Performance measures are basically a form of feedback. In general, we measure things because we want to know how something is going and whether or not and when we should do anything about it.
More often than not, however, performance measures are used as ways of judging how well someone is doing their job. How well a manager is keeping costs under control, how well a project manager is delivering a project’s objectives, how well a sales person is converting leads into customers. When someone feels that a performance measure is the fuel for someone else to judge their performance, we all know the typical unintended consequences:
- the performance measure’s figures are fudged or manipulated to make the result look good
- the integrity of the data on which the measure is based is argued
- it becomes very difficult to find the time to actually collect the data or report it
- other areas of performance are neglected and allowed to deteriorate in favour of throwing all energy into achieving one performance measure’s target
Why should this happen? Why is it so much more preferable for people to turn a blind eye to poor service or low quality work than to stand face to face with some objective feedback about how much they could improve? A few things probably contribute to this:
- when others judge our performance, it feels like a personal attack, a judgement about how good we are as people
- our own egos are not ready to face that our application of our skills, knowledge and expertise still has scope for improvement
- we don’t feel we have the control or influence to affect any kind of improvement – we feel like victims of the system as opposed to leaders of change to the system
I have to admit that I am guilty of each one of these states when it comes to evaluating my own performance as a consultant. When a client indicated to me that a workshop didn’t go as well as they expected, it felt like they had said that I wasn’t as good a consultant as they expected. When I read some of the participant feedback forms for that workshop, some of their comments about not understanding where I was taking them really stung my ego!
I felt at that point quite ready to give in and accept my weaknesses and limitations and go back to easier and “safer” consulting work. I am also ashamed to admit that I even had a glancing thought that maybe the problem was them and not me – that my performance at the workshop was a victim of their inability to actively listen.
It’s very ironic that I felt this way, given that my specialty is performance measurement! Reflecting on how I responded to the above experience has helped me understand a little more about why performance measurement sounds like a great idea until performance measures come face to face with people not really ready for handling feedback.
So if you are finding that people are fudging performance measures instead of facing them with open curiosity and a passion to improve, it might help to do some thinking about how you can seed and nurture the capability for people to seek, hear and respond to feedback:
- to link feedback to an action, a behaviour, a decision or a choice, instead of to who they are as a person
- to envision excellence beyond their current standards, and see themselves as creatures that are ever-learning, ever-growing, ever-improving toward limitless possibilities
- to discover that if they want a change, first they must change and explore how they can widen their circle of influence (or simply see how wide it actually is already)
About the author:
Stacey Barr is a specialist in organisational performance measurement, helping corporate planners, improvement officers, business analysts and performance measurement officers confidently facilitate their organisation to create and use meaningful performance measures with lots of buy-in.
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