Successful Supervisor 39 Measuring Performance

August 13, 2017

There is an old adage in quality circles that “What gets measured gets done.” The saying is often attributed to Edwards Deming, although there is some debate on it.

The issue of what to measure and how to feed back performance is a lot more complex and important than many supervisors recognize. This article is to shed some light on common problems that can come up when trying to measure performance.

Selecting the right measures is a first consideration. Believe it or not, it is common for supervisors and managers to select measures that drive performance in the wrong direction.

I know that sounds incredulous, so let me provide a few examples to demonstrate that what may seem to be a logical measure can drive poor performance.

In an effort to increase revenue, a computer company decided to measure the number of calls made by the sales force. History showed that the level of sales was correlated to the number of calls.

When the measure was instituted, sales people quickly realized they could make more money by making more calls, even if the calls were short and did not produce actual sales. The result was a reduction in revenue.

Make sure to verify that all your measures are driving the right behaviors.

An organization was concerned that the “employee satisfaction” numbers were slipping in the Quality of Work-Life Survey. The HR manager read that satisfaction in many organizations is highly correlated to the amount of development conducted in the organization. To improve satisfaction, they mandated at least 50 hours of training for every employee.

The problem was that the managers implementing the training did not deploy it well. They forced people to go to meaningless training in order to make the 50 hour mandate.

They did not backfill for employees when they were out for training, so when the employees returned to work, they found a huge mess. “Employee satisfaction” actually got worse, even though the measure (number of training hours) showed they met the goal.

Make sure your program to improve one measure does not drive a more important measure to get worse.

A plumbing supply house was interested in improving customer satisfaction, so they asked the counter personnel what they heard from customers. They tried to measure what would make customers happier, so they increased the lighting in the showroom and arranged for better snow plowing of the parking lot.

It turns out the actual customers (not the counter personnel) were contract plumbers who were most interested in getting all of their parts delivered to the jobsite exactly on time. The store was measuring the wrong variables.

If you want to know what the customer really wants, don’t ask a surrogate to give you the information.

It is so easy to fall into these traps when inventing measures. The antidote is to always verify that every measure is doing the following five things:

1. Actually measuring what is important
2. Driving the right behaviors
3. Not easy to manipulate or “game”
4. Easy for people to understand
5. Producing the desired results

I believe that imagining pushing the measure to the extreme case often will reveal a flawed measure. Looking at the computer sales example, you can easily see that while encouraging more customer interfaces is a good thing, when you push it to the extreme and make the individual sales calls so short that no business happens, the measure actually reduces sales.

The verification step is extremely important to do before, during, and after implementation of a new measure. If you forget to do this, it is entirely possible that a well-intended measure is working at cross purposes to your objectives.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Pills For Common Sense

October 9, 2016

An MBA student in one of my classes reacted to my lecture on how forecasts are almost always wrong by saying that you can have the most rigorous software to forecast peak loads and schedule people, but you need to temper the computer decisions with common sense. What a wonderful statement, and I could not agree more.

Having been in the corporate world for several decades and running my own business helping companies for the past 15 years, I have seen or made my share of boneheaded decisions and policies.

It would be helpful if each organization had a kind of medicine cabinet, and inside there was a bottle of sugar pills marked “Common Sense Pills.”

Workers could be allowed access to the cabinet so any time a manager proposed a new policy or decision that was counter to what the organization was really trying to accomplish, the workers could get the bottle of pills and put it on the desk of the executive.

Of course, in most cultures, that act of honesty would be followed by all kinds of retribution against the employee. You would also see a secret camera installed over the medicine cabinet so in the future there would be evidence in order to punish the correct person.

I picked up a neat phrase at a Vistage lecture several years ago (cannot remember who the speaker was). He said,

“…doing things this way is only common sense: too bad it is not common practice in most organizations.”

We really need a mechanism for making sure common sense solutions are also common practice. There is such a remedy if only leaders would invoke it.

The antidote to blundering into decisions that defy common sense is to build an environment of trust. If people know they will not be punished for voicing a concern, and if leaders have the foresight to consider and discuss the impact of possible decisions before blurting out stupid orders, then many of the errant decisions would be avoided, and the “Common Sense Pills” would grow old in the medicine cabinet.

What if you were a leader and wanted to increase trust so people would tell you when you were about to do something stupid? The answer is to reinforce people when they tell you something you really did not want to hear.

I call this leadership behavior “reinforcing candor,” and I believe it is the quickest route to building real trust in any organization. Once you start making people feel glad when they point out a potential gaff, they will do more of it, which allows more protection in the future.

The ability to reinforce candor also reduces the risk of ethical problems in the organization. Ethical dilemmas often start with innocent and legal decisions that become accepted behavior.

Then, if we can shade the numbers this way today, we can add a little more coloring tomorrow, and soon we are on the slippery slope that leads to obvious illegal or bone-headed activities.

Leaders often miss the slide of behavior into questionable areas as if they are wearing dark glasses. If you are a leader who makes people feel glad when they point out a potential problem, you will get the message soon enough that you are about to cross the ethical line. That can not only keep you out of trouble; it might even keep you out of jail!

Another way to reduce common sense errors is to have a well documented process. The organization’s procedures need to be well designed and include a review or audit process with benchmarks and check points that will expose problems. With that level of rigor, a proposed deviation from the procedures would stick out like a sore thumb.

It also helps if there are specific measures in place that everybody knows. If we get off the beam, the measures, if they are well constructed, will give us leading indicators of trouble to come. If you are an employee and see something wrong, you can use these measures or audits to approach leaders in an objective and non-threatening way.

Most leaders punish people who challenge an action, and that behavior lowers trust. That is when employees need to start reaching for the Common Sense Pills again. Instead, foster an open environment where your employees are allies who help you run an excellent organization.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Write Them Down

May 16, 2015

Writing businessmanAs I visit companies of all types and sizes, I am intrigued with the number of organizations that have not committed their strategy into written form. I ask if they have values, and often they start talking about honesty, integrity, customer focus, or employee satisfaction. I get some vague statements about ethics thrown in for good measure.

Then I ask where the values are written. Sometimes the leader can pull a dusty old paper out of a drawer where the items vaguely resemble what I was just told.

More often I am told the values are posted in the conference room and the break room. I go and look, and there is indeed a slightly-torn or smudged paper on the bulletin board.

If I ask the employees about them, they tell me “Oh yes, we have the values posted, but “they” do not follow them.” If the values are posted but not followed, they do more harm than good, because they serve as a reminder of the hypocrisy.

There are several organizations where the words are in the minds of the executives but not even written on paper, let alone implanted in the hearts of the employees where they can do some good.

The three simple rules with values are 1) write them down, 2) talk about them every possible chance, and 3) follow them. If you are missing any of these three steps, then you are forfeiting most of the power of having values in the first place.

The exact same discussion applies to the vision of an organization. If the vision is not committed to writing and included in discussions with employees, it loses its power to direct the daily activities of the population to move toward the future with confidence.

These two things are most important to write down, but I believe the entire strategy should be committed to written form. That would include the following things at a minimum: vision, mission, values, behaviors, strategies, tactics, and measures.

Many organizations make a production out of generating the strategy that the resulting tome is way too heavy for the employees to lift, let alone read and understand.

I usually reduce the entire strategic framework to a single sheet of paper. On the front side we have the vision, mission, values and behaviors.

On the reverse side there is neat array of the top 4-6 strategies (too many strategies defeats the purpose of focusing effort) along with a few major tactics for each strategy and precisely what measure we intend to use to track our progress for each tactic. I like to laminate the document as a way to indicate legitimacy.

Usually the entire process of developing the single sheet framework takes from 8-16 hours of interface time with a management team. That is enough time to engage everyone in the process and far less that the burdensome six to 18 month process that creates open hatred for the process among the staff.

If you drive an efficient and high energy process to create the strategy for your organization and commit the resulting framework to paper then you have a much higher chance of being a successful organization.


7 Tips for Better Strategies

July 6, 2013

marketing strategyIn my leadership development work, I am often called upon to help organizations with their strategic plans. The process is well known, and numerous facilitators are qualified to help organizations work through the process. This article outlines some of the mistakes I see organizations make and shares a typical “Strategic Framework” that I find very useful.

The typical mistake made by well-intended managers is to overdo the strategic process until it becomes an albatross rather than a means to focus effort. Here are seven signs that a strategic process is too complex.

1. Too many strategies

The idea of a strategic plan is to focus effort on the vital few tasks and put less emphasis on the trivial many. If the end product of a strategic plan is 23 different strategic thrusts, it is way too complex to be useful, even for a large organization. I urge teams to try to identify three to five strategic thrusts at any given time. The idea of having a “handful” of strategies is appealing because the total effort does not look or sound overwhelming. Sometimes groups will have six strategies, but more than that is going to get some pushback from me.

2. Too many meetings

A typical mistake is to set up sub teams and have a series of standing meetings to deliberate on the elements of the strategy. This process sounds logical, but it easily becomes a huge activity trap. I witnessed a college set up numerous strategy teams. They slaved in long meetings for over 18 months. When the strategy tome was issued, it resembled the IRS Tax code. There were so many details and overdone objectives that the entire effort basically sank under its own weight. When I work with groups, I try to get the entire strategy completed in one or two sessions (usually several hours each) and the documentation fits on the front and back side of a single sheet of paper. The trick to getting the most accomplished in the least amount of time is preparation. For example, I have the group vote offline ahead of time on candidate values from a list of about 50 possible ones. There is always the ability to go back and redo the strategy at a later date if things need to be added. The mistake many groups make is trying to get the thing perfect at the outset.

It has been said that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. Be careful to not make the strategic process into a series of social events or public debates. The job of creating a strategy can be streamlined without sacrificing buy in. One way to check if you are overdoing the number of meetings is to watch people’s eyes when you announce a strategic planning activity. If their eyes roll back, that is a good indication you are making the process too complex.

3. Wordsmithing

For some inexplicable reason, people see a compelling need to have the wording of things like mission statements be perfect and embraced fully by everyone. I think mutual buy in is laudable, but if you drag out the discussion of every word of every sentence until all parties are thrilled, the ship will sail without you. I have witnessed long passionate arguments by managers about whether to use “and” or “and/or” in a mission statement. Once the thing was finally cast in concrete, there was so much acrimony that the parties simply put the product away and forgot about the whole exercise.

Use the Pareto Principle when working on the wording. If we can agree on 80% of the concept, then we can have someone generate a straw man document offline and not tie up the entire group.

4. Confusing Tactics with Strategies

For every key strategy, there will be some tactics that allow achievement of the objective. Strategies are broad areas of focused effort that help an organization move toward its vision. Tactics are operational activities that collectively allow the strategy to be achieved. Strategies are the “what,” and Tactics are the “how.” Often groups put the “things to do” as the strategies rather than call them tactics. A trained facilitator knows how to avoid this pitfall.

5. Not including Team Behaviors

Many facilitators leave out this critical step. Teams need to have a set of expectations for the behaviors of team members. Reason: without specific expectations it is difficult to hold each other accountable for accomplishing the tasks. Strategies become a wish list of good intentions rather than high energy areas where we are truly going for the gold.

6. Inappropriate Measures

For every strategy there needs to be at least one measure, preferably more than one. There are two common problems with measures: 1) they can be activity traps where getting the data is way too burdensome, and 2) If set up incorrectly, measures can drive the wrong behaviors. Make sure the measures you establish are encouraging people to do things that truly do lead to fulfillment of the strategy.
For example, one group had a strategy to increase revenue. The measure they selected was number of sales calls. The sales force was only too happy to increase the number of sales calls in order to earn more bonus money; unfortunately, the added activity meant they were less effective at closing sales, so total revenue actually went down. The measure looked good, but the goal was not realized.

7. Failure to communicate the strategy

It is a crime that many groups pour energy into creating a nice strategic plan that then sits in the desks of the managers for years and is not operational in the everyday world of work. The documentation of a strategy is pointless unless it becomes active in the hearts and minds of every single person in the organization.
Leaders need to continually discuss the strategic elements and explain to people why their actions are consistent with the plan. For example, a leader might say, “We are putting on a third shift next month because our vision for growth cannot be achieved without a fully loaded factory, which is the number one strategy in our plan.”

I have developed a simple format for a strategic plan that works for most groups. It is appropriate for profit or non-profit organizations of all sizes. The document can be constructed in a day or two with the right preparation effort, and it really helps focus the activities of a group after the strategy is completed. I usually show the elements as two sides of a single sheet of paper, and I laminate it like a large card so it can be passed around without getting mangled. I personally prefer the single sheet of paper over the posters in the conference room. I believe it has more power.

Click this link to view the two-page Generic Strategy Document.

There are many different formats for strategic plans; the one above is my favorite because it conveys a lot of information in a small footprint. Whatever format you select, make sure it is user friendly to the people who need to internalize the strategy. The most important objective for strategic work is to focus energy, so avoid the mega process that seems to go on forever, and make your plans crisp and beneficial.