Measures are for the team, not managers

In the last post, we walked through the importance of a guidepost statement that the team looks to for guidance, in the absence of clarity.

The next step in our journey to creating a modern set of measures is to make sure you have a set of “guiding principles.”

Guiding principles are the foundations you set as you build the measurement framework for your team. These guiding principles help you select the measures by which your team judges the success of their collaboration, processes, and initiatives.

Notice I said how “your team judges its success,” not how you judge them. That leads me to the first guiding principle I find especially effective in motivating teams to do great work: Measures are for teams, not managers.

What do I mean by that?

Measures are for teams to manage themselves, not for managers to manage teams.

This is probably an alien concept if you are used to a legacy command-and-control environment where information is hoarded by a few and requires managers to interpret data and translate strategy to actionable steps for the team.

An old saying is that a good lawyer will make sure you don’t get to court. In the same way, a good modern middle manager makes sure your business doesn’t grind to a halt. The more the team can solve issues, negotiate amongst themselves and their peers, and address exceptions with managers as needed, the better off things are for everyone, including the managers.

In order to do that, the team needs to know how they are doing and how they can improve.

Measures succeed when they are put in place to help teams evaluate their own performance and achievement. Metrics should help workers understand what they seek to accomplish, how they make that happen, and if the process they’re following is helping or hindering overall progress. Stop looking at metrics as a way of assessing your team’s accomplishments. Instead, start viewing them as tools for team members to identify what works and what needs improvement. In a way, they are a self-fulfilling prophecy.

When you view metrics through that lens, you create a work culture where team members manage themselves—rather than trying to game the system, they work to improve the system. This fosters an atmosphere of knowledge-sharing and collaboration, rather than one of finger-pointing, control, and constraint. Workers are much more motivated to do their best when they do it simply, joyfully, and in the workflow, rather than under threat of punishment. The autonomy workers feel when they control their destiny leads to increased transparency and accountability.

We can see this principle of autonomy fueled by shared purpose when it is applied to the typical resolution process in an organization where work must span groups in order to resolve one customer issue.

I saw this first-hand – with heart-warming results.

It was when a support team at a consumer company experimented with giving their teams autonomy around the “big picture” goal. In this case, they were responsible for answering any queries regarding shipping delays for holiday gifts, even though they were not responsible for handling shipping and returns.

The normal mode was for the support team to ask customers questions if they called to ask about delivery delays (even weather-related) during this crucial time, and then offer them expedited shipping for a fee. As you can imagine, this didn’t make customers happy. It also added to the stress of employees who felt they were absorbing blow and after avoidable blow from distant upper management who only cared about the bottom line.

The entire team (including managers) were re-trained to make decisions that would mitigate overall customer effort and employee effort, while staying within a budget. They were given autonomy to figure out how to make it happen.

The team immediately decided to automatically upgrade shipping for customers likely to have orders delayed due to bad weather, so they could get the holiday gift in time to make a child’s holiday wish come true. They then called the customer to let them know they had been upgraded.

This was a simple, relatively inexpensive decision that more than offset the potential customer effort/cost and employee effort around returning gifts because they were late and effectively useless. It also avoided the a mess of negative publicity and, perhaps most importantly, the crestfallen look on a child’s face when they did not get the gift they were expecting.

Using measures to inform team members rather than managers works as part of a broader set of guidelines, which we’ll talk about in future posts. Context, intent, guidelines, and guardrails all play a part in helping set meaningful measures that matter to teams. First, we’ll look at some additional guiding principles that can motivate your workforce to do their best teamwork.

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