Are we measuring productivity or performance?

This has been bubbling away in me for a while. When we’re developing people, in any business, what are we expecting to be different?

“How do we know if it is successful?”

… was a question asked at a recent launch event to a new ‘virtual’ management programme.

Photo by Andreas Klassen on Unsplash

I am frequently involved in conversations relating to how we measure performance, of an organisation or a department, or whether we have objectives, outcomes or outputs of a project to measure its success.

More provocatively, how can we measure a person’s productivity … or is it their performance … or indeed both? When we discuss the impact of a ‘people development’ programme or a leadership or management programme, what changes are we expecting?

If we make a change to something, does it have the desired effect?

‘Measuring’ performance

We like to ‘measure’ performance. If we measure performance via quantifiable methods, it can be tangible. If you do:

a + b = x

and ‘x’ is the desired output, great, you’ve performed ‘well’.

If you meet your sales targets. If you make all your calls targets. If you sell ‘x’ number of items in the shop. If you score ‘x’ number of goals or achieve ‘x’ number of points as a team. If you meet your production targets. If you ‘grow’ a customer’s account. If you increase clients’ spend.

All are very quantifiable measures, but, I find this all a bit transactional when we’re talking about people. I prefer performance over productivity when we want to understand the impact of people.

HOW we do something is as critical as WHAT we do.

Photo by Remy Gieling on Unsplash

I’ve engaged with some of the ‘best’ salespeople in terms of their figures yet find out they’re disruptive and alienating to other members of the team. I’ve worked with the ‘brightest’ of brains with exceptional technical knowledge yet they find it difficult to share their expertise and thus others don’t benefit. Through my work in sport, you can have the most ‘talented’ player on the team yet not a team player! And this applies to those people who work off-pitch too.

Pretty much every organisation I have interacted with wants to ‘grow’. Be the ‘best’. Be successful. Be market-leading. HOW they do this, is often the challenge. Is it a case of doing more of what they currently do? Is it about investing in the latest equipment or technology? Or, is it about doing things differently? Investing in people, to get the best out of them and change the way you do things as an organisation? Will that have the desired effect?

‘What does success look like?’ (Photo by Guille Álvarez on Unsplash)

‘Measuring’ the intangible differences

Your people are your assets. If you invest in improving your people, you’re investing in improving your business. Yes, you can develop your people’s technical skills, and the return can often be demonstrated through improved products or services. But, how can your people, your leaders and managers, make your business better? How do we develop those ‘soft skills’ (yuk!)?

When developing people, it can ‘feel’ a bit intangible. You are often looking to improve factors that are difficult to define. People, well actually, I mean the behaviours and qualities of people, are difficult to ‘measure’. They’re without quantification. They’re descriptive possibly subjective! So if you do invest in your people, to improve performance, what can you expect to be different?

Culture - organisations with a vibrant and inclusive ‘culture’ tend to be great places to work. They’re often places that are high-performing. They’re businesses where people want to work — the market-leading place. They have highly effective employee engagement and everyone is connected to what the organisation aspires to achieve. They have a clear vision and everyone knows what it is. The people of the organisation are invested-in the organisation. A great culture can be created and modelled by highly effective leaders. Culture isn’t a static thing. You have to continually invest time and effort into maintaining and evolving a place’s culture … building it around your people.

Environment - if you can create the ‘best’ environment for your teams to perform, it can result in improved productivity. I don’t mean physical environment (though that often helps). It’s the environment where people know they can express themselves openly. Where their contribution matters - where they have a sense of purpose. Where everyone has an opportunity to contribute to the decision-making process. When you engage people in what the business is trying to achieve, there’s a sense of belonging.

‘Happier’ teams - when people are fulfilled by what they do, are motivated to deliver their best, enjoy working with their colleagues and can ‘see’ how they contribute to an organisation’s success, and receive recognition for it, they feel valued. An endorphin release — the happy pill! One of the more powerful outcomes of developing people is when someone tells you they are happier. I’ve had people say they’ve begun to love what they do again. Sometimes it’s about re-setting the fast pace of work and giving people time to understand their role in an organisation. Going to work with ‘joy’ is a great feeling.

Connectivity - regular and purposeful conversations — ‘check ins’ — with your team/colleagues to understand how they are, what they are enjoying, where could they focus more, what help do they need. This isn’t about micro-management. Connecting effectively with your people is a skill. It’s about building positive relationships, getting to know the person, that get the best out of people. An emotionally intelligent team, self-aware and with an astute awareness of others can help build strong bonds of trust. When people trust each other … “I’ve got your back” … performance tends to improve. Your people are your assets. You have to get to know them!

Pride - one of the common cultural aspects I pick-up from organisations is if the staff are proud to work for their company. Having spent many days in and around professional and elite level sport, this is a characteristic I see a great deal of. People are genuinely proud to be connected with ‘their team’ and have great passion for their club. Their eyes light up! Great leaders can set the tone. They can inspire others to have pride in what they do and how their contribution matters. Think the ‘NASA story’ of the janitor. As a leader, are you helping everyone know they’re sending someone to the moon?

I stumbled across Goodhart’s Law on a teacher’s social media thread …

When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.

There was a whole heap of disgruntled teachers. Culturally, measuring performance in teaching is like adding a chewy sweet into a bottle of pop! What G’s Law reminded me of was a conversation I had about expenses many years ago; along the lines of an expense allowance being a target for some!

This blog isn’t about the accuracy or indeed the authenticity of Goodhart’s Law, although the origins are interestingly based on economics and anthropology. It’s about understanding the impact of people if you invest in them. What will be your return on investment, and will you know it?

“It’s all about people.”

(Thanks Tom 🙌)

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