By Chally Kacelnik
It’s satisfying to see hard work pay off with spectacular or even steadily growing, quantifiable improvements. But what if your performance measurement is telling a story of decline?
Sometimes this happens because you’ve got access to better and more data. I really felt for one organisation that recently reported a drop in customer satisfaction. This was after several years of working very hard on improving their customer service provision, and a couple of years of reporting consistent improvements in customer satisfaction. A recent part of that work, however, was in improving their data collection. Now they have a much stronger basis for future progress and can be more confident in their reporting. The apparent decline is actually evidence of a win.
I’ve also seen this happen with participants in our leadership development programs, who undertake a self-assessment survey at the start and end of their course. Sometimes, a participant scores themselves highly in a couple of areas at the start of the course, only to recognise through their learning that there’s a lot more to those parts of their work than they thought. Their self-assessment score drops in those areas, but that’s not a bad thing. Rather, it’s a moment of triumph: with increased awareness, they now have a really good understanding of what their areas of development are and what they need to tackle next.
Sometimes, then, those initially higher statistics weren’t accurate to start with. Sometimes there are also temporary setbacks that you can’t control, like a global pandemic that disrupts the in-person customer services that your customers find the most satisfying. And sometimes you haven’t been asking the right questions to produce meaningful performance measurement. I’ve written previously about how to do this well in 6 Principles for Developing Good Key Performance Indicators and A Measured Approach to Performance Measurement.
A lot of the time, however, it’s a matter of not yet seeing the big picture. A single data point doesn’t tell you much: building up your understanding over time is what’s really going to help. Small, steady, consistent work over time will bear out in medium and long term results if you keep being responsive and making meaningful improvements. Poor results are worth recognising, not necessarily as definitive, but as an opportunity to keep improving for the long term. If you’re persistently showing a decline, then there’s a conversation to be had about organisational strategy or, for an individual, their role design and their fit in the role.
Sometimes a decline in performance results can be a positive wake up call, or can tell you that your improved measure design, understanding, and data collection are doing exactly what they are meant to do. Whether as an organisation or as an individual in one, the important thing is that you’re making meaning out of your results and applying that meaning back at work.