Goodness me, listen to me go on about these metric myths. If you’ve made it this far, you can be forgiven for asking, “That’s all fine, but what do I do about it?” Metrics exist in a context, and that context isn’t going to change itself just because some consultant writes a few blog posts. Or even a lot of blog posts.
Here’s some guidance for taking on your culture of measurement.
Address technical mistakes
Because measurement and leadership are so closely entangled, it’s hard to critique measures without also appearing to critique their owner. But, a relatively safe critique is one that is purely technical. For example, if people are miscalculating self-service metrics or leaving people and process costs out of an ROI, it’s pretty nonthreatening to offer to tweak the measure a bit…especially if it’s new and hasn’t been publicized widely in the past.
Similarly, sometimes just renaming measures can help. For example, leaders might be reluctant to stop reporting a “Net Promoter Score” that’s support only, transactional, and calculated with bogus cutoffs but perhaps you can have it renamed to a “Support Recommender Index” or some such. This gives people the metric they want without the possibility of misleading others and losing credibility.
Ask good questions
It’s always easier to change attitudes with questions rather than opinions. (Even I won’t walk into your offices and start telling people they’re doing metrics wrong. Probably.)
Most people at work are smart and well intentioned, and as we’ve seen, there’s at least a grain of truth in each of these myths. With careful and appreciative inquiry, we can perhaps get people to move away from the unhelpful parts of their measurement strategies while holding on to the good core.
For example, if I see an ops meeting that attendees despise, I might ask,
- What are the most useful insights you’ve gotten from these reviews this year?
- What were some of the most effective corrective actions you’ve taken, and how long do those actions take to implement?
- How do you assess what changes in the data are meaningful, and which are just usual variations?
- What do you think is the normal variation in the data? Are there patterns around seasons or new releases?
If I see only activity-based measures (SMART goals) on review forms, I might ask,
- Who are your superstars here? Why? How does that show up in these goals?
- Have you ever seen people attempt to game these metrics?
- Have you had employees score well on these measures, despite impressions or feedback that they’re not the best performers?
- What guidance has HR given you on the nature of your goals?
- How do your knowledge-working counterparts in development and marketing measure their staff?
I hope answering these questions might cause some introspection and different ways of thinking about a desirable measurement strategy. At the very least, having heard the answers, I have more ways of framing what I’m going to recommend in a way that’s responsive to my colleague’s challenges, values and interests.
Implement better alternatives
Living well is the best revenge…and it’s also a great way to get people to follow you! Generating and analyzing metrics may not be in your formal job description, but everyone needs to measure their work at some level, so consider yourself officially empowered to be master of your own metrics.
Of course, if you manage a team or program, you have an even clearer mandate, and more opportunity to make a bigger difference.
For example, if you’re part of a team taking on a new initiative, why not experiment with some Innovation Accounting, perhaps tracking progress against your original ROI model? Or, you could implement a self-benchmark? However you choose to measure yourself, make sure that people will know what you’re learning and what you’re doing as a result of your measures. And see if the things that you’re doing don’t start to spread across the organization.
One additional note on metrics innovation: the people you report into may not be ready to let go of their old measures, at least until they have significant experience and comfort with your new ones. So it’s useful to “keep two sets of books,” as we’ve discussed before—the traditional numbers to report up, and your new metrics to learn from and to start to expose alongside the traditional numbers. It may seem like extra work, but it’s hard for people to lose metrics they’re used to, so you’ll probably have to operate in parallel for a while.
Use a Strategic Framework
Measures are in service of a bigger goal or measurable vision. The document that connects the operational metrics to the bigger goal is a strategic framework.
The strategic framework is a great way to communicate the “why” of your measures. Because each measure supports an action that supports a strategic objective, there’s a clear reason for why we’re looking at what we’re looking at.
The Strategic Framework is simple—so simple, it’s tempting to skip. Please don’t. Your metrics, your executives, and the rest of your colleagues will thank you.
Sometimes, it’s just not possible to change leadership’s measurement practices, especially if they’ve been doing things the same way for a very long time. In this case, just wait for them to move on. It’ll happen eventually—sometimes, gratifyingly quickly. If you see dysfunction, you’re likely not the only one.
It’s a satisfying feeling, especially if you’ve been planting seeds with your own more effective measurement strategies. Keep the faith!