From Global 500 Fortunes Talent Development Expert to OKRs Coach

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When Catherine Chen and I met in the meeting room, it was 7:30 am, Monday. She usually gets up very early as she is free to handle the most important things before a busy day starts.

Some times when she is waiting for others before her appointment starts, she will read something about OKRs. This is a “Key Result” in her work. As a coach of OKRs, she requires herself to walk the talk and use Objectives and Key Results (OKR) to manage her life and work.

Objectives and Key Results is a management strategy framework to improve focus, alignment, and employee engagement in companies. This framework is created by Andy Grove, the founder of Intels. It became famous when John Doerr introduced it to Google, which resulted in 10 times growth in google in the early stages. Since then, more and more companies worldwide, from global 500 fortune to small medium companies, have adopted OKR in their management.

Currently, Catherine has been actively promoting OKR to the corporate world to increase public awareness. Compared to OKR, the corporate world is more familiar with KPI. KPI was born in the 1980s and has been implemented by many companies to assess employee performance. At that time, the external environment of organizations is predictable, so the organization structure is more hierarchy based. The work was broken down from top to bottom, and the KPI ensures that everyone is appraised and rewarded by the completion of work targets in the sense of promotion and salary increment.

However, nowadays, we are living in a world of Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. The organization needs innovation to have a breakthrough in the keen competition, and employees like to be recognized for their value and creativity. The strict top-down performance management tool may not work very well in the new world of work.

Catherine thinks in the new norms, OKR can help an organization to improve team coordination and communication because Objectives in OKR are transparent. In addition, OKR can facilitate an organization’s innovation because it engages employees to work for the organizational objectives.


Below is the Q&A between Catherine Chen and the journalist.


Maria: Can you introduce your story of OKR? What makes you passionate about OKR?

Catherine: I come from China, and now I am living and working as an HR practitioner in Malaysia. Before I was living in Malaysia, I was living and working in China and the UK. When I was working with the 1st listed Chinese software company in China, we used a similar OKR approach to manage our Human Capital Improvement Project and other people management practices.

 I saw how this kind of approach and framework helped us to improve the alignment between business strategy with daily employee execution, and we finally become the No1 company in China, which pass the level 5 assessment of this Human Capital Improvement Project.

When I read Ben Lamorte’s book: Objectives and key results: driving focus, alignment, and engagement with OKRs, I realize the power of OKR again so I decided to learn OKR again from Ben. Since then, I started to give public talks because I want to help my clients to roll out OKR in their companies and facilitate their breakthrough, especially in the post-crisis world.

Maria: You are always working in HR. What was your valuable experience of working as an HR practitioner?

Catherine: I benefited a lot when I was working with the 1st listed Chinese software company as their human capital management system is very advanced in the world. They had more than 20,000 employees over the world, so a mature people management process improves their competitiveness in the market.

During my past 10 years of human resources working experience in the UK, China, and Malaysia, I had handled a lot of talent development and employee performance cases, which provided precious opportunities for me to grow as an HR practitioner with hands-on experience. With more and more young workforce joining the corporate world, I notice if we still use KPI to manage them and assess them, we cannot fully engage them and stimulate the ownership from them.

Maria: From your experience, what advice can you share with our audience in terms of learning and applying OKR in organizations?

Catherine: When I started to promote OKR and increase HR’s and managers’ awareness of OKR in Malaysia, many companies had doubt: whether OKR will work for Malaysia companies or not since it is oriented from the U.S.

I understand their concern. When we were applying People Capability Maturity Model, which was also originated from the US, in a Chinese company, we also had that concern. But it was from that experience we started to know, as long as we localized and customized the framework, we could benefit from it as it is a proven workable framework across industries.

The same principle applies to OKR. OKR is an open-source framework. If you want to roll out OKR in your company, you should get an experienced OKR coach or internal OKR expert to help you customize the implementation plan and make it become part of your organizational culture and management strategy. OKR has been proved to improve business alignment & focus over the past 40 years in the world, and it will continue to bring faster business results for you if you can get it right.

In order to know more about Catherine, please visit this website:

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