Creating a strong and vibrant organization requires a willingness and diligence to measure the work product. Every person’s effort needs to relate to the goals and success of the organization. Measure, measure, measure.
Obvious, right? Every business book talks about accountability to the outcomes of the organization. Oddly enough, my consulting experience indicates that it is a common weakness in many organizations. There are often measures of aspects of the work (like the cost), but not always the kinds of measurements that answer the real questions about whether the team is doing the right thing in the right way.
One reason for a failure to measure is avoidance related to fears underlying measurement. Workers are often worried that measurement will show a failure at performing their job. You know, kind of like getting a grade at school. Unfortunately grading systems in school tend to be used to rank kids rather than help them improve areas of study. Measurement doesn’t have to be about ranking or failure. It can be the greatest feedback for improving one’s work.
Another common reason for failing to measure is the misperception that it is a pain in the hind quarters. It can be seen as getting in the way of production. Measuring does take some energy to devise the systems and then to maintain them. The payoff is enormous.
Profit-making companies do measurement best. In the end they know if they are making a profit or not. This “end” measure spurs them on to look at efficiencies and at customer satisfaction. Non-profits, governmental offices, and educational institutions all need metrics. How well are we serving the public? Are we using public dollars efficiently? Are our faculty members productive in terms of research and teaching? These are hard questions to answer, but they require creative effort to quantify and determine success at goals. And, just about anything can be measured.
Now, measurement in itself is not accountability. Measurement is the necessary condition for accountability. It need not turn into grading employees. It is an essential way to know that people are succeeding at what they are trying to accomplish, and, in turn, having those accomplishments produce a successful organization. Like other aspects of structure, it also matters how you implement your measurement systems.
Tom DeMaio, PhD
While I have been discussing communications in the workplace, I view communication as one of many aspects of structure. Communication is a vehicle for conveying support and structure to employees. The turn of a phrase or the wording of a memo can make huge difference in how employees perceive the attitude of their managers and leaders… and how the employees perform.
When it comes to reward systems the communication matters. You see, it is important that the rewards are seen as the success of great performance, not as a tool for enforcing performance. In work cultures where people work primarily for the reward (like in jobs that are fundamentally about the commission, for example) there is generally less loyalty to the company, less interest in the quality of the work product, and less personal satisfaction. People can switch from selling one product to another.
In companies that offer meaningful work and autonomy of work process people find intrinsic satisfaction from their effort. When people feel like they have some autonomy in accomplishing their work, they feel mastery for themselves, and increased loyalty to their company or organization. When that good commitment, effort and outcome occur, and it is celebrated with rewards, then workers feel even better about themselves and the job.
A year ago I wrote a post about the work of Daniel Pink, the author of Drive. He pointed out how, paradoxically, when cognitive tasks were rewarded, or incentivized, performance actually decreased. He noted that when people were given the time to think freely, without incentives or requirements, they were their most creative. For example, Australian software workers were give an afternoon to “do what they wanted” and see what ideas they had for their work. It turned out that the most useful and creative ideas in the company came out of that short creative period.
Humans need to feel autonomy and mastery. They also like to win and to succeed; to light up the score board. As managers and leaders we want to communicate to our employees that it is their job to figure out, creatively, how to move the ball down the field. We don’t incentivize exactly how they zig or zag. But we do jump up and down when they score. This is how we keep reward systems from detracting from autonomy and reducing performance.
So what you want to communicate in building a reward system is that the intention is not to control or micromanage your employees. Good performance is greatly appreciated, and the outcome (in terms of organizational goals) essential. Success brings the organization (and individuals) rewards. This delicate balance of “you can do it” and “the organization must achieve its goals” is the trick in presenting and implementing reward systems. In the People Side of Business, we call this the critical balance of support and structure.
Tom DeMaio, PhD