Skyward uses OKRs to pivot and prioritize

October 2020


Stevens Point, WI


Computer Software



About Skyward

Skyward is a software company specializing in K–12 school and municipality management technologies, including Student Management, Human Resources, and Financial Management. Partnered with more than 2,000  school districts and municipalities worldwide, Skyward is focused on building a better Student Information System (SIS) and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) experience. 

Shifting priorities created a lack of focus

Serving more than 7 million students and sustaining a strong growth trajectory, Skyward experienced challenges in managing their goals. Teams would work on several different projects at the same time, and the moment a new idea or priority surfaced, the original project was dropped to focus on the new task at hand. Naturally, this caused projects to build up, and at the end of a quarter, everyone would wonder why there were so many things to focus on and why several things hadn’t been accomplished.

Leadership recognized the negative impact of jumping from one priority to the next. Rebecca Gaboda, Organizational Development Manager at Skyward, described this realization saying, “We had goals across the company coming from different perspectives. Everyone seemed to have about five #1 priorities. There were so many ‘top priorities’ that we ultimately didn’t have any. ”

With more than 600 employees, there wasn’t a common framework for everyone to communicate their goals. Each team had its own goal management process, and these processes varied from tracking priorities across spreadsheets and documents to verbally expressing commitments in meetings. Because many departments had their own unique processes, it became obvious that Skyward was missing the opportunity to align the entire organization and focus on the priorities that would improve organizational efficiency. Upon identifying this opportunity for growth, Skyward began evaluating goal management frameworks.

Aligning OKRs to core values

When considering different goal management frameworks, Skyward emphasized the need for employee engagement. At the top of their requirement list was having a way to show employees the impact of their contributions on the company and departmental goals. They were also looking for a process that would increase communication across teams and departments, enabling transparency and heightening collaboration throughout the organization. After identifying these needs, the  OKR methodology was a clear match.

“We had to increase focus on the key areas that needed the most improvement, and we sought to make our goal setting practices more collaborative to help build momentum behind our identified priorities” Gaboda noted. 

Because Skyward’s values are the foundation of their goals and represent how they function as a company, it was a requirement that the OKR management tool that they choose would help to nurture and facilitate those values. The six core values are collaboration, communication, creativity, reliability, focus, and fun; and luckily the Koan platform was a natural fit! 

Collaboration: embracing a structured goal and status tracking system

To make goals collaborative, Skyward knew they needed to use a single platform to manage OKRs, and the easiest way to accomplish this was through a dedicated software tool. Skyward began researching different OKR tools and discovered Koan via Twitter. 

After testing out the platform, Skyward appreciated how Koan was easy to navigate and uniquely focused on employee engagement goals—a stark contrast to the inconsistent practices Skyward was using. Koan structures goals in a way that includes everyone within the organization, and offers a way for each individual to provide commentary and feedback. 

“Koan creates natural opportunities for feedback and collaboration between remote team members across the entire organization,” says Gaboda.

Communication: keeping all employees informed and updated on goal progress

Utilizing a software-based platform immediately showed improvements in cross-department communication, by increasing visibility and providing a way for teams to collaborate on company, department, and team level goals. Koan's weekly Reflections has helped the Skyward teams to foster great communication. Managers are regularly informed and provided with up-to-date visibility with goal progress from their teams. 

“Skyward teams are finding great success in the weekly reflection process because this practice is bridging communication gaps and helping to identify obstacles early on,” says Gaboda.

Skyward has also incorporated Townhall Meetings that take place at the end of each month in the quarter.  During these meetings, the progress and confidence ratings of the Company goals are discussed and shared with the entire staff. With the use of Koan and the presentation view, it is very easy for the Leadership Team to provide this type of transparency on how the overall company is tracking toward reaching our goals.

Creativity: driving innovation and ambition with OKRs

Implementing the OKR methodology into an organization is no easy feat, but Skyward has made progress and is beginning to see some positive trends from this shift. 

“Since using Koan, employee engagement has clearly improved. We have made nice gains in having conversations about ambitious goals and what it means to measure success,” says Gaboda.

The OKR methodology has inspired Skyward to drive innovation, by challenging teams to think differently and break barriers. “It’s a mindset shift to think this way about OKRs, and we are starting to see people get on board,” notes Gaboda. “Since putting OKRs and Koan in place at Skyward, we have realized how ‘task-driven’ we were as a company.”

As departments transitioned from a task-driven mentality to setting OKRs, it reinforced the value of setting aspirational goals, rather than identifying something that could be easily achieved and checking it off upon completion. Skyward has found that employees at every level are generating bolder ideas in support of the overall company objectives. 

Reliability: managing expectations as a remote workforce

Skyward has numerous remote employees and Koan has helped them with documenting goals and managing expectations. The ability to receive consistent feedback from every employee via the weekly Reflections has been a valuable practice for every stakeholder, whether working from one of their office locations or working remotely.

“The usage of providing feedback to one another in our reflections is starting to become more of a regular habit, and we only expect to see the additional value over time,” says Gaboda.

Having a vehicle to establish clear communication and documentation around goals makes it easy for everyone to understand what is expected of them. When employees have visibility into all goals, there is a clear understanding of what actions are needed in order to reach those goals and maintain accountability from everyone involved. 

Focus: creating a positive onboarding experience for new employees

Skyward has also found Koan to be a helpful platform when onboarding new employees. Company and department-level goals are front and center within the platform, so new employees immediately understand their value and how they contribute to the bigger picture. OKRs help new employees to feel engaged from the start and provide the necessary structure to set them up for success. 

“We are continuously building our staff, so having Koan as our goal tracking and communication tool has been a nice way to get new employees on board with team, department, and company goals early on in their careers,” says Gaboda.

Fun: increasing employee engagement with regular check-ins

With all departments using Koan regularly to manage their OKR process, Skyward has seen an increasing trend in goal achievement progress quarter by quarter. As many teams work remotely, Reflections regulate communication between managers and employees, naturally making teams more collaborative and aligned. 

“Some teams leverage the ability to create custom questions within reflections to keep the process fresh and fun,” says Gaboda. “Custom questions are a nice feature that allows teams to ask for additional insight into areas if necessary.”

Koan was not only the best fit for functional OKR management but also a perfect fit for Skyward’s necessity to focus on collaboration, communication, and engagement. The tool has positively impacted how the Skyward teams have worked together, and ultimately to drive alignment and increase performance.

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