I spend a lot of time working with leaders and their teams. We talk a lot about metrics and how to use them and I admit it took me a while to realize that often we were talking about two very different things.
“I do not think that word means what you think it means?” Inigo Montoya – The Princess Bride
Many of my clients come from an engineering background and regard metrics as something that is used to report performance. For example; last month we produced X number of widgets. Or we lost X man hours last month due to maintenance down time. These metrics tell a story regarding how a company is doing in terms of things like production, time to market, cost of sales and so on. All companies have them in one form or another.
But there is another metric that is out there and it may even be the same as the metric you are now using to report performance but that is where the similarities end. The difference is that reporting performance does not drive performance. Let's use the first example to examine this more carefully.
One Metric – Two Purposes
A company may have a metric around production. Last month we produced X number of widgets. If we dive down into this metric we could ask questions like; how many departments had a hand in reaching that production number? In those departments how different people were required to get that part of the product made? If there were bottlenecks where did they occur and why? You get the picture.
Let's be clear, at this point all of these are just subsets of the overarching metric of total production numbers and are still just reporting performance not driving it. The shift to driving performance is when each of the individual contributors to that process understand how they are contributing to it and whether that contribution was better than the day before or not. Metrics drive performance when those who contribute to the metric take ownership of their contribution.
We use metrics to drive performance in our everyday lives but strangely enough we seem to struggle with them at work. Don't believe me? What was the score in the Stampeder football game last weekend? How many medals did Canada get in the last Olympics? What is your golf handicap? What is your bowling average? Are you a better bowler today than you were last time you bowled? How do you know? Metrics. One of my favourite movie scenes involves Billy Crystal as a grandparent attending his grandson's baseball game. He discovers that in that league they don't keep score, there are no outs and every game ends in a tie. Needless to say he is incredulous and rightfully asks the question; "what is the point?" We are wired to respond to metrics this way.
We are all competitive at some level. We respond to that urge naturally and numbers help us gauge how effective we are - they drive performance. To prove it to one front line leader I asked him to simply post a number between 1-10 in the crew room at the end of each shift and not say a word. The first day it was a 6 and nobody said anything. The second day it was a 7 and the crew took note of it. On the third day though he posted a 3 and they went through the roof! How could today be a 3? They all did the same work as the 7 day, what did they do to warrant a 3? All it took was three days and that metric was already driving performance!
Are You Plugged Into Your Power Source?
That is the power of a metric for driving performance. That leader did not have to take his crew through some pre-planned analysis of what they were doing, good, bad or otherwise, the crew interpreted the numbers to be a performance metric and had already at some base level begun to try and figure out how their boss was arriving at that number. Going up was okay, going down not so much!
Perhaps you are using and collecting metrics and the data around them. Perhaps you have a good handle on what performance looks like at your company. But are you using those metrics to drive performance with your staff? Do they know how they contribute and whether they are improving? If not, why not? Performance Leadership - Think About It!