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Mistakes of Managing to the Metrics

You’ve likely heard the expression, “What gets measured, gets managed.” And companies have improved their capability to measure dozens, or sometimes hundreds of data points that reflect how the business is performing. Unfortunately, managers are falling into the trap of “teaching to the test” which means that they harp on the metrics without coaching the underlying behaviors that create the results.

Managers, who often are slightly more competitive by nature, assume that employees will enjoying comparing themselves to one another and get motivated by hitting the numbers. In reality, many employees avoid competition and would prefer more hands on coaching and training in a supportive environment.

Employees can turn cynical if their supervisor or manager harps on the need to achieve higher results without showing them how to do it.

Let’s say you are measuring a process that has a score of 86 out of 100. The goal or standard is 93. Many managers will talk to their employees about the need to hit 93. But the manager won’t dig into what it takes to hit 93 or be able to train or coach the employee on what needs to change in order to get a 93 (or maybe higher).

To put it into a sports context, a baseball player struggling at the plate doesn’t need to be reminded that his .192 batting average needs to get to .280. What he needs is to understand how his swing mechanics, how he sees the ball and his timing impact his success at the plate. A good manager or coach will help the player analyze what adjustments are needed to hit the numbers.

In a business context, senior managers will express the goal of increasing sales but have no game plan to actually achieve the growth. Many of our clients are looking at how to achieve outstanding business results and high employee engagement as measured by a culture survey. Unfortunately they tend to chase the score instead of applying the behaviors that will contribute to attaining those desired outcomes.

Action Steps to Avoid the Trap of Managing to the Metrics

Here are three suggestions to manage the behaviors that drive the numbers:

1. Prioritize which Metrics you Most Need to Improve

Chasing too many numbers at the same time can confuse the manager and the employees. Select three to five key measures to focus on. Avoid tunnel vision on one measure because it could have negative consequences on other areas. For example boosting units produced might end up increasing quality defects, negating the benefit of the additional output. Make the key numbers highly visible

2. Understand What Drives the Numbers

Educate yourself and your team on the factors that contribute to the numbers being achieved. As an example instead of harping on a customer service agent to reduce the time they spend on the phone with the customer, examine the behaviors that allow the employee to create a satisfied customer in the optimal amount of time. Observe the process and make specific suggestions, or better yet, analyze what the best employees are doing and cross pollinate those behaviors across the workgroup.

3. Train and Coach the Behaviors

The supervisor or manager should dedicate most of his or her time to observing, correcting, coaching and training the desired behaviors. Altering the behaviors will impact the results. Employees will appreciate that the boss is actually helping them improve performance instead of harping on hitting the numbers.

As the team improves on its execution and the numbers are positively impacted, be sure to acknowledge the success. Ask the team what else can be done to improve the process.

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