Do Performance Metrics Really Improve Performance?


I have recently read several articles stating that we need better metrics for Federal CIOs and attended conferences that discuss performance metrics related to programs. Over the past years, there has been an increasing focus on the development of metrics as a means to objectively evaluate performance, with the emphasis on quantitative measures. It seems to me that this approach may be actually counterproductive. Yes, I agree that metrics, when used appropriately, provide insight into performance. But, I disagree that they are a valid indicator of performance, when they are used as the only measure. Further, I believe that metrics need to be collected on an ongoing basis to determine when variances occur so that problems can be identified (and corrected) early. Annual metrics or any point metrics do not provide this insight.

A second reason that I am not a fan of metrics as the main measure of performance is that much of a person’s (or contractor’s) performance is qualitative. It is the manager’s responsibility to oversee and direct the performance of staff and contractors. This is the “personal” side of management. Metrics turn managers into administrators.

I have sat in many meetings where the only focus is to meet deadline, develop a specified number of widgets, handle customer complaints within a certain duration, or some other metric. No accommodation is provided for unforeseen issues and delays. One simply cannot expect to put an arbitrary process in place and expect results. Likewise, replicating another entity’s metrics or establishing a “common” metric across an organization does not allow for the fact that not all people or programs are the same [this is my Personality Theory of business that I will discuss in the future].  This is a factory mentality of replaceable components, which is not the nature of today’s business.

For example, the Federal Government created Data.gov to post databases for the public to use.  Metrics were established about how many databases would be posted over various periods of time.  No evaluation of the quality or relevancy of the data is provided.  To meet their goals, agencies look for the data they can post quickly, rather than the data that might be relevant to their constituent.  Nor is sufficient time allowed to review the data posted for quality.  I will give agencies credit for trying to do a good job, but they are cognizant of the number they must meet.

Let me suggest the following rules for the use of metrics:

  1. Do not use metrics as the sole indicator of performance.
  2. Never copy metrics from another source without throughly understanding how they apply to your situation.
  3. Develop a process for continuous review of the metrics so you can anticipate issues – do not expect good results if you only measure annually, quarterly, or even monthly.
  4. Incorporate qualitative analysis into your performance assessments.
  5. Assume that problems will occur and plan for them.
  6. Incorporate incentives for great performance – not just penalties for poor performance.
  7. Develop metrics through collaboration with all parties affected.

These are just my thoughts.  I will be posting  poll in the near future to collect your thoughts.  In the meantime, let me know what you think about performance metrics.

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Posted on November 16, 2011, in Debunked Myth, Strategic Planning and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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