Performance Measurement – 9 costly mistakes that leaders make and how to avoid them:

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This is a very hot topic right now, as it seems that everyone is being measured, every day in some way or other – giving organisations the vital statistics they need to inform their business decisions.  There are a wealth of products available that fit most business budgets.   This quest for measurement has snowballed over the last couple of decades to meet the needs of a volatile economy and the more dynamic nature of business today.   Yet it comes at a hefty cost for many companies in the form of collateral damage – workplace stress, disengagement and performance issues.

9 Mistakes and how to avoid them

1.   Messaging – often measurement tools are employed to ‘fix a problem’.  For instance, to encourage more understanding between team members; increase sales wins, improve customer satisfaction stats, or improve communication skills; putting the right people into the right jobs.

When we focus on fixing the problem, we tend to use words that express what is wrong and needs to be changed.  This type of messaging can create anxiety in those who are about to be put through the process.  They can feel judged, doubt their worth and question their own ability.  This affects performance.

To avoid this pitfall, keep working up and away from the problem until you are working towards a vision, then make the vision your message.  What is the real ‘Why’ at a strategic level?  Perhaps you aiming to move your company from 6th position to 3rd in your industry, for instance.  Share the vision together with all the shared benefits of achieving that vision and ensure your Managers and Team Leaders do the same.  Give your staff an opportunity to picture themselves as part of the future and jump on board with a personal desire to contribute.  This keeps communication open and motivation and performance high. 

2.    Panacea – Measurement tools, psychometrics, personality tests.  These are really valuable tools and all have their place.  But it is a mistake to view them as the solution, relying on their data to make your decisions for you.

It is useful to view these tools as an objective friend.  In consulting them, you gain clarity and insight from a perspective other than your own, providing you with information that will help to inform the decisions you will make. 

They are a snapshot of now, like an x-ray.  They show up some information that you did not already know, and they give you some data to support what you may already be thinking or feeling.   These tools give you the opportunity to probe a little deeper.  Bringing to light latent talents that might be useful to your business, hidden weaknesses or anxieties that might be holding someone back from achieving their potential, and from time to time, uncovering precious nuggets of gold. 

3.   Lack of Support – It a mistake to underestimate the amount of support an individual needs when they are asked to undergo measurement at work, particularly behavioural or personality testing.  Any whiff of personal judgement or criticism and like an animal caught in a trap, many individuals will become stressed and defensive.  This impacts performance and makes it harder to gain buy in to future initiatives.

To avoid making this mistake, it is important to consider employees and future employees’ needs and prepare accordingly.  Some individuals will take the process in their stride, but for many, it will be an unnerving experience, unless their concerns are addressed.  The first priority is to give them some sense of security.  What are the likely concerns?  Do they have the opportunity to share their concerns and feel safe to do so?  What will happen?  Is their job at risk?  There may be many questions that individuals will have that they are afraid to ask.  Remember the vision and explain the purpose, the process and the follow-up.  We all need to feel valued and important.  Recognition of an individual’s unique value in the process is really helpful, alongside the benefit of the process to them.

4.   Assumptions – Under pressure and with the need to make quick decisions, it is easy to make assumptions about people.  It is unfair to look at a profile, read a briefing document, or worse believe you can accurately gauge someone’s personality type and their levels of commitment without taking time to really listen to that person’s view of the world.

Once we have formed an opinion of someone, it changes the way we listen to them.  We actually filter what we hear in order to fit our opinion.  This is probably one of the most common causes of arguments and workplace stress and the busier we are, the more likely we are to fall into this trap.

One of the easiest ways to avoid making assumptions is to really believe that everyone is doing the very best they can at all times, with what they know and the resources they have available to them.  This enables us to listen without judgement, and to address performance gaps objectively.

5.   Negative Judgements – When we measure staff performance it can be tempting to make negative judgements about a person and carry that with us, even share our judgements with others and tainting their opinion.  Unfortunately, even if we are really careful to behave ‘normally’ around the person, or when speaking about the person and ‘say the right things’, we cannot sustain our act.  Our incongruence leaks and others see it.

It is difficult for anyone to perform well when we feel that we are being negatively or unfairly judged, it is therefore paramount that we separate the person from the problem in terms of gaps in performance.   We all display desirable and less desirable behaviours, yet we are all human beings and it pays to be mindful of that.

6.   Looking for failings – It is easy to get focussed on the bad stuff.  When we do this, we can become blind to someone’s positive traits, or we simply take them for granted and let them pass unnoticed.  Sometimes it feels simpler and quicker just to point out the problem.   When we do this, we are not taking time to look after the needs of the person, limiting their ability to respond positively and make the necessary changes.

Avoid looking only for what is wrong.  Be passionate and appreciative too of all that is going well.  Present the reality as you see it constructively and offer a right to reply, remembering that today’s performance is just a chapter, not the whole book.  Describe the future goal and be specific about the timescales.  Agree the performance gaps and how to overcome them.  Accept responsibility.  If someone is failing, they either don’t understand the vision; don’t understand the expectations; aren’t motivated for some reason; feel insecure or under-valued; haven’t received the right support; are in the wrong job, or are struggling with personal issues.  This is a time to work together, not a time to blame.

7.   Generalising – Holding too much store in personality types is dangerous.  They are a useful tool and they are a great help in developing awareness of self and of others.  We don’t all think the same and it is useful to understand some of the psychology behind it.  However, they are a guide and we should not draw conclusions about a person based on their personality type and our interpretation of it, because in doing so, we tend to put people in boxes and miss out on discovering some of their greatest qualities.

If you listen out at work, there are also many other generalisations made throughout the day.  “The problem with x is…” “Why are you always xxxx…!”  “He’s such a xxx”  “She’s such a xxx!”

Generalisations are never beneficial, especially when they are negative.   They confuse the person with the situation.  When we generalise, those who hear us either agree, so the myth perpetuates.  Or they disagree and feel uncomfortable for the person being judged.  Or they feel judged themselves – if that kind of comment is being said about a colleague, what is being said about me?!

Avoid generalising.  Create an ‘alarm’ in your head that goes off if you say or hear a generalisation at work.  Don’t simply agree with a negative generalisation for an easy life.  Question it.  Understand what’s behind it.  Find out what the real issue is. Remember to appreciate the person.  Deal with the issue as it presents itself and avoid stacking complaints one on top of the other like dirty dinner plates until the pile topples over creating an even bigger and more unpleasant mess to clear up.

8.   Violating Values – When we are busy and have many demands on our attention, we often forget about values, our own and those of the organisation for which we work.   Consequently, when looking at performance measurement, it is easy, albeit unintentional, to violate the very values that we claim to live by.  This results in a disenfranchised, disengaged and demotivated workforce.

To avoid this mistake, it is important to make ourselves aware of our organisational values, as well as our own and to consistently live up to them in everything we do.

9.   Inappropriate Exposure! – There is an increasing concern about children and teenagers and their use of the internet, with some being encouraged to post up inappropriate pictures of themselves.

Having your behaviour and performance at work assessed can also feel very exposing.  Some feel vulnerable and under threat when they go through any measurement process and can worry about what information will be shared, with whom and for what purpose.  They are also unclear as to what the organisation is looking for and worry that they will be found wanting.  This affects confidence, motivation and performance and adds to the stress in the workplace.

As business leaders, we have a moral and pastoral obligation to ensure staff are not inappropriately exposed.  It is important to be sensitive to the potential fear some individuals will have and to give them some certainty.  Even if you have some very difficult messages to pass on, it is important to stay objective.  Be clear.  Explain the business vision and the importance of their role in making it happen.  Check that they have all the resources/skills/motivation/support they need to meet their objectives.  Decide a plan of action and follow through with any promises you make.

Dramatic performance breakthroughs are created strategically.  For help, call The Performance Business.  00 44 (0)1932 888885



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