apply the appropriate method to each unique situation.  

The effective use of tools is dependent, and if you only have one device, it will prove to be the ‘wrong tool’ or the ‘wrong time’ for this specific tool to be used within several situations.

I asked him –

What are the essentials to scaling up any Company? He alluded to three critical success factors. I have taken the liberty to insert my comments on how this relates to OKRs.

The Essentials of Scaling A company

  1. Creating Focus.

Without focus, our teams struggle to deliver. Instead of the entire company treating something as number 1, and given it a fast track, we have 17 “Top priority OKRs” all equal in urgency. This means we start all of them, and sprinkle our teams effort across many things. Since each team is very busy, any we need someone else to help us out, we have to wait for them to be available.

The only way out of this mess is have a single clear #1, and putting the rest in sequence behind it. This way when I need your help on #1 you know you should pause on #17 to help out. Similarly when you ask me for help on your #17, I am able to say “sorry you’ll need to wait until I’m done here.

Once we can do this, we can actually deliver what we put at number 1, it becomes worth while to spend energy figuring out what we should have at the top. Before we can actually focus it’s pointless as we’re only going to treat them all as equal anyway.  will grasp at anything that, even if only in appearance, will help them succeed or ignore everything as they feel overwhelmed. This wastes our valuable people’s time as well as our company’s time and efforts

Collectively deciding on our true priorities right at the moment and creating a laser focus on that is an optimal starting point for drafting outcome-focused OKRs

  1. Finding Leverage.

Most of what we work on can be characterized as Overhead or Neutral in term of impact. Only very few items pay off more than the energy they consume. Our goal is to find those, and spend as little time as possible on the others.

What is our (or likely to be) the most optimal starting point to help us see meaningful traction? An existing project that is deemed to be very impactful and essential, wherein cross-functional collaboration is already fostered, is likely to be an optimal starting point for an OKR pilot

  1. Building habits

We all have seen countless blueprints, strategies, and Vision statements. Irrespective of who drafted them or their quality, they are meaningless until we consistently take action supporting the actualization of the same documents.

The Goal here is to make the beneficial patterns easy, and the harmful patterns hard, or less likely.

One way to look at this is Friction, we add friction (rules, process etc.) to slow things down, or remove friction to make this easier (less steps, faster decisions, self service etc.)

Cliff calls it ‘sense-making,’ and very few companies, within the ‘haze’ of excitement, pressures, and business as usual, establish their current status (starting point) with great clarity. If we are not honest and transparent about where we are, how can we select where we want to go?

Building habits that empower you to scale your business is essential to sustainable achievement. Patterns of ‘radiating information through well-executed stand-ups, thorough OKR check-ins, providing psychological safety, truly fostering collaboration, and supportive coaching rather than criticizing are all important to actualizing OKRs.

Talent Development Director of the OKR Institute