Yeah, yeah, yeah. A performance measurement article? Insert obligatory “That which gets measured gets done” adage. We believe it, but it’s not always true. Many organizations that pride themselves on their people development limit their measures to traditional financial performance and broken employee evaluation procedures. And in spite of lots of “measurement,” nothing gets done.
If we stopped to think about it, traditional measures do not really reflect what organizations want “done”—those are just results. The real goals are sustainable behaviors that drive long-range value creation, solid and growing relationships with customers, and happy employees that look forward to going to work each day to make meaningful contributions. Instead of setting ambitiously high “results goals” and expecting employees to “hack it or pack it,” people leaders in a company should explore measures that better reflect the behaviors of those doing the work—the teams that are the engine of organizational success.
If talent development drives organizational development, and, in turn, culture development, there has to be a new approach. It takes a clear commitment and a sense of strategic focus, but when used well, team performance measures can supplement the traditional approaches to create a mechanism that puts the drive and the energy at the team level. The results can speak for themselves, and as a more important outcome, the organization will start to move toward meaningful, sustainable change.
When Measures Don’t Work
There’s no shortage of business and HR metrics—if you want sales, revenue or cost data of any kind, the accounting team will be happy to compile it for you. If the company actually uses and gets compliance in its individual employee appraisal process, HR will have drawers full of old individual evaluation forms. Lots of information can be measured, reported, analyzed, and considered - at the cost of significant organizational resources. But data doesn’t change behaviors.
I used to work with a company that believed in the idea of performance measurement, but didn’t get it right. It did have employee evaluations twice a year, but the system was not automated, required lots of manual labor and nagging for completion of forms, and then required some sense of calibration across layers of evaluators and development leaders so that individual scores aspired to have some consistency. In the end, managers were able to have somewhat meaningful conversations with the individual employees, but there was a clear sense from folks on the ground that the process was ineffective. The result was lots of cultural attention to doing appropriate politicking and getting good grades as opposed to a commitment to true team and cultural improvement. This, combined with a much more prevalent attention to the “business” numbers, made for a hard driving culture with questionable people development.
Some organizations try to innovate and use variations of basic business “results measures,” including team financial performance, hours worked, outputs, cycle times, customer satisfaction on team outputs, etc. However, results alone will not necessarily drive cultural change - they might even drive bad behaviors and employee frustration and anxiety in an “ends justify the means” mindset. In any case, any kind of results measure that is centrally monitored and prodded usually just fosters “performance pressure” with goals that are imposed upon or disconnected from the people doing the work.
A Different Approach - Team Performance Measures
I once worked at a global consulting firm that wanted to develop a system for getting a quick snapshot of how well its individual work teams were performing on an ongoing, real-time basis. The solution that we developed was an automated survey mechanism that let individuals on teams rate their satisfaction and work against strategically and culturally important criteria. The criteria included the belief that their work was meaningful, appropriate involvement with clients, efficiency of the project, impact of the results, work-life balance, etc. All of these were indicators of how well the firm was matching its posted vision and mission against the actual work being done.
At first, there was appropriate hesitation about creating more surveys and taking more time away from doing the client facing work, but the tool we developed was one that took only a few minutes each week to complete. Scores within each working team were compiled to a comprehensive “team health” score for each individual on the team. The scores were further synthesized to one team health score for the entire team. As those collective measures were gathered each week and matched up against the same exact measure of other teams, we centrally had a snapshot of the health of every team and a sense of which teams were performing well—or not—on any given week. Over time, that meant we could see trends of which teams were consistent high-performers and meriting celebration and best practice sharing. Conversely, we saw which ones needed interventions to get the scores up.
We set high bars for what was distinctive, acceptable, and unacceptable, and teams wore being on the distinctive list as a badge of pride. We posted the results of the top performers, and certain distinctive managers earned some precious visibility. These were the folks you wanted to work with if you wanted to enjoy your job. We didn’t post the low performers with sub-par scores but we didn’t have to. Hall talk can carry both good and bad messages very far. Everyone knew the managers and leaders and teams that they wanted to avoid, if possible. We also learned that the teams that were the high performers posted running charts of the multiple measures within their team rooms and had frequent team huddles to continuously improve their own scores and score higher against other teams.
What was measured—the effectiveness of teams in relation to cultural aspirations—was done, and the positive cultural waters started to rise.
It took a commitment to cultural alignment and a strategic high level perspective to implement this “team barometer” performance measurement system. This is a commitment and high level perspective that many talent leaders might not recognize in their own organizations.
Tools for Team Performance Measurement
One firm I work with has found a way to automate this kind of team performance measurement. ThinkWise, Inc. has an automated survey mechanism that measures team performance against the seven dimensions of highly effective teams:
- Alignment with each other and with group objectives
- Communication within and outside of the team
- Conflict management
- Innovation, including exploring ways to improve processes, products and outcomes
- Process, including using meetings effectively and having consistent approaches
- Team orientation and sense of camaraderie
- Trust, which creates flexibility in the face of controversy—and enables openness and sharing
The mechanism is very similar to the team barometer concept described earlier—it’s quick, automated and centralized so the measures against these key performance indicators for each team can be monitored and managed on an ongoing, real-time basis. As teams and managers (and leaders!) get better accustomed to how performance is meaningfully measured against these seven dimensions, they have a vehicle for initiating discussions and driving continuous improvement. In some cases, managers and leaders can have these measures incorporated in their individual performance evaluations so that they can be rewarded and encouraged when “caught doing something right” and gain valuable development feedback when the scores need improvement.
Talent development leaders that believe “that which is measured gets done” should be advocates for team behavioral performance measures and for elevating the discussion to a strategic perspective that aligns a company’s aspirations with its internal behaviors. Not only will they and their companies have the satisfaction of seeing the numbers improve meaningfully over time, they will also see the authentic excitement and enthusiasm of individuals truly motivated to improve their performance against strategic objectives. What will be done well (or not so well) will be measured, and that which is measured will drive a true sense of what is important within the organization. It will be done!
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