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HR Metrics: The '5 whys' of choosing one!

Hrmetrics 5 whys

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. 

1. Why?

    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). 

    2. What?

    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. 

    3. Who?

      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. 

      4. When?

        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. 

        5. Where?

          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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