Managing what you measure.

I “recently” moved into a management position (last April), and it’s been interesting to reflect on the experiences since then. This post is part reflection, part challenge.

My previous position, at a supervisory level, certainly afforded a lot of management experiences and insights, but it’s interesting the shift in perspective that occurs when you find yourself one step higher on the proverbial ladder. Suddenly a macro-lens becomes your world-view, and you find yourself thinking a lot about things like “optics”.

One thing that’s been on my mind a lot is this idea of performance management. How do we get the most out of ourselves and our employees, to maximize contribution to the organization’s goals (assuming there are some goals)?

The insightful old adage of “you manage what you measure” holds true. If all you do is measure your employee’s time, all you’ll manage are their schedules. Measure their expenses? You’ll end up managing the budget.  Track critical incident reports? You’ll end up writing policy until you’re blue in the face. And not to say that scheduling, budgeting and incident tracking aren’t important…but do any of them get you any closer to the organization’s goals? Doubtful. Those kinds of activities tend to lead to “running in place”, and more of the same.

What then, does performance management really look like? Defining “performance” is possibly the single largest HR issue in the non-profit and charitable sector. Unlike the for-profit sector (which has a variety of easily quantifiable performance metrics…from profit margins to ROI), typical non-profits, and their associated goals and objectives, are less easily measured. So we default to tracking where our employees are and what they’re doing as some sort of proximate indicator to assure us that, so long as everyone is busy and working long hours, that we’re getting “results”. I’m not sure that’s the most effective strategy. Which is a nice way of saying I think it’s a crap system, long overdue for an overhaul.

Here’s some random thoughts on the topic, in no particular or cohesive order. I’m working on creating an improved performance management system within my programs, based on a system that Google uses (and Intel). I’d love to hear your thoughts on systems that you like, or have seen work.

  1. People who work in the non-profit or charitable sector are a little different. In a good kind of way. Typically, you have to be pretty passionate about something to accept a 30% wage cut to take a job at an under-resourced and over-worked organization. Passionate or nuts, one of the two. Any performance management system should seek to incorporate this passion…which means that employees need to be involved in establishing their own performance objectives.
  2. Organizations need to have a clearly articulated and communicated vision for an improved future, whatever that looks like. Ideally they would also have some clearly outlined strategies to achieve that future state, that individual employees can then align their own objectives with. Alignment with the organizations’ goals, and attunement with the processes, would greatly enhance the day-day connection to performance and goal achievement. Too often the strategic plan gets shelved as soon as it’s created, only to be dusted off 3 or 4 years later and re-hashed.
  3. Performance management cannot be limited to a 3-month probationary period review, followed by annual evaluations. 12 months between evals? Seriously? In a world where most people can’t hold attention to something for 12 minutes? A year is a pretty long time. In fact, for many organizations in the social services sector, the average lifespan of a front-line employee can be just a little more than a year. It’s probably not reasonable, or practical, to make performance management a daily occurrence (or is it? I don’t actually know…), but what about weekly? Bi-weekly? Monthly? Quarterly? There’s probably a sweet spot in there somewhere, based on the individuals role and responsibilities, and personal level of accountability.

As previously mentioned, I’m working on solving this particular puzzle within my programs, and will update folks with some results when we’ve been using it for awhile.

In the meantime, perhaps it’s time to wonder about what you’re measuring, and if you’re managing what you should be.

What do you think?

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