Metrics are a powerful tool. As someone who has explored the use of metrics across a wide scope of industries and settings I can tell you that setting the environment for the use of metrics is key to giving them meaning and effectiveness. This is important for two reasons; first, you need the collectors of those metrics to view them as their own. Second, you need to provide a safe place for those metrics to happen.
Your Metrics or Their Metrics
Getting your staff or team to own their metrics is key to giving power to those measures. This is important for a number of reasons; one reason is it creates a linkage between crew or team metrics with the company or unit goals - they see how they contribute to the overall success of the group. When that takes place staff can now see themselves in the larger picture and understand better how they contribute. It also gives them a better sense of "team" where they can communicate better with regard to needs and issues. A good example of this was a group of plant operators who after going through a process review were challenged to come up with key pieces of information that they needed to do their job better. Once everyone knew where they fit into the bigger picture it was easier for them to say "I need x, y, and z from you so that I can be more effective on my shift.” What it translated into was a clear set of expectations and talking points for each cross shift meeting so that better communication enhanced overall performance.
Getting staff to "own" their metrics is the other part of making a metric a tool to drive performance. In one plant two crews took different approaches to this. The Plant Manager wanted more leadership from his floor leaders so that they spent less time "doing" tasks and more time "teaching" tasks. The challenge was presented to the supervisors and each was to come up with solutions. One supervisor went in and told his floor leaders that he wanted them to do more mentoring and he was going to be checking for that on a regular basis. He outlined the need and established a metric that they report back on the number of times they spent showing staff how to do things on each shift. It was hit or miss as the supervisor had to constantly remind his team about the metric but as soon as he left the floor things went back to the old way.
The other supervisor met with her team and brainstormed what a good metric would be for this challenge. They concluded that often the temptation was to do the task for an operator rather than a mentor because it was quicker. Because the floor leaders had been promoted through the ranks it was easy to just fall back into "doing" rather than teaching. They came up with an ingenious metric - bums! Every time a floor leader was spotted "head down and bum up" doing an operator job either a fellow floor leader or operator had the right to call them on it and the tally was totaled at the end of each shift. Because they had come up with this as a team and because it was the floor leader’s idea they really ran with it. Discussions that revolved around this were collegial and non-threatening and soon they were doing way more supervision and mentoring and the crew performance was also on an up curve! On a side note, those floor leaders moved to the front of the line for a promotion as well.
Let's be clear, these were both great crews and leadership but what was the difference? With the first crew the supervisor "owned" the metric and with the second crew the crew "owned" it. It was their idea and they were invested in making sure it succeeded. But what if the supervisors or the plant manager had been a couple of hard-nosed tyrants? Could either of those two scenarios have taken place? The short answer is no.
Making It Safe For Metrics To Work
The single biggest obstacle I face in my work with Operational Excellence is overcoming the residue from toxic work environments. Even when there is complete agreement at all levels about the need for the changes being undertaken it is hard to overcome some of the distrust that has been created in the past. The first question I typically get is "will the management be doing this too?" Asking someone to create and track a measure related to their performance is asking them to take a big risk. They know there will be good days but they also know there will be bad days. What happens on those bad days? Are the measures they are collecting going to be used against them?
In addition to teaching leaders how to get crews to develop their own metrics I also spend a lot of time teaching them how to respond to those metrics. The temptation is always to lead the discussion around a metric and fix whatever issue is at hand - wrong. Getting that crew member to explain their results (good, bad, or otherwise) and getting them to come up with a plan to improve a result is key to their success. If they ask by all means offer input but for the most part, let them report and run with it - that is part of getting them to own it.
When crews take these first steps one of the things leaders will come to me with is "the metric is too soft or too safe", that it doesn't give them the information they need. This is normal and again here is where a certain amount of poise and patience is needed. Crews will figure out on their own that their measure isn't giving them what they need. They will learn that metrics are dynamic. That is to say, they ought to be constantly evaluating in order to adjust to new challenges and needs. In addition, once a safe environment for measuring performance has been established you will find that the next move to fostering "innovation" will be much more seamless. Creating opportunities and potential innovations get easier when they lead with solid data and when they feel safe enough to contribute.
Get Your Metrics To Work For You
Metrics can be a powerful tool. I have seen them transform the way crews perform and in that transformation change entire processes for production. It is not easy and it does involve a time commitment at the front end of the process. However, when everything falls into place you will be amazed and how much of your time is freed up. Metrics don't just have to be a speedometer that measures how fast you are going right now but can be used as a motivator to get crews to aspire to break the next barrier to performance. What do your metrics do right now? Performance Leadership - Think About It!