3 Ways To Challenge Your Team Toward Higher Performance

“But we’re already doing so much better than last year, when is enough, enough?” “Don’t you see how overwhelmed we are already?” “That’s not a stretch goal, that’s a delusion.” If you’re like most managers, at some point you’ve heard this kind of pushback from your team. Challenging your team to do more (often with less) is one of the biggest challenges of a manager. I’m a big believer in isolating the variables, and making the big goals feel small. Here are three easy techniques I’ve seen used well across multiple contexts.

3 Ways to Improve Your Team’s Performance

1. Do the Math

The other day I was listening to the SVP tee-up my keynote to his frontline team. His math was brilliant. If they could move the needle .1% on a key performance metric, they would save 2 million dollars! If they actually achieved the goal on the scorecard it would completely change their margins and enable them to reinvest in some of the additional programs the employees really wanted. It’s pretty hard to argue that it’s impossible to improve .1%. That afternoon, we worked so that every manager left with specific commitment to improve (which we collected in an online forum.) When they all execute they’ll blow that metric away.

I did a similar math exercise when I was in my sales exec role. Instead of saying I wanted to move our team from 1% small and medium business sales to 10% which sounded like a ridiculous leap, I simply said I needed each sales rep to close one small deal (of at least 5 lines). I knew it would actually only take 80% of the team to hit that easy target, and that some were already over-achieving. Five lines sounded quite doable and in a few months we were there, and kept improving each month after that.

2. Pairing Contests

Pair off your team into performance-enhancing dyads (although they work like steroids on your results, they’re perfectly legal.) The idea is to pick someone who is high-performing in the skill you’re trying to cultivate and one who is struggling. Then you give them a joint target to hit. Any diads that makes the joint goal win a prize. Since the teams are only competing against their collective target, not one another, encourage the diads to share best practices with one another as well. Everyone wins. Results improve quickly.

3. Weekly Wins Recap

This may sound old school, but when executed well it does wonders to keep people focused on the right behaviors and warms up lines of communication.  Each Friday ask each member of your team to send you a quick email focused on these areas: what they feel best about what they accomplished this week (a great opportunity for you to do some informal recognition); a performance area they’re focusing on next week and what they plan to do to improve; and any help they need from you.

Builders make stretch goals feel easy by breaking it down.

7 Strategic Questions Your Team Should Be Able to Answer

I’ve never met an executive who said, “My team’s just too strategic. I just wish they would focus on the day-to-day work.” Nope. In fact it’s quite the opposite concern. “How do I get my team to think more strategically?” “Karin, I just don’t think anyone on this team is ready to take on my role…. and I can’t get promoted until I find a successor.” And the phone call of the week is, “These millennials just don’t seem to get it. There’s no long-term commitment. I don’t think they care. (PS: if this one sounds familiar, click here and scroll down to download my FREE e-book Mentoring in the Age of the Millennial.) I’m going to go out on a limb here and say, if your team is not thinking strategically don’t write them off, until you take a good look at what you’ve been sharing. It’s impossible to connect the dots if you only see a third of them. If you wait until everything’s fully baked to share it with the team, they’ll never learn to be bakers. Not sure where to start without going out-of-bounds? Start here with these 7 strategic questions, that won’t get you fired.

7 Strategic Questions Your Team Should Be Able to Answer

translator1. Why do we do what we do? Note: “to make money” is not the only answer. Dig deeper. I ask this question every time I go into a focus group. You would be surprised how few can articulate a compelling answer. Start here. Talk amongst yourselves. Challenge one another. I promise this is worth every minute of time spent not “doing work.”

2. How does our team’s work contribute to the company’s mission? This one’s more tricky. At the levels closest to the customer, it’s easy to feel like a bot, and that’s precisely where it’s most dangerous.

3. What do our customers really want? Your team knows. Write it down, and then be sure your policies and procedures align.

4. Who are our major competitors and what differentiates us in the market? My guess is that some of your team will be all over this and others won’t have a clue. Having the dialogue will offer great opportunities to explore perceptions and promote learning.

5. How does the way we do our work impact other departments? Some time spent here,  looking candidly from both directions, will save days (maybe weeks) of unproductive time.

6. How can we better articulate what we need to the departments we rely on? Make a short list and use it.

7. What’s the most important thing we’re working on and why? This one seems tricky, but it will open up a hornet’s nest… so why do we?  Resist the urge to blame others for stupidity. If something really feels stupid, have the managerial courage to lift up the concern. The best way to help your team to become more strategic is to teach them to talk strategy. Imagine the possibilities if you were “that guy.”

How to Succeed With Limited Resources

You don’t have enough time, enough resources, or budget– or maybe you lack all three. You may be surprised to know that’s exactly what stacks the odds of success in your favor.

According to research psychologist Adam Grant, increasing resources increases your likelihood of a project’s  success… but only for a while. There’s a critical point when too much money, time, or support actually hurts your mission. When we have fewer resources, we have to embrace the restraints and make careful decisions. When we’ve got everything we think we need, it’s easy to spend time and money on wasted efforts.

In her new book, Disrupt Yourself, Whitney Johnson shares an important observation of the 500 fastest growing companies (as ranked by Entrepeneur magazine.)

“I was intrigued by the various ways these companies had funded their growth, rather than taking on outside cash. Only 28% had access to bank loans/lines of credit, 18% were funded by private investors, and 3.5% received funding from VCs: as many as 72% of these successful businesses were pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. I believe these companies were successful not in spite of, but because of their constraints.”

I’ve seen this first hand, when I look back at the most creative times in my career and in how I’m approaching my business now, the best solutions came when we felt the most stretched.

I also watched the evolution at Verizon Wireless in this regard. When the going was easy, and so many customers were getting their first cell phone, it was no big deal to try something, and if it failed, no big deal. When constraints became tighter and competition stiffer, it became critical to make smarter choices at every stage of the game. It was critical to get feedback on what worked (and didn’t) more quickly. Whitney explains:

“Including constraints allows you to make a faster, more accurate prediction of the consequences of your actions, letting you determine which course of action will likely give you the best results.”

Embracing Constraints When You’re Not in Charge

So when I interviewed Whitney, I explained that most folks in our LGL tribe are quite influential–but for the most part, are not running the show. I asked her for her thoughts on embracing constraints, when you’re not in charge. She offered this advice.

  1. Do your best to stakeholder initial buy-in for your idea.
  2. Identify the minimum viable product–a prototype to test. This is the best way to prove-in your idea with minimum investment (P.S. any one who’s ever worked with me knows that I’m a HUGE advocate of pilot programs. Low risk, high value in convincing others to your point of view. It’s hard to argue with success.)
  3. Figure out how to speak the language of the folks you’re trying to convince. The finance crowd speaks and entirely different language than sales or IT.
  4. Then ask this question: If this prototype works, what does that mean for what’s next?
  5. Get the right people involved. Whitney astutely pointed out, “The people who have the hardest time with this are middle managers. They have the most to lose from a big mistake.” I agree. Having been in several middle manager roles, I also know that when you’re in the middle, feeling constraints from all angles, you’re also  in the best position to know what will make the biggest impact.

How to Stop Drama Queens and Chronic Complainers From Destroying Your Team

I often start my speeches on employee engagement sharing prototypes of various kinds of disengagement. The favorite is always Barbara Boatrocker– “her life feels like a sad country song, every little thing is wrong”– for the appropriate audience I’ll even sing that line ;-). “She’s always stirring the pot. Nothing’s ever quite right when Barbara’s around. She sucks the life-force out of your team.”

Last week, when I asked what we should do about Barbara, the entire audience screamed out in unison, “Fire her.”

I paused.

“How many of you have a Barbara on your team?” Again, almost 100% raised their hands, with lots of knowing laughter.

Clearly, it’s not that easy to fire the “Barbaras” of the world, or this exchange wouldn’t continue to work across all kinds of industries and cultures– even the top-notch law firm I spoke to recently hasn’t cracked the code in their own organization.

5 Ways to Deal With Drama Queens and Chronic Complainers

First let me emphasize the CHRONIC part of the syndrome I’m talking about here. Open dialogue and employees expressing concern is not complaining. Seeking to understand is not resistance. I’m talking about the handful of looney tunes you’ll encounter in your career who consistently make matters worse.

1. Take it Off-Line

What Barbara wants more than anything is an audience. Don’t let her hijack your meeting. Acknowledge her concern and schedule some limited time to understand her concern privately (always good to have someone headed to your office right after). Trust me, your team will thank you.

2. Listen with an Open Mind

Honestly, the reason these Barbaras are so annoying is that they have a point. Some of what they say is true, and you know it. But, you understand the bigger picture and the constraints. I must admit, I’ve gotten some great insights from the Barbaras of the world. Pay attention enough so you don’t miss the good stuff.

3. Give Them a Project

I swear this works. Get them involved in solving the problem, not just talking about it. It’s always easier to tear something down than to build something up. Pull her into the solution-building equation.

4. Watch Your Body Language and Facial Expressions

Looking annoyed and ticked off will only reinforce her opinion that you’re an idiot who doesn’t care. It’s easy to slip into passive aggressive mode here, to roll your eyes, or sigh deeply. Remember that Barbara is annoying, not stupid.

5. Fire Them

Not for complaining, but for the other complicating factors. All that miss-spent energy normally comes at a productivity price. If Steps 1-4 still don’t work (be sure you’ve given them a chance), pay close attention to the side effects and document them.

The Secret to Holding a Meeting that Gets Results

Does this sound familiar? You went to a meeting where you had invigorating discussions, examined alternatives, came up with a cool plan of action, everyone left the meeting feeling motivated, and then six weeks later you get back together. As everyone enters the room and takes their seat, there are sideways glances, “Did you do that thing we talked about?”

“No…how about you?”

A quick shake of the head and you realize that the great idea everyone talked about has languished.

The prior meeting, the discussions, the new meeting – all of it – are a waste because nothing happened. In fact, it’s worse than doing nothing because now you’ve created negative energy…that feeling that “it doesn’t matter what we talk about because nothing really changes around here.” That corrosive malaise will eat away at your people and leave them looking for excuses to take your next meeting via conference call so they can multi-task and “get real work done.”

Every meeting you hold should produce activities that move results forward, build momentum, and build morale with healthy relationships. You can achieve all this in just ten minutes at the end of every meeting.

The Best 10 Minutes of Every Meeting

At the end of every meeting ask these three commitment questions:

Commitment #1:  Who will do what?

There are actually two questions here:

  1. What is to be done?
  2. Who will do it?

Every task must have a specific person who is responsible to complete it. For smaller decisions there might be only one or two answers to this question. For larger strategic initiatives you might have an entire work plan that outlines dozens of tasks and people responsible.

Commitment # 2 By When?

This one is straightforward. What is the finish line for the tasks people have agreed to complete? When these deadlines are shared and publicly available, everyone is more likely to meet them.

Commitment #3 How Will We Know?

“How will we know?” is the magic question that moves your meeting from good intentions to real-world impact. It’s also the one managers most frequently ignore. “How will we know?” closes the loop from intention to action and creates momentum without you having to spend hours every day tracking down action steps. Here’s how it works: When someone completes a task, what do they do next?

  • Do they need to pass the results to another person or group?
  • Should they update the team and let them know?
  • Will they make a presentation of their findings?
  • Do they report completion in a common area or software?

The specific answers depend on the task and project. What matters is that the accountability and next step are “baked into” the decision. Everyone knows what he or she is accountable to do, the team knows if it’s been completed, and no one is left waiting around for information they need.

Combine these commitments into one sentence: Who does what, by when, and how will we know? and you have the Winning Well Meeting Formula to get clarity, accountability, and results in just ten minutes at the end of every meeting: In fact, you can ask these questions whether you are the positional leader of a group or not. That’s a great way to establish yourself as a leader who gets things done – people notice when you produce clarity, accountability, and results. Don’t let the simplicity of these questions fool you into not using them.  These are the most important ten minutes you’ll spend to make your meetings achieve results.

Winning WellExciting news, the book I’m David Dye and I are publishing is off to the AMACOM for publication this Spring. We’re jazzed and honored that Marshall Goldsmith wrote a smashing foreward. More to come, but in the meantime here’s a peek at the cover.

How To Move a Team from Forming to High Performing in < 48 Hours

Our MBA Orientation committee debated whether was this too much pressure.  The second week on campus, teams of first year MBA students would have 48 hours to research and make recommendations on a real business challenge for a large, high-profile company and package and communicate their recommendation to a high-profile audience.

Clearly, it’s more than a “game” when potential employers and university leadership are involved. I served as executive communications consultant, equipping them on presentation skills and packaging a compelling story, and then visited their case rooms up until the late night pancake “breakfast” critiquing their rehearsal and helping them fine-tune.

Every team was given the same challenge, information and resources. What was fascinating was how the teams varied in their approach to team dynamics and interaction. I got an insider’s view to most of the teams and watched the teams and their presentations transform (a few didn’t think they needed any help, but that’s another story.)

How to Move a Team from Forming to High Performing in < 48 Hours

I spoke with several of the teams that made it to the final round–mostly curious about how the most successful teams accomplished so much so quickly.

You guessed it–they had a balanced focus on results AND relationships, confidence AND humility. #winningwell

1. Quickly Identify Each Team Member’s Strengths (and Challenges)

The strongest teams didn’t waste time jockeying for position or covering up weaknesses. They weren’t afraid to say what they were good at, “Oh, when I worked for the World Bank, I used to work on this kind of stuff all the time, let me lead the analysis.” Or where they weren’t, “I don’t have much of a finance background, that’s why I’m here to round it out, BUT I’m GREAT at PowerPoint.”

2. Work Extremely Hard at Communication

Every team had International students studying in their non-native tongue. This often meant slowing down to repeat or find different words to explain a complex idea. The teams that won well understood the deep value their teammates were bringing to the table and took extra time to ensure they were heard and understood.

3. Invest in the Long View, Even in Short-Term Projects

Sure they all wanted to win the 48-hour challenge, but they also knew that the relationships they were building would last at least two years as they worked together throughout the program, and of course could become a powerful network down the road. They kept the big picture in mind as they managed their interactions.

4. Establish Formal Norms

Before they began they wrote down the big rules for team functioning AND they called each other on it when someone was out of bounds. This happened most during times of stress, “We agreed we do a little one-minute dance party when the stress got to much.”

5. Offer (and Receive) Candid Feedback

There was no time to sugarcoat. They cut through the B.S. and feedback was offered and received with the understanding that they all had the same big goal. When their second year coach, or someone gave them ideas to improve, they quickly said “Thank you,” took the advice, and made their presentation tighter.

Here’s a quick interview with one of my favorite winning well teams.

To learn more about these leaders you can click on their LinkedIn profiles.

Alison ScharmanMohamed BoraieShengnan WangSunghooh Huh,Will Boddy

Thanks to my nephew, Jared Herr for producing this video.

Need help accelerating your team’s development, or communicating more effectively? Please give me a call 443/750-149.

Effective Delegation: An Easy to Use Tool

When you’re overwhelmed, stressed, and busy, you know the natural answer is to delegate more. But there’s a risk. When you’re moving fast it’s easy to get sloppy or overbearing in your delegation: (see 3 delegation mistakes you don’t have to make). That’s why I’ve created this easy checklist for you to use the next time your delegating an important task. I’ve listed the questions here, but you can also download in a checklist form:  free PDF for easy use with your team. 

Questions to Ask Yourself When Delegating

Before Delegating

  • Does the person I’ve selected have the knowledge, skills and resources necessary to do this task?
  • Does this person have bandwidth to do this task (do I need to help them prioritize)?
  • Are there any roadblocks (e.g. political, funding, approvals) I need to help remove to make this task possible?

In Delegation Conversation

  • Have I explained why this task is important?
  • Have I clearly articulated the “finish line”–what’s to be accomplished by when?
  • Have I left room for the employee to determine the best way to get the task accomplished (delegated outcomes, not process)?
  • Have I checked for understanding and heard the employee state what needs to be accomplished by when?
  • Have I established clear accountability checkpoints and a mutual appointment to review the completed task?

After Completion

  • Have I said “Thank you?”
  • Have we had any needed conversations about lessons learned or process improvements?

Note: This is an in-progress tool we are testing as supplemental resource to our book coming out in early Spring. Would love your feedback on how it can be improved.

what to do when your team is downsized

5 Things to Do When Your Team is Downsized

I’ve never met a manager who felt they had more headcount than they needed. In fact, the number one answer I get when I ask managers what they need most is “More people!” And yet most of us have been on the receiving end of the conversation saying “We’re going to need to figure out how to do more with less.” In fact, there was one dark period of my career that I received that call every quarter for 2 years. By the end of that run, I had half the team and more customers. The wacky part was, results kept improving.

5 Things to Do When Your Team is Downsized

As painful as downsizing is, I’ve learned the hard way that it’s possible to keep results going up, while your team size is going down. It requires a positive outlook, innovative thinking, and most importantly trust and support.

1.Keep Your Cool

Don’t let your team see you cry or whatever your equivalent of a tantrum is. Don’t vent to your team or blame “them (those above you, or HR)” for being clueless to how hard you’re already working. Get it out of your system off line and show up strong. Your team needs to feel confident that you’ve got a path forward, not get more unrattled as you lose your footing.

2. Help Your People Find Jobs

If the headcount being cut are not vacancies but real human beings, put them first. Do whatever you can to help them land well. Besides being the right thing to do for the impacted employees, it will go a long way in building trust and loyalty with those who remain.

3. Eliminate Less Necessary Work

Before you tell me “Nothing we’re doing is unnecessary,” get your team together and ask (and then don’t let them tell you that either). Look under every rock for time spent on seldom reviewed reports or redundant processes. You can’t do the same work with fewer people for long without causing people to tip over, or sacrifice quality. Get serious about what can go.

4. Strategize Failure

If you can’t find enough work to eliminate, know that some balls are likely to drop (or at least be picked up on the second bounce). Don’t pretend that every goal is equally important, help your team to prioritize. Be sure they know that if they have to screw-up something, which of their goals is less critical.

5. Go Outside Your Team for Support

You’re probably thinking, “Karin, now you’re really talking crazy, if we’re pressed, so is everyone else.” I bet they are. But I also know that in every organization, there is always redundant work going on. Instead of viewing other teams as the competition, or keeping staff at an arms distance to get them out of your hair, look for opportunities to partner. Could you pool functions and create a shared services group? Could you lend resources back and forth during peak times? Have the confidence to know it can be done, and the humility to ask for help.

Downsizing is never easy. I also know that of all the times I thought we’d been cut too far to survive, we someone how did, and in many cases thrived. Leadership is often about doing what feels impossible.

Why NPS (Net Promoter Score) is Never Enough

The call center had ventured into this unknown territory organically. Their leadership knew their processes needed rigor, so they called me in to take a look and help them create a scalable model.

My basic question, “How do you measure performance?” was met with an embarrassed silence followed by the awkward answer, “Attendance and adherence to schedule.”

Now you don’t need to be a customer service genius to know that measuring whether reps show up to work is not enough to guarantee a best-in-class customer experience. Most centers at least use NPS (Net Promoter Score), which measures whether the customer would recommend the company to a friend. But this project was different, and that wasn’t so easy.

My expectations lowered, I asked, “Would it be okay for me to sit with some reps?” And that’s when the real surprise began.

I watched as each rep passionately explained their processes.

“Oh my gosh, I love my job, I just can’t wait to help customers. You see this guy here? He thinks everything is fixed, but I dug a bit deeper and I know we can help him more. It takes a few extra clicks to get what I need, but it’s worth it.”

“Well, each morning before I get to work, I go onto our–and our competitor’s–Facebook page to see if anything hot might have surfaced since my last shift. Stuff changes fast, and it’s important to come into work fully prepared.”

“The best part of our work is that no one gives us a script, we are each able to use our own unique style as long as we follow the basic guidelines. Customers love that. We also share what works best with one another.”

I reviewed customer conversation after conversation. I surely would recommend these reps to a friend. They were scoring “10s” on an invisible scoreboard.

My mind raced to the week before when I had met with the builder for our new home.

“Okay, here’s a survey you need to fill out.  I only get my bonus if you give me a 10. It’s really important that you answer 10 to these three questions. I don’t care what you put for the rest of the survey, you can be as honest as you want on those. In fact, that’s how we know what to improve. But whatever you do, please give me a 10. In fact, let me just circle that in for you.”

If he worked for me, I would have fired him.

But, here’s where it gets trickier. This guy’s going to be our project manager for the next year. He’ll have discretion about whether he fixes our borderline problems on our new home. The wackiest part is until that conversation it had been a 10 experience.

My gut says, report this stupidity his boss, but then what? And of course, I have no way of knowing if his boss isn’t playing the same game. I wonder how many other new home owners leave their final walk-through feeling similarly gamed?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for NPS and other CSAT (customer satisfaction) measures. I will help that call center build a meaningful balanced scorecard, and recommend they include NPS, but not without telling this cautionary tale.

The spirit of NPS is easily destroyed when mathematical gymnastics trump a sincere desire to improve.

If you’re using NPS, be sure you dig deeper. Follow-up with your promoters. “Why would you recommend us?” Give them a chance to say, “Because I didn’t want your rep to get fired.”

Want to give your customer service a competitive edge? I’d love to help you dig deeper. Please give me a call at 443/750-1249 for a free consultation. 

5 Ways to Strengthen Trust With Weak Ties

I would describe our meeting as a roll of the dice. Perhaps someday we will upgrade our relationship to “weak ties,” but yesterday we were just 2/850 at the Great Ideas Conference chatting through our freebie Hyatt sunglasses over lunchtime brisket and gluten-free potato salad. “Joe,” the CEO (named substituted for anonymity and rhyme), seemed genuinely intrigued by our LGL mission. He works with significant innovators (with a capital I– think people who will invent the next product you must have and will be willing to spend too much for.)

“Karin, what I’d be most interested to hear from you is how you build trust with weak ties. We depend on that. Getting true innovators to connect with and trust one another online and around the globe is a vital ingredient of real progress.”

Game on. I’ve got perspective (as Granovetter’s strength of weak ties theory is arguably my favorite communcation theory of all time), but I’m sure our LGL tribe is up to the challenge. Let’s go help Joe (and others ready to go) make positive change in our world.

5 Ways to Strengthen Trust With Weak Ties

All the components of the Green’s trust equation still apply (credibility + reliability + intimacy/ self orientation)

1. Share expertise (Credibility)

Share your good stuff. Showing up with real expertise will attract other curious and innovative souls. The more people are talking about your ideas, the higher the probability of being introduced to other experts with complementary or challenging views.

2. Respect Others Consistently (Reliability)

I’m always amazed at the stupidity of those who check out credentials before helping. Or treat folks differently based on letters behind their name or klout scores. Discriminatory respect ignores the strength of weak ties theory. Treat everyone with deep respect and you’ll be known as the “really great guy (or gal)” others “just have to meet.” The brother of the intern you met in the forum may turn out to be just who you need on your next project.

3. Do What You Say (Reliability)

It’s certainly easier to blow off a commitment to a weak tie than a colleague. You don’t have to help everyone, but if you say you will, do.

4. Be Real (Intimacy)

Don’t be a snob or tell us how wonderful you are, just show us through your ideas and engagement. Share a bit about yourself as a person. Be honest about where you’re stuck. Whether you’re around the world or sitting in the cube next door, human beings want to work with other human beings.

5. Give generously without expectation (Self-Orientation)

If you’re just out for yourself, people will smell it and tell their weak ties. Social media makes it easy folks, to warn the world. In my own collaborations, I’m consistently being warned of when to steer clear. “Trust checks” are often only a DM (Twitter Direct Message) away. (See also:  7 Reasons Collaboration Breaks Down.)

People trust people who know what they’re doing, who show up consistently with a generous heart. Be that guy, and your weak ties will quickly tighten into trusted bonds of true collaboration.

Other LGL Fun

Karin Hurt, CEO

I’ve had some fun with media interviews this week. A Fortune article on the hottest job trends, and Blogging and Marketing Tips by Experts on FirstSiteGuide and a round-up of most vital leaderhip characteristics. Tip: Blogging is a great way to give generously. Check out Matt Banner’s updated guide to starting a blog here.

improve customer service

The Score Isn’t the Game

Sarah’s face winced as the hourly stack rankings beeped through her smart phone. She didn’t have to say a word, I knew that look from the inside out. I’ve been on the frantic receiving end of such beeps. Hourly results coming in 15 times a day–quality, efficiency, sales–all neatly stack ranked as a constant reminder I wasn’t doing enough. And just in case the beeps didn’t get my attention, at least one or two of the hourly blasts were typically followed up by a call from my boss, “Have you seen the numbers?”

Sarah interrupted my painful flashback. “I’m sorry, but I’ve got to huddle the team. We’ve got to get to 94 by the end of the day.” “What are you planning as your key message?” I asked. She looked at me as if I was crazy, “94.”

When I met with her team later in the day and asked what success looked like, I got more of the same.

“94, 540, and 56.” Well, at least they were consistent.

5 Ways Focusing on the Score Lowers Performance

Metrics matter. A balanced scorecard, with well-selected KPIs, will reinforce your strategy and align actions with goals. But when the metrics are the message, the business suffers. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, check your messaging. Don’t let the urgency of a stack rank distract your team from a long-term win.

1. False Sense of Competition

A sure sign the stack rank is holding you back is an inflated sense of internal competition. If, “We’ve got to beat Joe” is a louder rally cry than “Make a genuine connection with every customer,” or ______(insert your most important business behavior here), your smack talk is backfiring and it’s time to regroup.

2. Gaming

I’m always astounded by the creativity and lengths some employees will go to game the system. If they would spend as much time improving the quality of their work than working the work around, they’d be knocking results out of the park. Talking only to metrics encourages such gaming, which wastes time and often gets people fired.

3. Volatile Performance

You can’t truly respond to metrics on an hourly (or even daily) basis. And your reaction is likely more annoying than helpful. If metrics go up when you rant, scream, or dress like a superhero, and then come right back down, take a step back and plan a consistent approach to reinforce key behaviors, again and again– five times, five different ways.

4. Unintended Consequences

If “I fixed this, but broke that” sounds like the sad country music soundtrack of your team’s performance, you’re likely focused on one or two KPIs, rather than the key game-changing behaviors that will lead to lasting performance. In every business there are one or two vital behaviors that will improve your overall scorecard. Be sure you’re focusing on those early and often, and use them as foundation from which to build.

5. Stupid Decisions

This happens at all levels, but can be particularly disastrous when an executive becomes focused on a short-term adrenaline shot to force up results. “Oh sure we can bring on 500 people in 10 weeks to get the contract” is not rational thinking. Focus decisions on what will lead to consistent upward trends and sustained performance.

The secret to sustained results over time is identifying the behaviors that matter and executing on them every day. Respond to consistent improvement and celebrate upward trends, not flash in the pan reactions to an urgent call to action.

The Score Isn’t the Game

Sarah’s face winced as the hourly stack rankings beeped through her smart phone. She didn’t have to say a word, I knew that look from the inside out. I’ve been on the frantic receiving end of such beeps. Hourly results coming in 15 times a day–quality, efficiency, sales–all neatly stack ranked as a constant reminder I wasn’t doing enough. And just in case the beeps didn’t get my attention, at least one or two of the hourly blasts were typically followed up by a call from my boss, “Have you seen the numbers?”

Sarah interrupted my painful flashback. “I’m sorry, but I’ve got to huddle the team. We’ve got to get to 94 by the end of the day.” “What are you planning as your key message?” I asked. She looked at me as if I was crazy, “94.”

When I met with her team later in the day and asked what success looked like, I got more of the same.

“94, 540, and 56.” Well, at least they were consistent.

5 Ways Focusing on the Score Lowers Performance

Metrics matter. A balanced scorecard, with well-selected KPIs, will reinforce your strategy and align actions with goals. But when the metrics are the message, the business suffers. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, check your messaging. Don’t let the urgency of a stack rank distract your team from a long-term win.

1. False Sense of Competition

A sure sign the stack rank is holding you back is an inflated sense of internal competition. If, “We’ve got to beat Joe” is a louder rally cry than “Make a genuine connection with every customer,” or ______(insert your most important business behavior here), your smack talk is backfiring and it’s time to regroup.

2. Gaming

I’m always astounded by the creativity and lengths some employees will go to game the system. If they would spend as much time improving the quality of their work than working the work around, they’d be knocking results out of the park. Talking only to metrics encourages such gaming, which wastes time and often gets people fired.

3. Volatile Performance

You can’t truly respond to metrics on an hourly (or even daily) basis. And your reaction is likely more annoying than helpful. If metrics go up when you rant, scream, or dress like a superhero, and then come right back down, take a step back and plan a consistent approach to reinforce key behaviors, again and again– five times, five different ways.

4. Unintended Consequences

If “I fixed this, but broke that” sounds like the sad country music soundtrack of your team’s performance, you’re likely focused on one or two KPIs, rather than the key game-changing behaviors that will lead to lasting performance. In every business there are one or two vital behaviors that will improve your overall scorecard. Be sure you’re focusing on those early and often, and use them as foundation from which to build.

5. Stupid Decisions

This happens at all levels, but can be particularly disastrous when an executive becomes focused on a short-term adrenaline shot to force up results. “Oh sure we can bring on 500 people in 10 weeks to get the contract” is not rational thinking. Focus decisions on what will lead to consistent upward trends and sustained performance.

The secret to sustained results over time is identifying the behaviors that matter and executing on them every day. Respond to consistent improvement and celebrate upward trends, not flash in the pan reactions to an urgent call to action.