Why Don’t Companies Measure Performance?

by Stacey Barr |

Measure Up subscriber Patrick D. asks a very pertinent question: “Why don’t more companies implement effective performance management systems?” Well, in a nutshell, it’s because they haven’t made it a habit.

The value of performance measurement isn’t something we should be questioning.

Its value isn’t the reason people don’t do it as much as the reason that they see the pain of doing it as not quite worth the effort. It’s easier not to do it, and keep pretending things are fine without it.

In his zenbabits blog post “Habit Mastery: Creating the New Normal”, Leo Babauta says:

“…for most people, changing is tough because there’s some pain in changing. When you have a problem, there is the pain it causes in your life, but there’s also a pain of trying to change it. When the payoff of trying to change is outweighed by the pay off of continuing the old way, people stick with what they’re comfortable with.

How do we overcome this problem of the pain of change? It’s the mantra of this site: Start small, start with one thing at a time, and make the change easier. You want to make changing the path of least resistance, because change usually isn’t for most people.

If you make a drastic change, it feels really hard and really different, and not something you can stick to for very long.

But when you make a change easier, it makes it easier to take that all-important first step. Once you take that first step, you have a bit of forward momentum. And it’s much easier to be consistent and stick with something for a long time.

Why do people see performance measurement as a painful change?

For the last two decades, as performance measurement has come into awareness on a grand scale, there has been very little in the way of true performance measurement methodology to help people move from awareness to mastery.

The Balanced Scorecard is far more a strategy design methodology, despite common belief that it’s about how to measure performance.

And most other so-called measurement methodologies skim the surface of the process to create good measures, failing to provide practical steps for the details that people struggle with:

People’s attempts to change to evidence-based performance management have largely failed and the result is a bad taste in their mouths.

How can performance measurement more easily become a habit?

So Leo’s advice is sage: start small, start with one thing at a time, and make the change easier.

To this I add, take a deliberate performance measurement approach that is step-by-step, teachable, learnable, repeatable and masterable (I realise that’s not a word!).


What’s your reaction to this idea that we should make performance measurement an organisational habit, and establish that habit by starting small? Share your suggestions on the blog.

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  1. Patrick Teters says:

    Great blog Stacey! i like it. It is yet again a different way of saying that change is impossible without people feeling a sense of urgency to change. And that is so true. No urgency, no change. Companies hardly invest in difficult tools if the business still runs well. At the same time the good news is that when you show managers that good (lead) indicators could actually kind of predict their future result, than they do see the value and they cannot get enough of it. I guess sometimes people are funny creatures,… 😉

    • Stacey Barr says:

      Hi there Patrick! Your words echo advice from John Kotter and his book “A Sense of Urgency”. If we are going to get people to do something that they don’t see as urgent, we have reframe it so it links to something that is urgent.

  2. Nik Mckiernan says:

    Really enjoying the blogs, Stacey. In my quest to get more insight into why people behave as they do and how to tap into ways to help people get more motivated about using performance tools like comm cells or scorecards I’ve recently embarked on learning about the brain (applied neuroscience). Habits are an evolutionary development that enable us to become more efficient. I’m still learning about the science but hopefully you’ll understand the gist of what I’ll attempt to explain! When something has become a habit it uses the sensory motor cortex parts of your brain (connected to our dopamine reward system) each time the habit runs. I.e. We don’t have to think about what we are doing – we do something that starts the habit (trigger) and the rest of the process kicks in automatically (like a computer programme). This frees up the prefrontal cortex area of your brain for important things like decision making and problem solving, which is where the efficiency part comes in. If you are constantly evaluating whether you need to do something – also known as goal directed behaviour – you are using up your precious brain battery!

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