Roger Longden, founder of Bury-based company There be Giants, writes about his experience forming the UK’s leading OKR consultancy. OKR? Read on to find out more.
I’m sat here in the office watching my little Staffie snore her head off on the sofa. That’s probably raising an eyebrow here and there. First, a dog in the office (yes, it’s my office – I’m the boss so why not?). Second, how can I lead a growing business and still have time to look after her and her brother?
The truth is this: having dogs was part of the deal I made with myself when I decided to escape the clutches of corporate life back in 2009. Year upon year of three nights a week in London had worn me down and I could see the recession was going to lead to the opportunity for redundancy 12 months before it did. So, I got my ducks in a row and ran for the door when offered a payout.
Did I have a big hairy goal from day one? Not at all. All I wanted was to earn enough from doing what I enjoyed to never to have to work in corporate again.
The first year was my ‘wilderness’ year. I thought I knew what business was about, but the truth was I hadn’t got a scooby. I was eager to learn and that got me through. Working from home (in Whitefield) was an interesting challenge, too. Not because I struggled to tear myself away from Jeremy Kyle and knuckle down, but more the opposite; the office was just across the landing so it was easy to work whenever I wanted. I ended up doing not much else and didn’t have much balance in my life.
After four to five years as a jobbing coach, picking up work where I could, I was starting to get an ambition to grow things, but I knew if the business just rested on me that was never going to happen. And then, one after the other, three big breakthroughs all happened. First, I chose to zero in on performance management as my soap box of choice. I researched the topic – issues, solutions, new trends etc – and published a paper. This led to discovering the practice of OKRs (objectives and key results) which then led to meeting a world leader in the subject from Toronto who, four years on, is still my mentor. Oh, and I’d taken a desk in an office in Manchester by then, too.
The clarity around OKRs gave me, and eventually There be Giants, a platform and became the ‘thing’ for which we were known. Having done much of my work in Manchester up to then, I tried to single-handedly educate the local business community of the merits of OKRs. The Polar explorer Ernest Shackleton had an easier task, to be honest, and, as soon as I broadened my sights, we started to gain traction with projects in the wider UK and also Europe.
Given this bigger footprint, there was no need for me to keep the office in Manchester, really. Why pay more for a smaller office and a longer commute? And so came another step change: moving to Newtons Business Centre in Bury. My team and I set up shop there in October 2018 and we couldn’t be happier. Matt and his gang bent over backwards to make sure the place was right for us and have looked after us well ever since. It’s a great environment to work in and I love being here.
So now, as I look back on over nine years in business, did I expect to be where I am now? Not in the slightest. Am I happy? Definitely. Are we successful? Well, I look at success in a few ways. The typical financial measures are important (and we’re doing very well with just under 100 per cent growth year-on-year), but I also judge success for my team and the social impact the business has. Even though there are only five of us, I’ve made some big investments in their skills so they can experience growth in their own capabilities.
I’m also especially chuffed that we’ve been able to launch our scholarship fund with the Hyndburn Academy in Rishton, near Accrington, which will be sending five young people to Outward Bound in the Lake District to help them defy their limitations through learning and adventure in the great outdoors. I want to send 20 next year.
And what of the snoring Staffie? Well, she’s now been joined by her brother so I’m getting it in stereo now. It’s a dog’s life being an office pet, for sure.
By Roger Longden, Founder of There be Giants