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.
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.