Generally, when we want to measure performance in the workplace, we want to measure behaviour. Behaviour is observable, and consequently can be measured objectively. Unlike ideas, attitudes, drivers and motives, behaviour is tangible and measurable. Whether its’ a person’s output, sales volume or meeting deliverables we’re trying to find the best metrics that capture the core performance of a person’s work.
There are five “W” questions to ask when designing a metric and each contributes to the validity of the measure. The best metrics are collected with a clear purpose, using a deliberate methodology with the right people at the appropriate time and optimal location.
Always start with why. Why are you trying to measure performance? Is this part of training and development? Managing performance? Are you looking for metrics to influence pay, benefits, and bonuses? These different purposes may require different measures, and will consequently affect answers to all of the other questions. The reason for measuring may include:
- To provide baseline data where individual, groups or the whole organization can be compared at a later date or with different individuals or groups
- To provide a record of an individual’s behaviour or performance across different situations
- To examine workplace conditions or initiatives that can influence, maintain or diminish certain behaviours (Eg. testing the effectiveness of a new program or policy)
- To target specific behaviours for change (Eg. Improving performance, or fixing performance issues).
Once you have determined why you have decided to measure, then ask the question of what, specifically is to be measured. The “what” needs to be very clearly defined in order to measure a particular behaviour, and it must also be possible to quantify that behaviour.
The “what” should be clearly described so that the person who is being measured understands the criteria as well as the person doing the measuring. Especially when metrics are measuring performance, understanding what is measured should offer specific paths and opportunities to improving that behaviour or boosting performance if that is the intent (the “why) of the metric.
Who is being measured, and who is doing the measuring? Measurement often starts at the level of individual behaviour and can be combined to obtain team or departmental data. It is important to be specific what level is the focus. Is it an individual, a team, a department or the entire organization being measured?
It’s also necessary to consider who is doing the measuring. The person or group using the metrics should have some training and experience in collecting, analysing and reporting on the metrics in question. As much as possible should be explained, clarified and standardized for those doing the measuring so that different assessors are not measuring people in different ways.
Another necessary consideration is who, individually or as a group, maybe disadvantaged in the way the metric is collected. Are there provisions for people who have conditions like dyslexia in reporting or collecting their information? Are people in different locations measured in the same way? Make sure everyone has the same opportunity to participate and to provide accurate, valid data. In this area, scientific validity and diversity and inclusion have the same objectives: remove as much “noise” as possible from the data – ensure the metrics are measuring exactly what they are intended to measure while minimizing sources of error.
When are the metrics being collected? Generally, the rule is that any variations in timing should be minimized within and between people. Ideally, people should complete measures at a similar time of day, point in the week or month and time of year. Although it’s not always feasible, keeping the timing as consistent as possible helps to reduce extraneous sources of error in measurement.
Metrics may also be of interest at very specific points in time like during an onboarding process, before and after a change initiative, or at an exit interview. The answer to the question of “when” is highly dependent on the answer to “Why”.
Also, consider any other external factors that may affect the metrics. It’s best to consider these beforehand, instead of trying to come up with post hoc explanations after the metrics have been collected. For example, has there been any large-scale organizational changes that could affect the metrics? Mergers and acquisitions? Company reorganizations? Wider economic or social conditions that could have an effect? There is never a “perfect” time to measure – it’s impossible to separate the job and work from the wider social, team, and company environment. But it is necessary to consider what external factors could have an effect and control for those factors as much as possible.
People can be evaluated, metrics can be collected and data can be analysed almost anywhere. Location flexibility is great, but metrics are most effective when they take place in the location or environment that is most relevant to the behaviour or performance in question. It’s best to measure behaviour where that behaviour occurs most naturally. So if you’re asking people about their work engagement and well-being, it’s best to ask them about that when they are working. Asking someone about their work? Ask the questions while they are in the normal working environment, in the same cognitive and social space that is relevant to the metrics.
It is also important to consider in the context of remote work. People can do their work anywhere, but if someone tends to work at a particular computer or workstation at a particular time of day, that is the best time and place to take the measure. Smartphones may be a great way to let people be accessible anywhere – but when collecting valid and reliable workplace metrics, its better to collect specific data than at a particular location, especially when someone’s work is tied to that location.
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