Make Measurement About Leaders’ Priorities, Not About Measures

by Stacey Barr

Leaders won’t measure performance as an end in itself. In fact, they won’t buy in to it at all unless they see it as a means to achieve specific results that are important to them.

Make Measurement About Leaders' Priorities, Not About Measures. Credit:

Possibly the greatest obstacle to organisations having meaningful performance measurement is the leadership team’s attitudes toward it.

I have an ongoing survey called “Leadership Resistance to Better Measurement” (you’re welcome to add your experiences too!). This survey collects my readers’ experiences with why their organisation’s leaders resist meaningful performance measurement. And resistance seems to be a very common experience:

“When there are incentives involved, the minds tend to churn immediately to whether the measure will result in success or failure – somewhat to the exclusion of what the measure means in terms of actual performance.”

“Basically measurement shows them true face/picture of their organization. Few leaders don’t want to see the true picture or face the reality.”

“They keep asking for more measurement but don’t know what good measurement is. They follow the herd.”

“Many managers don’t really know what performance measurement means. They think it is a lot of work and little added value. They say they have no time to spend at it.”

From all the comments shared in the survey so far, the context that resistant leaders seem to give to performance measurement is that it’s a lot of hard work to create something that threatens them! Telling a leader that performance measurement is important, therefore, isn’t going to work.

We need to stop making it about performance measurement.

Tour de France cycling legend (for more than one reason!) Lance Armstrong says, “it’s not about the bike”. It’s about the result he gets, not the object that plays a part in getting him to that result. In the same way, performance measurement is the object that plays a part in getting our organisations to the results our leaders want.

If we want to give better measurement a better chance, the context that leaders see it in must change. So, what are the results that leaders want? A London Business School survey found that amongst the top concerns that worry leaders are these:

  • employee engagement
  • strategy-execution gap
  • collaboration across organisational boundaries
  • not leading change because of day-to-day tasks

Solving problems that alleviate leaders’ worries and concerns is a much more constructive context for performance measurement than “a lot of hard work to create something that threatens them”. So how could we link performance measurement to solving problems that worry leaders the most?

How does measurement solve the problems leaders have?

One way to shift the context for leaders is to demonstrate how good performance measurement processes provide the tools specifically for their problems. To illustrate, here are several ways that I see performance measurement directly help solve those problems:

  • Employee engagement is linked to how they see their contributions to strategy. In PuMP we use the Results Map to visually map these contributions, to help leaders both communicate strategy and give a practical way for employees to own their contribution to it.
  • The strategy-execution gap is linked to the clarity of how strategy is articulated. In PuMP we use Measurability Tests to translate broad strategic goals into language every employee can understand, because no goal that is misunderstood can be achieved.
  • The strategy-execution gap is also linked to how directly strategy is measured. In PuMP we use deliberate Measure Design to make the achievement of strategic goals very tangible, which makes it easier for employees to choose actions that will achieve them.
  • The strategy-execution gap is also linked to the way that strategy is cascaded to teams. In PuMP we focus on cascading with a cause-effect logic, which will get each part of the organisation contributing their unique best to achieving the strategy as a whole.
  • Collaboration across organisational boundaries is linked to finding shared results and working together to move the measures of those results. In PuMP, the Results Map helps us find those collaboration points when we cascade strategy into cross-functional processes and make sure we measure the hand-over points between functions that contribute to those processes.
  • Not leading change because of day-to-day tasks is linked to all the points listed before this one! How much easier would it be for leaders to do their real job – leading change – if employees were engaged, they understood the strategy, felt ownership for their contribution to it, and knew what to do to help achieve it?

What worries your own leaders? Understand that first, then develop a message that speaks to what’s important to them. Measurement is fundamental to every system in organisations (if like me you believe what Dean Spizter says). Thus, it’s likely better measurement can play a part in solving your leader’s problems.

Replace threat with support

Successful leadership is supported by proper performance measurement, not threatened by it. But for many leaders, this truth is hidden. They need a change in context to come to see it. That change of context starts with what really keeps your leaders awake at night.

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