11 Important Memes of Performance Measurement

by Stacey Barr

Break outdated and useless KPI habits by using memes that are quick and easy ways to remember the principles to meaningfully measure performance.

Our idea is meaningful performance measurement. Credit: wildpixel

Memes are memorable and symbolic ideas that help us shift and sustain a new culture around an idea. Our idea is meaningful performance measurement, and the shift we want is away from all the struggles and toward a fresh and useful principles to guide better practice.

The following memes have been at the core of PuMP ever since I created it in the late 1990s. Just like song lyrics stick in your head because of rhythm and rhyme, use these memes to help the useful principles of measurement stick in your organisation.

1. It’s a process, not an event.

Measuring performance is not a brainstorming workshop, an external consultant’s report, or a dashboard app. It’s a process of thinking about the difference you really want (e.g. a goal), how you’d notice that difference, how you might quantify that difference, and how you’ll monitor the difference as it unfolds.

Understand the essential steps in any performance measurement process, and don’t skip any of them.

2. Measure to learn and improve, not compare and judge.

Buy-in, ownership and engagement are the hardest things to get with measuring performance. And the root cause is almost always that measures are used to compare people or groups to others or to standards or benchmarks, or to judge them as either good or not good enough. Measurement
achieves nothing good if people aren’t behind it. But it achieves amazing things if it helps everyone learn and improve.

Stop measuring people and teams and instead let them measure to improve their own processes.

3. Meaningful goals are results-oriented, not action-oriented.

Measuring how much activity you’re doing or whether or not you’re hitting milestones is more in the realm of project management than performance management. Performance measures help us manage performance, and performance is ultimately about the results we want to achieve, the differences we’re striving to make, the impact we want to have. Not about how busy we are.

Make your goals results-oriented before you bother looking for measures to monitor them.

4. Measurable goals are written clearly, not weasely.

It’s a deep-seated habit to write business things in ‘management speak’. We know it’s a problem because we’ve given it labels: management-speak, jargon, weasel words. We’re cynical about it, we scoff at it, but when are we going to stop using it? Particularly for the goals we want to measure, weasel words are the biggest obstacle to meaningful measures.

Replace the weasel words with language a 10-year-old might have a chance at understanding.

5. You can’t measure what you can’t observe or detect.

Measurement is part of the scientific method. It brings objectivity to our decisions about what works and what doesn’t and how much. And so good measurement must be built from observable evidence. If you can’t observe or detect a difference you’re trying to make, why bother trying to make that difference?

Before you settle on a measure, get very clear about the observable evidence that will convince you your goal is happening.

6. A performance culture grows with buy-in, not sign-off.

Dean Spitzer, author of the classic “Transforming Performance Measurement”, says that measurement is everyone’s job. That’s because contributing in a way that makes the desired difference is everyone’s responsibility. When people believe that measurement is part of their ‘real work’, then we have buy-in. And only then do we have people using measurement for its highest purpose of learning and improving.

Give people the control over building the performance measures they will use through Measures Teams.

7. Assumption is the mother of all poor performance measures.

There are usually several ways to implement any performance measure. Slightly difference calculation formulae, different sources of data, difference cadences, and different boundaries about what to include or exclude. And too often people are left to assume which is the one that was intended. And too often they get it wrong.

Avoid assumptions and detail each measure exactly how it should be implemented.

8. Interpret patterns, not points; signals, not noise.

This month’s performance will always be either higher or lower than last month’s. It’s natural and it’s called variation. The trick to truly knowing when performance is better or worse is to look for changes in the pattern of variation, not changes from point to point.

Use XmR charts to monitor performance so you respond to signals instead of knee-jerk reacting to noise.

9. Make dashboards and reports useful, not just interesting.

It baffles me why, so long after performance dashboards came into the world and so long after the brilliant thought leadership of people like Stephen Few, dashboards are still more about pretty gauges and dials and donut charts than they are about monitoring performance properly.

Try hard to avoid the common mistakes with designing and building performance dashboards.

10. Fundamental improvement happens through leverage, not force.

Fundamental improvement is when you invest in a change to make performance better, you implement it once, and it continues to work. It’s like fixing the faulty valve in your car tyre instead of constantly stopping to pump it up at the service station.

Get more leverage out of your improvement budget by finding the fundamental solution, not treating symptoms.

11. Success loves speed.

Well, this one isn’t exactly unique to PuMP or performance measurement. I can’t remember where I first heard it but plenty of my clients and I have found it to be true. Procrastinate or defer better measurement practice, and you lose so much momentum you get nowhere.

To be successful at measuring what matters, you need a bias toward progress and away from perfection.

What are the memes of KPIs and performance measurement in your organisation? Do they serve or sabotage? [tweet this]

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