How To Engage Managers To Measure Performance

by Stacey Barr

It’s always going to be harder, longer and more painful to embed good performance measurement into an organisation if we don’t engage managers to measure performance and champion the effort.

The word yes written on blackboard being held by a businessman. Credit: https://www.istockphoto.com/portfolio/Motortion

Sure, we can get some initial traction by introducing performance measurement here and there, without active management support. For example, we might assist a team in measuring the impact of a project. Or to solve a known problem in their processes. Or to demonstrate the impact they create for the budget they’re allocated.

But truly embedding performance measurement, as an accepted and valued part of doing business, is an uphill battle if we don’t have active management support.

You’d already appreciate that performance measures’ power is helping us to know. Helping us to know objectively and confidently what is really happening with our business performance, so we can stop wasting time and effort doing the wrong stuff. Performance measures show us what we can’t see just by looking around.

Do your cagey managers appreciate this power of KPIs, too? We can’t expect them to give any support to our measurement efforts unless they do. They’re busy. They’re accountable to the leaders above them. They’re personally responsible for what happens in the teams they manage. They really must see the benefit of better performance measurement if they’re ever going to give their time and energy to support it.

Here are three tips to strike up a chat that might just plant the seeds for your managers to see measurement as a fertile idea:

Tip #1: Ask your manager if there’s a problem that’s bugging them.

If it’s not already obvious to you, directly ask your manager what is one of the biggest problems or challenges they haven’t yet found a solution for. The sticky problems that keep us awake at night are usually the problems we will give time and effort to, if we can see a solution.

And once you know the problem, then ask them something like this:

“Is there something you don’t know yet, that if you did know it, you’d be able to do something about this problem?”

Alana was the general manager of a medical practice. One problem keeping her up at night was the constant stream of complaints from patients about how long it takes to get an appointment with a doctor. What she didn’t know, but wished she could, was how often this was due to patients being unable to get through to making a booking, versus how often doctors just weren’t available. Both of these things could be measured.

Tip #2: Ask your manager which areas of the division they want to understand better.

Ask your manager a question like this one, to get a handle on what matters most to them about managing their division of the business:

“If you had more time to walk around and find out how our division is really performing, what would you want to look for first?”

Our medical practice manager, Alana, had a hunch that part of the problem with patients complaining was that her staff weren’t keeping up with managing the doctors’ roster and the booking system. She was curious to be a fly on the wall in the clinic reception, to just see how staff time is spent. Of course, it would be much less threatening for everyone if the team began tracking how much time different tasks were taking and how many tasks were not getting done, so they could all learn where the bottlenecks were.

Tip #3: Ask your manager if they’re struggling to prove anything to stakeholders.

It might be a bit touchy to directly ask if your manager is getting any pressure to validate their actions or performance to their own managers or stakeholders. Be gentle as you try something like this:

“Do we have any stakeholders that are putting some unfair pressure on us to perform better?”

Alana often felt pressure from the doctors who weren’t getting enough bookings. She’d always felt defensive, explaining that staff were under constant stress from too much work and booking systems that weren’t efficient enough. But with a few measures like staff workload, calls answered first time, percentage of doctor capacity booked, and appointment lead time, Alana could involve doctors and staff in finding a solution that could make the whole system flow better.

It’s about solving problems, not measuring for measurement’s sake.

Can you see that the key to engaging managers to measure better is to focus on what is relevant to them now, and not focus on measures? Better performance measures are information that gives everyone a more objective and confident understanding of the problem we want to solve. And measures can remove the need for any personal hearsay or opinion, which usually only leads to progress-stifling debates.

Of course, try variations on these ideas. But the important thing is to try. With a compassionate and helpful intention, you have more influence than you might think!

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