Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Want to Improve Performance? Measure It!

By Wes Friesen, Portland General Electric

“Improving performance does not happen by accident. It is the result of a commitment to excellence, intentionality and focused effort.”

Peter Drucker was the considered the Father of professional management. He said “Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.” Being in a management role provides us the opportunity to intentionally raise the performance levels of our teams – and the individuals that comprise them.

To improve the performance of our teams, we need relevant performance measures to inspire, provide a common focus and allow us to track progress. Here are some tools to help develop powerful performance measures:

Ask the Right Performance Questions
The Right Questions express the critical few things by which to judge our performance results. Put yourselves in the shoes of your key stakeholders (investors, customers, employees) and ask what is important to them?

Organizational Development expert Brad Fishel points out that when you answer the Right Performance Questions realize that some measures you develop in response will be Quantitative (numeric) in nature (e.g. how many pieces of mail were produced last month), but some will be Qualitative (subjective) in nature (e.g. how satisfied are our customers). Don’t ignore qualitative measures – consider the usage of surveys and other rating instruments. Fishel also says “Better to have subjective judgments about important questions than objective data about unimportant questions”.

Develop “balanced” measures to judge success
Effective teams add value to all important stakeholders and avoid a singular focus (e.g. being low cost) to the detriment of other important outcomes (e.g. high quality). Following are potential types of measures to consider. For each measure that gets used, we should have a target/goal to compare actual results against:

1) Productivity (productivity is simply a measure of Goods/Services produced divided by Resources Used)
2) Quality (e.g. reliability, accuracy, mistake free, meets requirements, etc)
3) Volume (how much is being produced)
4) Timeliness (are work products completed when needed)
5) Service (are customers satisfied with the service they receive)
6) Compliance (are postal regulations, Sarbanes-Oxley, HIPPA, and other regulations being met)
7) Cost (e.g. measure overall costs and/or cost per unit)

Intentionally focus on improving performance
How can we strive to improve productivity and overall performance? Following are some tools to choose from:

1) Lay out a challenge (illustrated by the closing story)
2) Enhanced Training & Development
3) Provide recognition and use incentives
4) Pursue wise use of technology
5) Look for process improvements
6) Be a better servant leader and show more care for your employees
7) Solicit ideas from your team members
8) Learn from other successful teams

Let me close with the following story from the life of Charles Schwab, former head of U.S. Steel. Schwab said:

I had a mill manager who was finely educated, thoroughly capable and master of every detail of the business. But he seemed unable to inspire his men to do their best.

One day I asked him: “How is it that a man as able as you, cannot make this mil turn out what it should?” “I don’t know” he replied. “I have coaxed the men; I have pushed them; I have sworn at them. I have done everything in my power. Yet they will not produce.”

It was near the end of the day; in a few minutes the night force would come on duty. I turned to a workman who was standing beside one of the red-mouthed furnaces and asked him for a piece of chalk. “How many heats has your shift made today?” I queried. “Six” he replied. I chalked a big “6” on the floor, and then passed along without another word.

When the night shift came in they saw the “6” and asked about it. “The big boss was in here today”, said the day men. “He asked us how many heats we had made, and we told him six. He chalked it down.”

The next morning I passed through the same mill. I saw that the “6” had been rubbed out and a big “7” written instead. The night shift had announced itself. That night I went back. The “7” had been erased, and a “10” swaggered in its place. The day force recognized no superiors. Thus a fine competition was started, and it went on until this mill, formerly the poorest producer, was turning out more than any other mill in the company.

Good luck as you partner with your team and intentionally pursue a higher level of performance!

Wes can be contacted at Wes.Friesen@pgn.com.

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