Are You Measuring the Right Things?
What do your measures say about your organization’s priorities? Do they emphasize its activities and performance? Or do they demonstrate the value it provides to customers? The saying, “What gets measured gets done” is true: people pay attention to the things that are measured. Yet countless organizations metaphorically shoot themselves in the foot by measuring their activities or performance instead of the value they provide customers. Is yours one of them?
First let’s define the relevant terms. Activities are tasks such as attending meetings, interacting with customers and vendors, and taking training classes. Performance represents outputs – i.e., what happens when people – individually, as a team, or as an organization – carry out their assigned activities. Typical output indicators include the results of individual performance evaluations and customer satisfaction surveys, and the availability of a pool of qualified applicants. Outcome is the desired end result, the “big picture” to which the organization aspires, such as “bringing good things to life” (General Electric) or “successful self-sufficiency and well being for all” (Community Action Agency).
Next, ask yourself this question: “Do our stakeholders care most about our activities, our performance, or the outcome we can provide them?” Unless they are highly unusual, they won’t care at all about your activities, though some may pay attention to your performance. Instead, their focus is on the customer experience they expect from you.
Here are three benefits to utilizing outcome measures: (1) you grab stakeholders’ attention because you are addressing what matters to them; (2) your organization is able to demonstrate clearly the value it provides its customers; and (3) because your employees unmistakably can see what’s important, their efforts will be directed toward the desired outcome instead of concentrated solely on activities or outputs.
How do you identify outcome-oriented measures? Follow these three steps:
For example, the Community Action Agency’s job is to oversee the implementation of various anti-poverty programs. Its stakeholders know the organization conducts job training programs because they see clients working (step 1). They care because the results show the programs are successful (step 2). So what? By helping people find work, the organization is contributing to the successful self-sufficiency and well-being of the community (step 3).
Please note: while activities and outputs are necessary and should be assessed, their measures are not sufficient to enable employees and stakeholders to remain focused on, and achieve, the end result. Keeping the big picture as the organization’s top priority requires outcome-based measures.
© 2013 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.
At a time when retailers around the U.S. are bemoaning the shortened Christmas buying season and holding their breaths to see its impact on their 2013 profitability, there is one vendor that apparently is doing just fine. In fact, while other merchants are making it easier for customers to shop by staying open more hours and augmenting their sales staffs with seasonal workers, this one has decided to CUT its normal business day by 2.5 hours. As of December 7th, it will be open from 8:30 a.m. till 5 p.m. Monday through Friday – and closed on Saturday and Sunday.
Who is this retailer? My local branch of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). Yes, beginning two and a half weeks before Christmas, during the busiest mailing/shipping season of the entire year, the USPS is making it harder for customers to do business with it. Today I noticed that this branch has two kiosks that allow some customers to purchase stamps and send small packages. Unfortunately they are located in the part of the lobby that is locked during non-business hours. Honestly, what other business in the world deliberately throws obstacles in front of customers who want to use its services?
Could the fact that the USPS agreed to provide Sunday delivery for Amazon.com have anything to do with its decision to cut the branch’s hours of operations by 23% beginning the first Saturday in December? Based on my understanding of what I’ve read about that deal, its executives said they could take on Amazon’s business without incurring additional labor costs. So maybe they decided to cut branch employees’ hours during the week and have them deliver packages for Amazon on Sundays instead. I have to say I’m skeptical: surely the union contract has something to say about how much more employees must be paid when they work on Sunday rather than during the regular work week.
For the above reasons, the USPS gets my vote as the organization that best exemplifies the miserly spirit of Ebenezer Scrooge this year. Although I will allow for the possibility that the USPS decision-maker will go through a Scrooge-like transformation and reverse this anti-customer service choice, I’m not holding my breath. I suggest you don’t either. Ship FedEx.
©2013 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.
There seems to be widespread consensus that the Obama administration’s roll-out of its signature Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been a nightmare. Although one may say that “hindsight is always 20/20,” the fact is that this debacle could have been avoided – or at least mitigated significantly. Simply stated, it seems that the people in charge failed to think through this enormous undertaking.
Organizations cannot optimize their performance unless they execute their projects successfully. Toward that end, here are nineteen lessons that leaders can learn from the ACA’s experience and apply to the implementation of virtually any large project:
1. Create a clear “big picture” of the desired outcome, including users’ expectations of what it will do. Work backwards from that picture.
2. In advance, gather ALL the people with relevant knowledge and expertise and have them collectively think through what it will take to develop and implement the project successfully. Don’t wait till things fall apart before you go back to ask the experts for their advice.
3. Insist that ALL players/stakeholders be actively engaged and that everyone’s voice is heard.
4. Make sure the end result is user-friendly by hiring “interpreters” who can speak the language of both the end users and the experts who are charged with creating the system or process.
5. Conduct a pilot program with a small sample of the end users. This allows you to get valuable feedback, work out the bugs, and maximize your resources.
6. Communicate truthfully, fully, and in a timely manner to clients and stakeholders before, during, and after implementation.
7. Ensure the decision-makers are fully informed about short- and long-term consequences of the project as well as potential pitfalls.
8. Test the system before rolling it out. Address the deficiencies and re-test. Do not go “live” until the system truly is ready for its debut.
9. Have one or more experts or nay-sayers play the devil’s advocate role to poke holes in the implementation process.
10. Create an implementation plan (vs. an action plan).
11. Assign responsibility and create meaningful, timely consequences for non-performance.
12. Set realistic timelines for progress and completion. Monitor them continuously and investigate promptly if they are not met.
13. In the face of evidence that the implementation is not on track, stop and address the problems; do not insist on moving forward anyway.
14. Make the roll-out process transparent to all stakeholders.
15. Justify the costs at all stages of the project, beginning with the initial estimates and including any bid amounts. Closely scrutinize cost over-runs as they occur and take immediate action to stop or mitigate them.
16. Make sure the costs are realistic: not extremely high or low.
17. If you use a bid process, weigh expertise more heavily than cost. The lowest bidder is not necessarily the best choice.
18. Don’t tell the experts how they must do the work. Tell them what outcome you need and let them determine the best way to achieve it.
19. Put the right person in every job.
The above lessons can save you time, energy, and significant resources, not to mention keep your organization’s reputation intact. Many of them cost nothing to implement; others are likely to have a large ROI (return on investment). Why not apply them when developing your next large project?
© 2013 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.
Resisting change is part of human nature. Given that change has become the new “normal” in today’s world, helping employees embrace change, or at least not oppose it, has become a critical success factor for organizations. Here are nine things you can do to reduce employees’ resistance to change:
1. Create a common “big picture”
Ensure your organization has a vision or “big picture” that everyone can relate to, AND make sure every employee can articulate the contribution he/she makes. Why? When human beings feel they’re part of something bigger than themselves, they tend to focus on ACHIEVING that picture rather than on resisting it.
2. Appeal to people’s enlightened self-interest
The biggest motivator I know is enlightened self-interest. You address the “self-interest” aspect when you answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM) up front, from each employee’s perspective. Since people don’t always know what’s good for them, educating them is critical if you are to be successful in inspiring them to take action.
3. Walk the talk
Don’t expect employees to embrace change if their leaders don’t do it themselves
4. Ask, “What’s your evidence?’’
When employees make statements that represent speculation or opinion, request that they back up their claims. Asking them what evidence leads them to draw their conclusions opens the door for a discussion of the issue.
5. Develop excellent framing skills
“Framing” means to put things in perspective. The most common example is the proverbial glass: is it half empty or half full? Because our frame affects the way we see the world, the way we think, our beliefs, and our actions, leaders can teach employees that they have a choice in terms of how they experience change.
6. Provide supervisory skills training
Providing leaders with the tools they need to be successful in counteracting resistance (and other negative behaviors) is one of the most effective ways to mitigate resistance to change. This is particularly true at the supervisory level, which is where the tone of the work unit is set.
7. Don’t try to square a circle
In this context, this phrase means that the “good old days,” whatever they meant for your employees, are gone, never to return. The world has changed, and so must we. Continuing to do things the old way, especially when they clearly don’t work anymore, is a form of organizational insanity.
8. Incorporate procedural fairness into all decision-making
While leaders often cannot control decision factors or outcomes, they can control the process by which decisions are made. Research shows clearly that if people perceive that the process by which decisions are made is fair – i.e., free of bias, non-discriminatory, transparent, and offers an opportunity for meaningful input by those affected by the decision – then they will accept it even when they don’t like or agree with it.
9. Remove the elephant from the living room
The “elephant in the living room” refers to an issue or topic or problem that everyone knows is present, yet no one will talk about. It causes dysfunction and all sorts of negative behaviors and outcomes, including resistance to change. Escorting the elephant out of the living room, and making sure it doesn’t come back, will help you address the issues behind resistance to change.
What are some of the ways you have found that effectively reduce resistance to change in your organization? Let us know!
© 2013 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.
Five months into his job, a newly appointed fire chief spoke enthusiastically about the forward momentum of his department, the support from his Board of Fire Commissioners, and the collaborative nature of labor-management relations. Yet during our conversation he twice raised a question that troubled him: is the current harmony between labor and management sustainable?
Although well-meaning colleagues acknowledged that his “honeymoon” period with the union was lasting longer than “normal,” they assured him that it must end. Their confidence in the inevitable deterioration of the relationship, based on their experiences, as well as his own previous negative labor-management experience in other departments, made him question the sustainability of his initial success.
Quite simply, this negative prognosis is wrong. Of course the harmonious relationship the fire chief has established is sustainable. There simply is no reason why it must end. In addition to the many things the fire chief is doing now to nurture and support key relationships, there are other techniques he can call upon to fortify and build on the strong foundation he has created.
Here are some of the things the fire chief has done or is doing that have enabled his success in creating an environment of collaboration between labor and management:
- Created and communicated clear boundaries around what behaviors are and are not acceptable
- Minimizes the likelihood of surprises by engaging in on-going communication with the union president
- Does his homework when issues arise, and then speaks directly with the union president to discuss and resolve them so they do not escalate unnecessarily
- Honors the expertise and creativity of employees and stakeholders by Inviting them to participate in on-going conversations about how best to achieve the department’s mission
- Listens to the responses he receives, considers the feedback carefully in making decisions, and incorporates it as much as possible
- Shares information freely and honestly with others
- Continues to expand the circle of leadership down into the organization
- Uses the best interest of the community as his touchstone for decision-making
- Treats others with respect whether they agree or disagree with him
Here are some techniques I suggested that the fire chief might consider using to ensure the sustainability of collaborative labor-management relations:
- Look for successes and opportunities rather than dwell on failures or challenges
- Change the conversation to focus on the level of public safety being provided rather than on where to cut resources
- Ask purposeful questions that require actionable responses – e.g., instead of asking, “Can we do XYZ?” ask, “How can we do XYZ?”
- Re-awaken employees’ sense of purpose and passion for their work by asking them to remember why they joined the department, and to recall the hopes, dreams, and aspirations they had for themselves and the organization
- Identify what things he can and cannot control, and focus on those that he can influence
My prediction: by staying on the path he has chosen and perhaps adding a few techniques such as those described above, this fire chief not only will defy his colleagues’ prognosis, he and his employees will create a sustainable culture of harmonious and productive labor-management relations that will continue long after he has retired. This outcome can only serve his community well, both now and in the future.
Who says the honeymoon has to end?
© 2012 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.
After working with four new fire chiefs over the last six years, I’ve noticed some dysfunctional patterns of behavior that, if not corrected, have a significant negative impact on the new chiefs’ ability to create and maintain their departments’ forward momentum. Based on my observation and experience, here are fourteen of the most common mistakes:
1. Setting a poor example by making self-care a low priority
2. Answering the questions asked (e.g., “How will you cut your department’s budget?”) instead of changing the conversation by asking their own questions (e.g., “What is the level of public safety you wish to provide the community?”)
3. Missing opportunities to educate the community and decision-makers about the impact of budget cuts on public safety
4. Communicating what the department does rather than focusing on the value it provides
5. Creating time management nightmares for themselves by consistently scheduling back-to-back meetings
6. Reverting to their firefighter training and instincts when they feel overwhelmed
7. Maintaining a task focus instead of developing a strategic orientation
8. Trying to accomplish too much right away
9. Responding immediately to all requests
10. Failing to identify and enforce clear boundaries and priorities
11. Neglecting to schedule regular time for reflection and strategic thinking
12. Delegating ineffectively or not at all
13. Not holding others accountable for lack of results
14. Maintaining a rigid command and control structure in a dynamic environment that requires situational agility and the widespread sharing of information among all employees
© 2012 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.
Do your employees and colleagues share stories of individual and team successes as a matter of course? If not, your organization likely is falling far short of its potential greatness. Among other things, stories demonstrate clearly shared values as well as desired behaviors and results that are rewarded.
Several years ago, while attending a funeral service for a firefighter who had died in the line of duty, I overheard one firefighter say to another, “We don’t seem to tell stories about the great things we do except at funerals.” This comment caught my attention in part because I knew that these firefighters and their colleagues were frustrated because the public, politicians, and administrative decision-makers don’t know what they do. Yet their practice is to downplay their successes, brush off expressions of gratitude from those they help, and keep their stories to themselves. Instead of sharing their experiences, in effect they are story hoarders. So it’s no wonder that the public is uninformed.
Storytelling doesn’t have to be complex or describe superhuman feats. To the contrary: some of the most compelling and inspiring stories I’ve heard involve very simple acts that had tremendous results. Stories are a very powerful way of showing who you and/or your organization are, and what you stand for.
One of my favorite stories involves a female paramedic called to the scene of an incident at which her male colleagues were unable to help the patient, a homeless man who was belligerent and refused to allow them to treat him. She walked over to the man and asked him, “How can I help you today, sweetheart?” The man broke down in tears and said, “It’s been years since anyone called me that.” The paramedics then were able to treat the man. This simple act of kindness embodies the care and compassion that is characteristic of this agency. Yet I would be willing to bet that only a handful of people have heard it.
If storytelling is not an integral part of your organization’s culture, here are three compelling reasons why you might want to change it:
1. Sharing stories serves to socialize people, establish norms, and demonstrate the behaviors and results that the organization values.
As a new employee at FedEx in the late 1970s, I was told the story about a courier who was rewarded
for hiring a helicopter to deliver a package by 3 p.m. after an avalanche closed the road to the customer’s home. The lesson I took away: the company valued
risk-taking, and rewarded those who took its commitment to outstanding customer
2. Stories demonstrate in concrete ways the value that people provide day after day.
The story about the female paramedic is one of hundreds of stories I have heard during
the years that I have worked with clients in the fire service that demonstrate how, in
large ways and small, its members serve the public. Sharing those stories, especially
when times are tough, or you’re so caught up in the weeds that you can’t see the
larger picture, can help to re-establish perspective and remind you of why you do what
you do, whatever your occupation.
3. Stories help organizations and their employees define and celebrate who they are and what they stand for.
Human beings generally like to feel that we are part of something bigger than ourselves.
Stories show us what makes an organization great, who it is when it’s at its best. If
you’ve forgotten, I invite you to think back to the time that you were hired by your
organization. What were your hopes and dreams for your future, and that of your new
employer? Tell yourself your story of what made the organization attractive to you, and
what your aspirations were. No doubt you will re-discover what it was that brought you
there in the first place.
In short, organizational success depends heavily on the stories its employees are willing to share with each other, and with the world. You can spend a lot of time telling new employees how important the organization’s values are, and what the behavioral expectations are. Or you can rely on true stories to convey the message in much more powerful, succinct ways.
When is the last time you shared one of your stories?
© 2012 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.