San Francisco, CA
"Having a tool that shows every single employee what we’re working on, what our targets are, how we’re progressing and having all this information at their fingertips has had a massive impact on our business."
Executive Assistant to the CEO at Unbabel
Unbabel is a language operations platform that eliminates language barriers so that businesses can be successful across cultures and geographies. Their solution combines advanced artificial intelligence with human editors to offer rapid and efficient translations that get smarter over time. Founded in 2013 and based out of San Francisco, the rapidly growing organization enables customer service teams to deliver exceptional multilingual support at scale in every corner of the world.
Unbabel had used OKRs prior to adopting Koan, and although the methodology was an established part of their quarterly planning process, the team found the goals did not always remain top of mind throughout the quarter and Unbabel needed a way to keep those strategic priorities front and center during day-to-day work. At the time, Unbabel had been using spreadsheets to track their OKRs, and they quickly realized that this method limited their ability to scale. “We got to a point when a spreadsheet was very far from perfect and we concluded that we couldn’t continue like that if we wanted to make a real difference,” noted Aga Monteiro, Executive Assistant to the CEO at Unbabel. The team found that the biggest challenge using spreadsheets to track OKR progress was not having a systematized routine or structure around updating goals, with key qualitative insights getting lost in the spreadsheet updates. “The OKR spreadsheet was used at the beginning and end of the quarter when everyone tried to frantically provide their metrics and show their team's progress. It wasn’t scalable or practical in any way,” said Monteiro. By only inputting OKR data into their tool at the beginning and end of each quarter, the organization missed out on the opportunity to observe mid-quarter progress as well as to proactively raise and respond to red flags before the end of the quarter, both of which could have enabled them to exceed their goal targets. Upon this realization, Unbabel began their hunt for the OKR tool that would best suit their needs and maximize their process.
“We began the process to find the best tool that would help us solve our OKRs pains and point us in the right direction to focus on our goals without the unnecessary roadblocks. We wanted to focus on alignment, real progress tracking and more visibility across the company,” said Monteiro. In addition to seeking a tool that would make their process more efficient, they wanted a platform that would be user-friendly, would easily engage every employee, and would seamlessly integrate with their business process at the individual, team, and organizational level.
After researching and evaluating multiple OKR tools, they concluded that Koan was the best fit. In addition to resonating with Koan’s strategy, the Unbabel Team found common ground in Koan’s desire to eliminate communication and alignment barriers, in the same way that Unbabel seeks to eliminate linguistic and cultural barriers. “After our first conversation with Matt, we were pretty much sold on the idea that Koan was the tool we were looking for and that its team was the group of people we wanted to work with and embark on a brand new and improved OKR mission,” stated Monteiro.
Soon after implementing Koan across the organization, Unbabel began to see the impact not only through an increase in OKR focus, but also through heightened alignment and transparency across the organization. As an organization that is focused on bridging regional and cultural divides through translation, it makes sense that Unbabel is a global team spread out across San Francisco, Pittsburgh, New York, Lisbon, London and Berlin. This is certainly a strength for the organization, but this also poses a challenge, as communicating across different time zones can be difficult. On top of this challenge, Unbabel’s team began working remotely in 2020 due to the pandemic.
Monteiro explained that Koan instigated a significant shift around the organization’s communication as the already distributed team transitioned to remote work, “Koan has definitely helped to create more visibility and understanding across the business during those challenging times when we all had to learn how to work differently and yet still be a strong company that’s set up for success”. Koan helped everyone to stay on the same page while working remotely and also ensured effective communication across different time zones. “Having a tool that shows every single employee what we’re working on, what our targets are, how we’re progressing and having all this information at their fingertips has had a massive impact on our business” said Monteiro.
After incorporating Koan into their day-to-day business processes, Unbabel began to notice that Koan was much more than a goals tool, and that it also functioned as a catalyst to spark cultural shifts around how Unbabel’s teams communicate internally and with one another. “Our teams build their weekly activities around KRs and Koan has become a part of their routine.” Unbabel’s teams across the globe use Koan to organize their meeting agendas, track their progress, spark problem-solving discussions, and review cross-functional projects. “Koan has given a boost to our cross-functional projects where teams are more aligned and can clearly see what each one is working on and how they feel about their progress. Managers see it as a valuable tool that enhances their teams’ work and communication,'' stated Monteiro.
These positive cultural shifts across Unbabel’s distributed teams are attributed to what Koan calls the Goal-Reflection Loop, the process of intentionally setting goals and reflecting on them routinely as a team. After setting OKRs on a quarterly basis, teams review and discuss their progress weekly through Koan’s reflection feature, giving everyone an opportunity to make their voice heard and creating a space for more honest conversations. Previous to using Koan, Monteiro shared that teams had struggled to tie their day-to-day work to their OKRs, but Koan’s reflection feature has helped them to shift their daily focus towards their quarterly goals and to understand how each individual's work connects to the strategic priorities. “The biggest advantage of this feature is that we are forced to stop to reflect on our work. Thanks to reflections, we’ve become more mindful of the planning process and what works best to achieve our goals. The organization’s general understanding of goals has improved significantly and teams have become much better at talking about their progress (or lack of it) more openly”.
Unbabel has also benefited from Koan’s Enterprise Reporting, in which enterprise customers receive a spreadsheet report of goal metric progress and confidence insights on a weekly and quarterly basis. Being an AI powered company, Unbabel has loved the data-heavy reports and appreciate that it gives them all the information they need to drill down to the details of any goal if need be. “We can see progress across the company very clearly and we can also look at the smallest details to understand what the root cause of some issues is,” Monteiro shared. Additionally, they have also found the reports to be a great way to communicate company-wide progress with the rest of the organization, and present the reports to their management team and larger organization multiple times a quarter. “The reports help us to keep everyone in the loop when it comes to our progress and strategy” Monteiro shared.
Since implementing Koan over a year ago, Unbabel has seen a sharp improvement to their overall OKR process and their cross-functional achievement. “On top of better alignment, transparency, and communication, we’ve noticed that more and more discussions happen around OKRs and how we can work better as cross-functional teams to achieve our targets,” shared Monteiro. Even having had an established OKR process prior to implementing a tool, Unbabel found that Koan was a game changer that helped them to focus on their goals, putting their OKRs front and center and making the overall process a more collaborative practice. Monteiro expanded on this saying, “OKRs have always been very important to us, but thanks to Koan, they truly have become a central part of Unbabel and its day-to-day work. We’re very proud of this achievement and we wouldn’t have done it without Koan and the support of the Koan team. Thanks Koan!”.
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