Editor's Note: The following article and its included survey were published in 1999, but we feel that the elements embodied by the article are still applicable today.
We have been talking a lot about team measures with our clients over the last few years. The reactions we get to these conversations have been interesting. Sometimes when we introduce the subject of measures we see eyes glaze over. It's like talking about taxes---a tedious, detailed task of administrivia we know we have to do, but really wish we could avoid. Intellectually, everyone understands the importance of reliable and timely feedback data to continuous improvement, but few seem able to muster the energy, time, buy-in and resources to develop useful measurement systems. We wondered how many organizations were struggling with these issues and what we could learn from the successes and trials of others.
Because measurements and results so often form the basis for reward and recognition systems, we also included a set of questions about what organizations were doing in this arena. We identified several items within each category and asked respondents to answer two questions about each of these items:
Generally speaking, the responses we received confirmed our faith that measures and performance feedback help teams. With few exceptions, our respondents found value in performing most of the example measurement tasks we included in our survey. Inside are the highlights from the data.
Comments from our respondents tell us that establishing effective measures is important, but not easy. Intimidation is no excuse for not starting somewhere, these experienced organizations told us. Get something in place as soon as possible and expect to tweak it as you go. They reassured us that it does get easier.
Be sure that you have a balanced set of measures. One of our clients got into trouble by having their teams track only sales. Not surprisingly, sales were going up, but so were complaints from customers! To prevent the teams from sacrificing long term success for quick gains, the organization added customer satisfaction to team score cards.
Measures should also be meaningful to team members and flexible enough to change over time to suit changing team needs and issues. One of our respondents told us that they originally designed their measures to satisfy their Budget Committee. Since these had little meaning to the team members, there was no buy-in to collecting or reviewing data.
The place to start, we were told repeatedly, is with the organization's and the team's mission and vision. Use these to identify four to five key performance indicators. If you pick too many, you will confuse people about priorities. (One organization reported making the mistake of starting with 20! No one could remember them all.) Our survey respondents seemed to like some version of the set we included on the survey: costs, customer satisfaction, quality, productivity and work processes. We were also reminded to choose SMART measures: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time bound.
What gets measured...gets done.
Collect Team Data
One of our respondents reminded us of how much easier the task of collecting and reporting data is when you have well designed information systems. The less you have to manually process, the better.
Done with the Data
Many organizations also reported performance data as the basis for goal setting as well as team feedback and performance reviews. We have developed a process to help teams do this and we call it the Team Improvement ReviewTM process. It is built around a set of four questions:
One of our respondents made the wise suggestion to make sure your teams members know how to use their measures as a tool for implementation. Without the skills to analyze data, problem solve, or build business cases for their ideas, all they'll have is information.
Been the Effect of Tracking Performance
Few of the people surveyed felt that tracking performance made their teams feel as if they weren't trusted to do a good job. It's just as we suspected. People want to know how they are doing.
Said About Rewards and Recognition
What our data indicated was interesting. Most organizations reported more satisfaction with simple team celebrations and "attaboys" than they did with tangible or financial rewards for either teams or individuals. This is consistent with Alfie Kohn's1 philosophy about rewards.
Most celebrations we have seen teams center around food. One of our respondents, a manager at Con-Way Transportation Services of Portland, Oregon, described a time when his team had to put in some late hours. He made a point of bringing a special dinner to them each night they worked. One night it was Chinese, another Thai, another Mexican, and so on. The big hit was the night he brought homemade lasagna. At the end of the project the team celebrated at one of Portland's best Italian restaurants.
Where performance did impact compensation, we see that profit sharing is more popular than any of the other suggested reward systems. One respondent provided this caution, however. He recommended not tying team pay to measures until the metrics have been in place for one full cycle and have been validated and agreed upon by management and teams.
Using Measures to Redesign Work Processes
Step 1: Pre-Launch - We helped them form a task force to redesign their work process. The first step was to sit down with the managers and develop a project charter for this team, carefully clarifying boundaries, purpose, expectations roles, etc. This "pre-launch process" typically takes four hours. In this we identified a set of measurable goals for the team including:
These measures have kept the team focused on business needs.
Step 2: Launch - At the first meeting with the team, the managers walked the new members through the team charter as we clarified and negotiated the details. We also established team agreements for how to operate.
Step 3: Redesign - Now we are in the process of mapping their work processes, gathering baseline data on their processes, and generating ideas for meeting the measures. (Tip: Use pictures to map out the process. These icons keep people from tunneling too deeply into any one step.) We are expecting to complete the project with 8 half-day meetings, fully expecting to turn around their business.
Marsha Willard and Darcy Hitchcock
1. Punished By Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes - by Alfie Kohn, published by Houghton Mifflin Company(link will take you to Amazon.com)