How to Improve Your Results

How to Improve Your Results: The Score Isn’t the Game

Your customer doesn’t care about your internal scorecard. If you want to improve your results stop talking about the score.

One Thing That Won’t Work to Improve Your Results

Sarah’s face winced as the hourly stack rankings beeped through her smartphone. 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.

Sarah’s message to her team was loud and clear– they had to move the needle on metrics. But talking about a number does nothing to empower or teach employees the behaviors they need to be successful.

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 urgent need to improve your results distract your team from a long-term win.

1. False Sense of Competition

Your competition isn’t the team down the hall, your competition is mediocrity.  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.

You May Also Enjoy These Related Articles to Improve Your Results

How to Encourage Your Team When Results Are Disappointing

How to Hold a Remarkably Effective Team Huddle

Pushover No More: It’s Never Too Late to Practice Team Accountability

Posted in Results & Execution and tagged , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells - building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Great article, and spot-on. it is easy to focus on the short-term wins, even if this may be rewarding behaviours that will be bad for the business in the long run. It takes vision and discipline to resist this and focus on the behaviours that will make the business consistently successful

  2. Wow, I can’t imagine the pressure of getting real time sales stats. I thought monthly was exhausting.

    I agree, consistent action driven by behaviors and motivators. Many lose site of the consistency part.

    • Thanks, Steve. Indeed it is, and those messages can be scarily addictive at the same time.

  3. Hi Karin,

    During the game glance at the scoreboard but focus on the way you play your game. I’m with you, over-reaction to short-term numbers is a disaster.

    We need leaders with enough courage to develop a game plan and let the players play. Of course we need to adapt as we go. But, constantly reacting is not the same as learning and adapting.

    • Dan, Great to see you here (and Greetings from the Great Ideas conference in Orlando). You raise such an important point… we do need more such courage. Game on!

  4. Focusing on the numbers doesn’t usually work unless the people involved with those numbers have a say. That is why leaders who have direct contact with customers need to be part of any scorecard setting.

    I love your idea of not making our decisions strictly based on what our competition is doing but rather on what is meaningful for each of us and our organizations.

    Thanks Karin!

    • Terri, Thanks so much. Great add. I agree, helping teams come up with the best process measures to gauge their progress as they work toward bigger goals can be very impactful.

  5. Love this comment: “But when the metrics are the message, the business suffers.”

    Short term fixes are not the answer…identifying a trend and then showing people how to catch its tail is being a leader. Not reacting to metrics…

  6. Karin -The title of this post pulled me in. Your points are so simple and so powerful and so often missed! You can’t cure an illness with a Band-Aid and you can’t win games if you don’t play well.

    • Chery, Great to see you here. Thanks so much. Yup, you gotta play well to win 😉

  7. Karin – I am preparing to deliver a message to a group of about 300 employees next week. My first slide says “Financial Update” based on my title. I stared at that for several minutes last night thinking how it didn’t fit. Although I am in the finance department, my intent is on delivering a leadership message, not a finance update. I started thinking about the scoreboard, and wanted to come back to this post from last week as many of my thoughts were about the behaviors to drive results, not the results we actually wanted. I Love Dan’s response of focusing on playing the game, not on the scoreboard. I always appreciate the thoughts, and comments I get from your posts.
    Thanks – Tim

    • Tim, Awesome! Thanks so much. I wish more “finance guys” would think like that 😉 Have fun with your message, I know you will nail it.

  8. From a college graduate perspective, exploring this topic in the company you want to start a career with is vital. It is important to know how they focus on performance and measure it. Also knowing whether the company prides itself on short term or long-term performance goals is essential. We all want longevity and I believe assessing the company from this perspective will help you determine if it can be achieved where you are.

    • Patricia, I REALLY AGREE with you. Knowing how you’re measured is so important when starting a new job or a new role within the company. When interviewing for a new role at Verizon I would always ask what “leading” would look like in that job (that was our highest performance appraisal rating) and then I would go for that.

  9. Numbers just tell one side of the story, it does not recognize the effort people put into the process to get the result. I understand this world is result-oriented, a lot of things such as salary, bonus, scholarship depends on what kind of result is getting. However, if we only focus the numbers, we could fall shorted sighted and lose our vision in the long term.

    • Xinyue, I so agree… behaviors will impact long-term results and trust.

  10. As a graduate student, reading through the article, I was able to put myself into the virtual situation where I have to deal with being evaluated at my future work. Nowadays, exchanging feedback each other and sharing evaluations are almost inevitable in the business world, or even life time. But I think, as mentioned above, it is important to look for the consistency and the long-term performance indicators, rather than short-term. Short-term solution can be a bandage, but it can’t fix the whole wound. Thank you!

    • Stephen, Excellent thoughts! I’m so with you. It’s so important to look for consistency and long term indicators.

  11. I believe employees can have the balance score card in their mind and have an open communication with management and provide suggestions on areas employees feel can contribute to the company’s well being:

    1. Employees can ask themselves about how customers see the company and how can company improve the image? (customer perspective)
    2. Employees can ask themselves on what areas the company can work more efficiently? (internal business perspective)
    3. Employees can ask themselves how the company improve and create value? (innovation and learning perspective)
    4. Employees can think of ways to reduce cost? (financial perspective)

    Open communication is needed and management should be willing to listen to employees.

    • Sakib, Beautiful. Your questions are almost a blog post in themselves. Thank you.

  12. Short-term focused strategy usually leads to quick win since it frequently sets up goals, and once achieved, a new set of goals will come up quickly. However, on the long run, it could leads to massive problems such as lack of consistent ability and the company will easily lost the view of “the big picture.” A good example is “Agile development” in the Engineer world. Usually a project needs detailed documentation, which serves as a blueprint before implementation. However, Agile development focuses on create pieces small parts one after another, without knowing weather they can combine to the final project. What’s worse, senior employees may easily lost motivation and just let younger employees finish seemingly “small tasks.” The quality of the whole project will almost certainly be questionable.

    • Jingting thanks so much for expanding the conversation with your excellent example.

  13. Sarah’s organization is a perfect example of a company that is lacking organizational health. Her team may be able to achieve some short-term sale goals but this strategy comes with its costs. Measuring success by meeting short-term metric goals will not lead to sustainable or long-term success. Part of achieving sustainable performance is management changing their focus from short-term performance metrics to looking at the big picture. I think the balance score is a perfect method for setting the right goals and focusing beyond the numbers to achieve better quality and success.

    • Olivia, yes, thank you. A more balanced scorecard is a useful approach.

  14. I agree with No.5 “Stupid Decision”. In this competitive society, people need to complete very months’ goal. (i.e. Sales number). People will just focus on their short-term numbers instead of long-term plan. Some company will get a large amount sales number by every end’s month .This way people can complete their work, however, they just focusing on numbers instead of their performance. People should build a long-term plan in order to promote their product and complete their target for work.

    • Jing, Indeed. It’s important for companies to consider that when creating incentive programs and compensation plans.

  15. Such a great article! We often get unintended consequences and focus on only one or two KPIs afterwards. However, business is much more about the overall situation and there are some other KPIs that influence the scorecard more. In my case, I often forget to focus on vital behaviors at first and spend much more time to get expected results. Pay attention to key game-changing behaviors would not only save time and money but also strengthen your sense of accomplishment.

  16. As a good leader, he or she should have a long-term view. Do not waste time on some meaningless behaviors or only focus on metrics. This article provides a good checklist for leaders to consider whether their teams are distracted from a long-term win. Although metrics seems important, I believe that any scores only represent past results. Good leaders should focus on the future opportunities and try to build long-term value for their firms.

  17. I always believe score is a relatively fair method to evaluate performance but not everything. We should try to get a high score but if we care too much about the score, the results may be just the opposite to what we wished. I especially have resonance for the point “false sense of competition”. In middle school, teacher always asked us to set a goal before each exam and some good students in class always wanted to beat each other in the exams. However the results showed that overcoming ourselves can bring better scores than trying to beating some else. In real work, score is always related to many other results, which makes the score more important than in school. In this case, We should try to get high score through improving our performance, not through some improper ways.

    • Dandan, Yes! Upward trends and striving for a “”personal best” can be very motivating.

  18. Internal competition really is a double-edged sword. It encourages innovation and cost saving but companies should think twice before going down that road. Because internal competition will also case dysfunction in company, like avoidance of accountability and inconsistencies in short-term goal and long-term goal. Companies should focus on big picture and sustainability and prevent distraction from short-term goals.

    • Bingyi, I agree. I think internal competition can be very useful if it’s kept in check… but when it goes too far it can be destructive.

  19. From this article, it is obvious that wrong ways focusing on the scores will decrease the efficiency and have a side effect on the team relationship. There is an old Chinese saying “Friendship first, competition second.” A false sense of competition would probably raise personal conflicts and ruin a team. Teammates are more than just competition, but need to pay more attention on collaboration and common goals. The whole is greater than the sums of the parts. Scores can be also used by this theory.

  20. I completely agree with this article. The score isn’t the game, Winning in a task in not only the thing that forces us to do that task. Instead we learn something new and it gives us a proper feedback. We need to encourage persistence and focus on the consistent upward trends, so that we will have sustained performance.

    • Thanks for raising the important subject of persistence. I so agree.

  21. Nowadays, the business world is evaluating performance and results based on metrics or numbers. However, good leaders should encourage their teams to be consistent with behaviors that would lead to those results and understand the reasons behind those behaviors in order to be successful and have a sustained performance. Thank you!

    • Johana, I agree. If you focus consistently on the right behaviors, results will follow.

  22. As a graduate who will go to work soon, I learn something important from this article: Focus on the long-term win! In real world, we might focus on what can make our score looks great in the short term during working time. However, focus on the short-term might be weakness for the company from long-term perspective. What we need to do is as the article says: Respond to consistent improvement and celebrate upward trends.

  23. As a graduate who will go to work soon, I learn something important from this article: Focus on the long-term win! In real world, we might focus on what can make our score looks great in the short term during working time. However, focus on the short-term might be weakness for the company from long-term perspective. What we need to do is set up a long term goal and try our best to achieve it step by step.

    • Yes, wining involves reaching for a long-term goal and working to win at every step.

  24. This article conclusively states that a leader should focus on consistency approach and long-term performance, rather than short-term. As the article says, if people spend time improving the quality of work than just working around, they will knock results out of the park. Short-term plan can only get the temporary success, But the success that gets from long-term approach is unbelievable.

  25. We need build a goal-oriented team in order to obtain long-term win. The very first step is set up the goal according to the desired result what we want to achieve. It is not a competition with others but a challenge for ourselves. We need often examine what we have done to see if go against the achievement of the origin goal then adjust and continue.

    • Yuan, Great add…. clarity around a unified goal is an important start.

  26. Unintended Consequences happen a lot during the pursuit of both short term and long term goals. But if the leaders remained vigilant for intentions, and learn to anticipate and identify these unintended consequences, he will be in a better position to make effective decisions and address problems.

    • Xinyue, Great add. Anticipating and planning for potential unintended consequences can make a real difference.

  27. “Score” is one of the most important facts to evaluate a business, as well as an employee. However, the measure of sales performance itself is far from being sufficient in evaluating the “score”. Businesses should focus on promoting productivity and efficiency among all employees, instead of blindly creating internal competitions between employees. As for employees, they should concentrate on constantly improving themselves in a sustainable and effective way. Although being on top of the stack rank will bring the employee additional benefits, the cut-throat competition between employees will result in reduced efficiency. If employees could work coherently and effectively, the performance of the business will be improved, and thus benefits are granted for everyone as well.

  28. I have seen many situations that people often focus on short-term performance. In my experience working in the insurance company as financial accountants, sales employees focus on daily, weekly, and monthly performance. They even made a chart to pay attention sales figures “who is in the 1st place and bottom place. As result of this, some sales are imperfection which resulted in legal litigation with customers. I definitely agree with your opinion. Establishing a long-term performance measure such as “Golden Circle” we learned last class will be changing an organization healthy.

  29. The purpose of keeping a scorecard in an organization is to give a measuring tape by which someone can determine whether the prescribed has been met or exceeded. It is definitely important to use scorecard to gauge the metrics of a company, however, if your organization gets too entranced on the numbers, you will likely be disappointed. Scorecard gives you a overall view of the development needs and business objectives, it is does not paint the whole picture. People should focus on the bigger picture which could lead to sustainability and consistency .

    • Xueli,
      Good analogy, it’s only part of the picture. Sustainability is key.

  30. I cannot deny the importance of stack ranking, but too much of it will do harm to the companies. The relationship among staff will be impaired, they don’t trust others any more, what they consider is only beating someone to get a higher rank. So at this time, they are not able to focus on what they should do to improve the quality of their work, which is bad for companies in a long run.

    • Emma, Thanks so much. I’m curious what you like about the stack ranked approach?

  31. Great Article! False sense of competition can largely decrease the efficiency of work. Negative internal competition can cause seriously bad results. Imagine everyone try to hide what they know to keep others down. Only the helpful and cooperative working environment can benefit an organization in a whole.

    • Meilin, Thank you. My experience has been that greater collaboration leads to greater results.

  32. Often it is easy to get distracted from the processing work because of a low rank in a stack ranking. When seeing the bad result, I think most of us will be depressed and try to figure out why. Therefore, the process of a work is being stopped, which will impair the effectiveness and efficiency.

    • Emma, That’s a great point. Getting ranked low can sometimes reduce confidence and morale.

  33. I remember there was someone told me “in the workplace a good outcome is more important than how to achieve it”. In some sense, it is true because bosses only want to see the outcomes such as this month’s sales performance. And focusing on the score is an easy way to measure employee’s performance. This article is great because it lectures our managers and employees how to achieve goals healthily. In fact, sometimes quick success on short-term would hurt long-term goal or performance. Managers need to focus on the big picture of the company and train employees to have overall concept and consistent working behavior to achieve consistent improvement.

    • Bei, Wow… yeah ends justify the means can lead to a lot of scary behaviors, including corruption. Great add.

  34. It seems like the team in the example just focus on the short-term goals. They pay more attention on the number . Like the article said, team member should pay their attention on one or two KPI and keep work on them to achieve a long-term goals. Sometimes, focus on each month’ goal will that people forget their long-term plan. A good leader should improve their score by improve their performance and focus on longterm goals.

  35. I can totally relate to #3. Sometimes key behaviors are not quantifiable by a simple BSC or a KPI. It is a consistent behavior which, as a leader, set an example for your fellow team members. Metrics might work in short-term but indeed, never let the metrics always be the message-abuse/obsession to the message will hurt the business in the long run.

  36. The messages gave me insights into my graduate student life. I realized that I have focused too much on short term goals, such as good news from job recruiter, but forget I am here to receive precious education that can enrich me to live a long and meaningful life. I also realized, in addition to just focusing on tests, there are many ways to gain education. One way to learn is to communicate and exchange knowledge with others.

    • Yayi, Ahh excellent! I’m so glad it helped you with keeping this important perspective.

  37. The situation in the article reminds me of the leadership style of Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors. He manages the company by pushing employee to solve every challenge in abnormally short time unstoppably. This leadership makes Tesla a wonderful company, but at the same time, lots of employees struggle and suffer in the enterprise culture where demanded requirements are worshiped. I believe requirements and metrics are important in leading the employees to finish their task but how these requirements and metrics are instilled should be considered meticulously by the leaders. Leaders should not focus on the results merely; what they need pay more attention to is to cultivate a healthy enterprise culture.

  38. Score is made up with different perspectives in a company but sometimes it is hard to find out the the exact problem. The five symptoms above give a detailed metrics on judging the company. They are easy to detected and corrected. From a graduate’s perspective, I think these help me to have a better understanding of my future employer quickly.

  39. I definitely agree with the article on the importance of consistence. The performance of a team should not be only based on the shot-term outcomes. Instead, any members on the team should focus on planning a long-term gain for the entire team. It is truly significant to focus on the vital part and work on it on a consistent basis without. The plan should be flexible but not volatile.

  40. Performance measure will reinforce organization’s strategy when it is done properly. However, any sort of “score” could be easily manipulated. If a sales representative is awarded by customers’ rating, he/she might goes like “I will not be able to help you unless you agree to rate VERY SATISFIED.” Does the scorecards show high satisfaction rate? MAYBE. Are the costumers really satisfied? No! If that is the case, employees may sacrifice the long term goal to achieve the short-term incentive. That’s why creating the connection between the performance measure to the organization goal is really crucial. What is truly valued should be clearly communicated to the team to avoid confusion.

    • Sixiuan, Such an excellent example of gaming. I see this all the time.

  41. I can’t agree with more with the no.2 rule, i believe every one will enjoy more about game than work. But actually, i think game is some similar to the work, what you can contribute in a game is still work in a work. If you really enjoy in a game, you can still have fun in a work.

    • Jing, What I was talking about here is when employees “game” the system and work to get the metrics up in a false way. With that said, I do agree with you that making work fun and incorporating true gaming into the environment to enhance learning or productivity can go a long way.

  42. Nowadays, I think people are more focusing on building long term relationship instead of short term relationship. It is important to exchange information with each other in the career. I think that seeking the consistency is good for a person’s career in the long term.

    • Linyi, I agree with you, and I think that phenomena can be very destructive to cultures.

  43. I think it is always better to think twice before you leep. Although a good leader can make desicions on the urgent issues in the emergency situations, he has to think more thoroughly in most time. And the consistent behaviors of an executive sends a clear signal to his emplyees that the organization is in the track. The balance scorecard focuses more on the long-term objectives of the organization rather than the short-term ones which makes it a good tool for executive to control or manage the business.

  44. Great article! People need to focusing on the long term business objectives rather than the short term benefits. I had a boss, who always say “that’s doesn’t matter” when facing customer’s complain. After several months, the business went through a very hard time because of accumulated customers’ complain. She was fired in the end.

  45. I used to be a person focusing on the numbers a lot, maybe just because it is an easy way to evaluate performance. However, a single score will not give person insight on how people reach this result, what impact your behavior will on other further events. Sometimes focusing too much on numbers could be dangerous. It is one reason why some business frauds incurred.

    • Sunhe, Excellent. Glad to hear your are expanding your view as you grow as a leader.

  46. I really agree that the false sense of competition is a really bad decision people made to broke the company’s long term win. When some colleague works really hard and so that they make a big achievement under their effort, some other one in company may become jealous. When some one are jealous, they will make a wrong decision to compete with the guys who made a honor and achievement. It is fine to themselves, but that decision is really harmful to their company, especially in the long term. Because they will not focus on their company current aim, and move their attention from their company’s profit to themselves benefit, which is wrong.

    • Shuchen, An excellent example of “self-orientation” we talked about in our session tonight. thank you.

  47. Having read this I believed it was rather enlightening. I appreciate you finding the time and
    energy to put this article together. I once again find myself personally spending way too much time both reading and leaving
    comments. But so what, it was still worthwhile!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.