“What you measure is getting done……”

We have all heard this saying at some point in our careers.  I have no idea of where this phrase started so I googled it.   I found  that the internet does not agree on its origins .  Some say it goes back to the 1500’s, but for the purpose of his article, its irrelevant!   Terms like “metrics” are tossed around when someone is trying to convince you to add a specific number to your scorecard.  Or when you are looking to hold your team more accountable.   The rational is that if you measure “X” then you can drive the performance you are looking for.  Unfortunately its not that easy!

Metrics do not guarantee action

To begin with, simply measuring something does not guarantee that a specific action will  take place. Consider a tire gauge, which measures air pressure in your bike or car tires.  Even though you measure the pounds per square inch or PSI, action is not necessarily taken.  You are measureing something, but nothing gets done by looking at the air gauge!

To be effective, measuring something needs to have an action attached to it. Let’s assume the tire on your car runs low, but you have an automatic compressor or air tank in your trunk.  This tank is programmed to automatically add air to your tire. In this example, the way to ensure that “what gets measured gets done” is to program a piece of machinery to execute a set of commands.  These commands are then based on the air gauge’s measurement. Now you have an air gauge that is linked to your tire pressure system that controls the air pressure your tire needs at a given time.

Metrics can create the wrong action

In the recruiting world, metrics are used are use to drive a certain set of outcomes that are fighting with the objective of the function.  For example, I was speaking with an SVP of Global Talent Acquisition for a Fortune 500 organization.  This SVP  is struggling with the overall performance of her team.  As we are discussing an upcoming conference they were planning for their internal talent team, she asked if I could deliver a keynote session.  The purpose of the keynote is designed to motivate the team and improve outcomes.  First of all, one 60 minute keynote is not going to change everyone in the room!   Second, there is obviously an underlying issue that had not been uncovered.

After a few short questions it became obvious that the metrics this organization was using were actually driving the wrong actions.   In this case metrics did drive an action, just not to the desired outcome.   This particular organization was struggling with the quality of their candidates.  The leadership felt that recruiting was dropping the ball in finding the right candidate.  They were assuming the recruiters were settling for any candidate that looked close.   As a result they develop an internal marketing plan focusing on hiring “The right” people and focusing on quality.   This become their mantra, however it did not address the problem.

After a quick look, part of the issue was that the recruiters are measured weekly on total open positions, time to hire, and time to first candidate.  These same recruiters had a financial incentive to NOT focus on quality but to focus on time and quantity.   Although these metrics can help manage a process, in this case they were driving the wrong actions.  Ultimately hurting the recruiting function!

Metrics can create rebellion

A mid sized tech company in CA was experiencing extremely low morale in their sales and support department.  They were allowing the team to work remotely 3 days a week.  The had every Friday afternoon off.  They even decided to allowed the team to bring their dog’s to work in an effort to increase morale.  It seemed that nothing was working and their turnover was quickly increasing.    Baffled, the company even resorted to changing the department leader!  As expected, little change after the excitement of a new leader wore off.

As the new head of sales and support  was reviewing the metrics and expectations the sales team was being held to, he quickly realized something was off.   Beyond revenue numbers, profitability, etc., the sales team was held to a metric they called “time to door”.   In essence the sales team was held accountable for the results of the delivery team that was charged will fulfilling what the sales team sold.   On the surface this seemed to make sense, however the sales team was clearly asked NOT to get involved with service after the sale and were often chastised for getting involved.   The sales team was being held accountable to a metric they were not allowed to control or even participate in.

Metrics can drive results

There is a lot more that goes into any process than just metrics. There are fundamental practices that you need for your scoreboard or metrics to be effective

  1. The metrics you are measuring have to align with department and company goals. Is the purpose of your recruiting department to place the right person in the right role? Or place any person as fast as you can to close the open position?   In you are working in a third party agency, is  your goal only placements or “starts”? Does this go against the objectives of the client looking for quality an not quantity?
  2. Leadership has to follow-up.   Measuring something will NEVER ensure an action or outcome “gets done” if leadership does not show they care.  Leadership must review, challenge and provide feedback on the results.   All work fails if the people performing the work don’t feel like they are part of the team. Employees will care about results because leadership cares about the results.
  3. Metrics should follow the practicality of S.M.A.R.T. goals.   Beyond alignment and follow up, metrics should follow the age old SMART goal construct.   S – The metrics are specific.  M – The metrics are easily and clearly measured.  A – The metrics are attainable.  R – The metrics are relevant to the person being measured.   They can actual control it!  T – The metrics are measured consistently or an end date is made clear.

Metrics can be either a tool that drives success or a tool that causes chaos.  For more articles on metrics CLICK HERE.


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