As I wrote yesterday math is the language by which we describe the universe. I am not a mathematician but numbers have always fascinated me. Numbers, it would seem, have that effect on most of us.
We Pay Attention To Numbers
When I was in university there was a study of an actual event that took place in a school in the southern U.S. A teacher started the year by telling the students that they had been hand-picked for this homeroom because of their intelligence scores. They were told that they were the brightest and the best and that they all had skills that made them essential to the group. The result of that experiment was that students began to score higher on exams and projects. The teacher had lied; they were an average class with the same range of ability as any of the other classes.
Notwithstanding the clear violation of professional ethics, the account was a revealing look at how we as humans respond to information presented to us. We collect all kinds of information around our work. We have many metrics and measures that tell us about how well a company, group is performing. We measure output, profit, timeframes, profit margins, waste and any number of other things to give us a snap shot of how a company is performing at any given moment. These numbers may measure performance but they don’t necessarily drive it.
When Is a Number Not Just a Number?
In order to make the measures and metrics count we need to create linkage right down to the individual employee. Much like the story of the teacher and their class I have challenged leaders to use a number to drive performance on their teams. In many cases I simply told them to provide a score out of 5 or 10 and post it at the end of each day. I asked them not to tell the team how they came up with that score but to simply observe how the team responded.
The response has been pretty consistent. Starting with a passing interest, teams would soon start to dialogue about how that score was being determined and begin to come up with ideas on how to influence that score higher. Performance went up as the team sought to figure it out!
When Measures Drive Improvement
While that exercise is useful in demonstrating how we as leaders can use measures or metrics to drive performance it is not sustainable in the long term. Sustainability comes from getting each employee to come up with their own measure or metric for their performance. It comes from getting them to understand how their performance influences the success of the group and in turn how the success of the group impacts the health of the company. It is no longer about measuring alone but how to make that measure count in terms of driving performance.
Owning The Numbers
You will note that key to this is not to use your measures for the team but to get them to use their measures – along with some gentle, artful guidance. Getting them to use their measures allows you to unlock that “response to challenge” that we all have. If it is my measure for them, it is my challenge. If it is their measure for them, it is their challenge. Getting your team to develop their own measures is how you make it count.
Clarity Before Measurement
A last point here with regard to counting and measures – don’t over think things. Anything can be measured if you are clear about what you want. You can measure client experience by counting smiles at a drive through window. You can measure accuracy by counting mistakes. (it is not as scary as it may seem if you have created high coherence on your team.) You can measure time frames to completion, number of widgets per hour or number of times someone needed clarification for a task.
There are many ways to measure performance as long as you are comfortable and clear in your understanding about what you want that performance to look like. Once you are clear on that you can use the numbers and make them count. Performance Leadership – Think About It!