You’ve probably heard some variation on this saying attributed to Peter Drucker: ‘what gets measured gets managed’. That makes a lot of sense: if you place a spotlight on an aspect of performance, you’re going to manage it the best you can so you can improve or justify what you’re doing. What happens, however, when you’re managing the wrong thing?
I often see organisations coming up with things to measure based on what they can easily extract from their systems, or constructing measures that will look good based on what they have to work with or what’s occurred. I don’t mean to imply that this is because they’re being wily and duplicitous. Rather, it tends to be a result of the organisation setting goals without specific targets and measures attached – or at least not ones that they’ve thought through.
Good performance management starts with setting the right goals and making sure you have the means of measuring performance against them. This means tackling the difficult questions of how the organisation is really doing and how you can know it. Otherwise, rather than managing performance, you’re stuck managing the measures. Time and effort spent struggling to retrospectively figure out what you can do with the information that you have means time and energy not spent on improving performance.
One performance measurement space in which organisations often slip up is customer service. When customer performance goals are set, they may be set for the whole organisation, but without attached targets, for instance, ‘improved customer satisfaction’ or ‘improved response time’. Where they’re set for the customer service department, they’re often about things like the number of calls answered in x seconds, or the number of issues resolved at the first point of contact.
Measurements set up like this tend to encourage staff to end contact as fast as possible rather than truly resolve the issue from the customer’s perspective. Moreover, when results are poor, blame gets heaped on the customer service staff. The department, of course, has no real control over things like the number of calls received – it’s just being measured because the data is there. There’s no sense that a customer-oriented organisation has an organisation-wide responsibility to provide customer service and performance management ought to be oriented accordingly. What this does is shore up silos between departments and prevent a clear line of sight from common goals to activities undertaken. There’s no impetus to find an end-to-end solution.
In short, in the absence of good planning, studying what organisations do choose to measure can tell you a lot about how an organisation thinks about aspects of its service provision. It’s a key, visible indicator of what is valued or not, and what is working or not. Effective organisations make their performance measurement visible, transparent, understandable, and thoughtfully planned.
Measure what you need to know. It will force you to orient your organisation to what it wants to achieve rather than ticking boxes.