What is the Biggest Obstacle to Transforming Performance Measurement?

by Stacey Barr |

We will never have the support required for transforming performance measurement without breaking down the biggest obstacle in its way.

Leadership resistance is the biggest obstacle to transforming performance measurement. Credit: https://www.istockphoto.com/portfolio/gzorgz

The biggest obstacle in the way of transforming performance measurement in our organisations is leadership resistance.

Not all leaders, of course. And if you’re a leader reading this, it’s almost certain you are not resisting proper performance measurement. But we do know that many leaders do resist it, because we hear from so many readers things like this:

  • “Managers do not want meaningful metrics, they just want metrics.”
  • “They already believe they know the answers. Their assumptions are never challenged and their unconscious biases keep them on the same path.”
  • “There is learned skepticism/cynicism, reinforced by prevailing organisational performance reporting practices and executive contracts that focus on completed activities and subjective claims of results.”
  • “They are fearful of what it might tell them and how it makes them look. They may also not want to reveal how little they truly know about what good measurement looks like.”
  • “Basically measurement shows them the true face/picture of their organization. Few leaders don’t want to see the true picture or face the reality.”
  • “They don’t want to relinquish the power to decide.”
  • “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.”
  • “They keep asking for more measurement but don’t know what good measurement is. They follow the herd.”
  • “They are used to making decisions from intuition and either don’t see the need for KPIs or see them as unreliable or a danger as KPI results may not align with their instinct.”

It paints a dim picture of evidence-based leadership, and specifically the dearth of it in our organisations. I’ve shared in the past a few perspectives on why this might be the case:

  • In Why Won’t Leaders Fix the Performance Measurement Problem? – the theory, from organisational psychologist Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, that we have so many incompetent leaders because of our “inability to discern between confidence and competence” – we promote those with confidence, not necessarily competence, to lead.
  • In Which Level of KPI Consciousness Does Your Leadership Have? – how the world
    views and values of the people that are in leadership positions affects their perspective on it and likelihood to
    support it.
  • In Why Leaders are Scared of KPIs – how transparency about results and impact exposes leaders to scrutiny and attack when those results are less than perfect, so it’s safer to use action measures instead of true measures that are evidence of success.
  • In Why Won’t Leaders Own the KPI System? – the consequences of tying executive and leadership reward to KPIs embeds
    fear of looking bad, fear of not getting the bonus, fear of losing their power or position.

Still, I don’t have the answers… and probably won’t ever have them. But to help bring transformational performance measurement into organisations, the biggest obstacle has to be dealt with: leaders resisting it. To transform an organisation through performance measurement, we need leaders’ support: the direction, delegated authority, resources, and role-modeling for doing it right.

But how will we change leaders’ resistance to proper performance measurement? I’m not aware of any silver bullets, and you know that I don’t believe in quick fixes. From what I’ve learned already, there are a few avenues we can wander further down, toward greater influence:

  • The frameworks and advice that audit offices give to their government organisations on how to measure performance.
  • The emphasis that associations for company directors and boards place on educating future board members on the proper role of measurement in governance.
  • The curriculum of MBAs and leadership programs that lays the foundations of the importance, purpose and approaches of organisational performance measurement.
  • The inclusion in leadership recruitment processes of skills and experience in using evidence-based leadership and proper organisational performance measurement.
  • And something we can all do more of, in our own back yards, to find out the real reasons our own leaders resist measurement with compassion and the right responses.

Or do we wait for new generations of leaders, that come from people like you?

Can we remove our leaders’ resistance to proper performance measurement, or do we have to wait for a new generation of leaders?
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  1. Mike Davidge says:

    Hi Stacey, I’m responding to your call for ideas on this tricky topic. My colleague Samantha Riley has had great success in persuading NHS hospital boards to move away from RAG style reporting to SPC. She plays their own data back to them in both formats which demonstrates that SPC charts (your smart charts) lead to smarter decisions. Do read the British Medical Journal article which describes the work – https://bmjleader.bmj.com/content/5/4/252.full
    Happy to put you in touch with her if you’d like to know more.

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