Why Leaders Delay Better Measurement When They Need it Most

by Stacey Barr

When an organisation is undergoing a lot of change, performance measurement is one of the first things that leaders will delay. They don’t realise how big a mistake that is!

Change cannot succeed by chance. https://www.istockphoto.com/portfolio/marchmeena29

There are several reasons leaders will put forward to delay better performance measurement projects. These projects might include:

  • executive training in evidence-based decision making and strategic measurement
  • expert facilitation through measuring the current strategy
  • performance measurement how-to skills for strategy and performance professionals
  • properly cascading strategic goals down to team goals, so teams can develop meaningful measures
  • redesigning strategic and operational dashboards to better focus improvement efforts

But these projects are “put on hold” or “delayed” for one very common reason: our organisation is going through too much change.

That feels reasonable, since better performance measurement is a change too. Another change on top of already too much change seems like a dumb decision. On the face of it, anyway.

Why do we put our organisations through change?

No-one would disagree that we change our organisations to make them better. Each change initiative is supposed to make the organisation better in some specific way. For example:

  • We change the organisation’s operations through digital transformation to make productivity better.
  • We change the organisation’s branding to become a ‘story brand’ and make market positioning better.
  • We change the organisation’s work management procedures and systems to make remote working better.

But change doesn’t come for free.

Change takes time, uses effort, and spends money.

Organisational change is an investment; and investment of time, people’s effort, and earned or borrowed money. Like any investment, we want a return.

And the return we get for our investment in any change (its ROI) is the achievement of the result we wanted from that change. To have an objective and easy-to-agree-on assessment of ROI we need truthful measures.

How do we know we’re getting a positive return on each change?

I’ll be blunt and upfront here: not every leader cares about knowing whether or not the changes they’ve selected are making the organisation better or not. They don’t care about knowing because they already assume that they will. Without evidence. And that’s a separate problem.

But those leaders that do believe in evidence, that do want to know the changes they’ve invested in will give a positive return, are the leaders that are missing out by delaying better measurement. Better measurement directly helps each and every change in the same ways:

  1. The thinking process to design good measures forces us to be ultra-clear about the results we want from each change, and how we’re recognise them happening in the real word.
  2. The change teams that design these measures develop stronger ownership for the change and its results, and stronger focus as they execute the change.
  3. The measures we design for each change directly help us monitor if the change is working, both through and after the change.

Even though leaders say they’re delaying better measurement because of too much change, that’s not the root reason. The root reason is they don’t see enough value in measurement’s relationship to change.

Ask your leaders if they care about the return on investment of each change initiative, and how they’ll be convinced of it.

Better measurement is a non-negotiable for successful change.

Even thought leaders might agree that better performance measurement is important, few agree that it is urgent. This lack of urgency probably stems from the fact that they’ve gotten this far without it, so surely it can wait just a little bit longer. But thinking like that is a trap.

They have the wrong idea about how the success of their change initiatives hinges on good performance measurement. Based on the three things listed earlier, this means they haven’t yet appreciated that:

  1. Good measurement forces us to describe the specific, clear and observable results each change should produce. Without this, we can never know if the return from the change was worth the investment.
  2. Good measurement facilitates much stronger ownership and focus in the execution of change initiatives. Without this, too much time and effort and money can be wasted on what doesn’t serve the change.
  3. Good measurement directly helps us measure the return on investment in each change. Without this, we can’t learn to get better at leveraged improvement, nor can we learn how to be more efficient and effective.

No change can succeed – other than by complete fluke – without these three aspects. This is how to help leaders appreciate why better measurement should not be delayed, just because there is a lot of change going on.

Ask your leaders how well existing measures for each change program are accomplishing those three aspects above.

Reframe measurement’s relationship to the success of change.

Because there is a lot of change going on, the risks of wasting time and money are even higher than in times of less change. This means that better measurement is even more urgent.

But the problem of too much change hasn’t gone away. This is not an article about how to squeeze in one more change to an already bloated and ready-to-burst change program. There is a consequence to making more changes successful: doing less change.

Ask your leaders if they care more about finishing 20 change initiatives whether or not they worked, or more about getting the right return on investment for 10 change initiatives.

If they still don’t buy it…

If you can’t reframe the value of performance measurement as both important and urgent for the success of all the other changes, it doesn’t have to end there. You can still lead better performance measurement when your leaders currently won’t, by doing one or more of these 8 things, to start the ripples.

No change can succeed – other than by complete fluke – without the clarity, focus, ownership and truth that good measurement provides. [tweet this]

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