Measures are more like taxes than you realize

As a leader, you can gain a new perspective on measures if you realize that measures are like taxes.

And like enlightened governments, we should be able to justify  the “individual cost” the way governments justify taxes: Take responsibility for your share, and you’ll reap the benefits every day.

First, like taxes, measures can be a burden.

But taxes feel more acceptable when citizens realize they receive more than they give. Paying your tax bill is a bit more palatable when you remember what you get in return—roads, public building maintenance, postal service, utilities, and social services programs. If you were solely responsible for those services, your out-of-pocket cost would be prohibitive; but when you share the burden with other taxpayers, that meal you ordered to support a local restaurant will arrive on well-maintained roads. To overcome the burdensome perception of measures, your team also needs to see how the group benefits from their individual investments.

Additionally, there is a hidden cost in collecting measurements.

It requires time, effort, and maybe a financial investment that we often don’t consider when we ask for more measurements. Your teams must capture data and log reports; systems must be maintained and updated as measurements change; dashboards have to be built; data must be analyzed and presented as part of quarterly business reviews.

How do you convince employees that they will receive more than they give?

Help them see the value of measures; explain the purpose as guidance in helping them collaborate and contribute to the team. You certainly don’t want a team who thinks “arbitrary” measures are simply a way for you to control them. When they view measures as a personal obligation or threat, your workplace becomes a dark place. Instead, if they feel measures offer positive insight that can boost their performance, they are excited about meeting the overall expectations of the team.

For teams to find meaning in measures, you must be transparent about how and why you use them. When employees think measures only exist to justify reward or punishment, work becomes stressful. Much like citizens demand to know how taxes are spent, workers want to know there’s good reasoning behind metrics.

The first step in creating transparency is simple. Just ask team members what information they need to do their jobs well. What do they need to know to accomplish a task? What numbers help them understand how they’re working together as a team? How does that measure help change behaviors so they can achieve their guidepost statement? Setting measures without understanding employees’ needs is the equivalent of “taxation without representation.” If you assign measures simply because they have meaning to you, don’t be surprised when they the tea gets dumped in Boston’s harbor.

Continue asking your employees about measures over time, so you can adjust them as needs demand. Many measures have a shelf life, and if your employees’ skills, technology, or process outlive the usefulness of your measure, stop using it.

Much like taxpayers resent funding government initiatives from which they don’t benefit directly, workers won’t be motivated to meet measures that don’t make work more meaningful. As you identify the right measures for knowledge-workers, assess them against the guiding principle that measures should offer a return on investment for teams.

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