What You Might Not Know, But Should, About the Effective Use of Measurement

Measurement gets a bad rap!  In business, measurement can be used to solve problems and help companies perform better, but one of the most frequent uses of measurement is to identify performers who aren’t measuring up.  What I have seen over my many years is that while clients think they understand measurement, there is a lot they don’t understand including how to use it to improve company, employee, and individual performance. The following is adapted from my management classic, Bringing Out the Best in People, and gives you what you need to know about how to effectively use measurement.

  1. Why use it: The purpose of measurement in a performance management system is to use it to enable employees to do better. Measurement alone does not change behavior but rather provides the data to help create conditions where people see opportunities for improvement.  Measurement is most effective when it is used as a tool for delivering positive reinforcement.  Celebrate improved measures and instead of delivering punishment for low measures, work with employees to improve.
  2. Overcoming resistance: Employees typically want to avoid measurement because history tells them that it is usually accompanied by negative consequences. If people in your organization try to avoid or delay attempts to install job measurement, and you want to begin measuring more precisely, there are two things you should do:
    • Increase the frequency of positive reinforcement for desirable behaviors as they occur in the workplace.
    • Pair reinforcement with existing measures.
  3. How to Measure: There are two basic ways to measure: counting and judging. Counting is generally recognized as the best way to measure because it is more objective. When you can, you should count. Be warned, counts that are not paired with positive reinforcement when improvement occurs will give you only marginal improvement. When you establish a measure using counting, consider using the raw data rather than a mathematical function, such as percent. The further you move away from raw data, the more data you lose. By examining the raw frequencies you might be able to spot a problem and correct it much earlier than if you had only percent measures. If you don’t know the actual frequency you can’t adequately evaluate performance.
  4. Rate not Rank: One of the most frequently used, yet ineffective, measurement methods is ranking.  Any method that sets one employee against another is counterproductive to getting improved employee performance across the board. In ranking, there can be only one number 1 and only a limited number of winners. By using ratings, you compare performance against established criteria. In this way, it is possible for everyone who meets the required criteria to be rated as a top performer. A company of winners will be a winning company.
  5. Use behavioral measures: When measuring behavior, it is important to compare behavioral measures against results. If behaviors are judged to be good but the results are not, you may have the wrong pinpoints. The behaviors you originally pinpoint may have to be revised and/or refined a number of times until they give you the desired pinpointed result.
  6. Celebrating small changes: One of the most important reasons for establishing a good measurement system is to enable you to see small, incremental changes. Most improvements do not occur suddenly.  Frequently improvement has begun and you hardly notice it. Many initiatives have been canceled when progress was under way, but there was no measurement system in place to let anybody know about it.

I’m sure I don’t have to sell you on the importance of measurement in business.  In business, we have to keep score.  But measurement used to set the occasion for positive reinforcement has benefits that you may never have imagined. More than keeping score, measurement can help you significantly in your efforts to bring out the best in people.

Posted by Aubrey Daniels, Ph.D.

Aubrey is a thought leader and expert on management, leadership, safety and workplace issues. For the past 40 years, he has been dedicated to helping people and organizations apply the laws of human behavior to optimize performance.