Measurement is Key to Employee Success. WHY!

Dr. Bob Milligan

Dr. Bob Milligan
Dr. Bob Milligan

There is much discussion about measuring employee performance, but in this article, we focus on WHY measurement is so important to employee engagement and productivity.

As I have often stated, employee engagement requires that each employee can answer two questions: 1) What is expected of me and 2) Am I meeting expectations - winning. The answers to both requires measurable performance expectations. The performance expectations are the answer to the first.  They, then, provide the basis for answering the second question.

To illustrate the importance of measurement, let's look at a hypothetical situation.  The next Super Bowl will be here in Minneapolis.  In our hypothetical world, it will be like every other Super Bowl except the score will be kept secret. To enable secrecy, touchdowns will be 4, 5, or 6 points randomly determined and field goals 2, 3, or 4 points.  Only one person will know the "real" score.  My question is: If the game is close, will the unknown score impact the game?

The answer is "yes" because neither team will know how to proceed.  Both teams have late game plans for protecting a lead or attempting a comeback.  The coaches do not, however, know which to use.

Welcome to the situation faced by most employees.  They have an idea how they are performing, but they do not know how that performance compares to what is expected. They are in limbo.

A note of caution to guide how we proceed.  The Super Bowl hypothetical is a good analogy to illustrate the importance of measurement.  The analogy ends there, however! In sports there is only one winner; on farms and other businesses, we want all employees to be winners.

If winning was the only or primary reason for measuring success - performance, measurement would not be a contributor to engagement.  In fact, for many it would be a demotivator. We, therefore, need to look beyond "winning" to understand the importance of measurement. We will explore four reasons.

Measurable Accomplishments

We have often talked about autonomy - our need as human beings to feel in control of our actions.  Perhaps the greatest source of autonomy is seeing our own accomplishments.  As Patrick Lencioni says: "If you don't get a daily sense of measurable accomplishment, you go home at night wondering if your day was worthwhile."

As an owner or key managers, you are probably

thinking: "I go home every night knowing what I have accomplished. Don't employees do the same?" The answer is typically "NO."  Employees do not have the experience and knowledge of the big picture that you do.  They require your help to set measurable outcomes. A quote from Being the Boss says it well: "A manager's job is to provide 'supportive autonomy.'"

Increase and Maintain Focus

Think about playing a card game in a social setting - an evening with friends.  We almost always keep score.  In a social setting, winning is not paramount, so why do we keep score?  The answer is because keeping score causes us to focus on the game.

The goal setting (performance expectations are goals) literature is very clear that having goals - performance expectations - increases focus and performance.

I still remember a day as a kid when we were baling hay.  In mid-afternoon, a storm was brewing.  We focused all our efforts to finish before the storm broke.  We did finish just as the skies opened.  I was incredibly amazed that it was 7:00 PM.  It seemed like just a few minutes had passed. Beating the storm created FOCUS!

Ensure Individual and Farm Business Success

My mentor and friend Dr. Bernie Erven often asks audiences: "Do you know of a farm where the farm is succeeding while the people are failing." I have never heard anyone answer "yes" to the question.  Farm success results from the success of each member of the workforce.  How then do we ensure the success of each person?

Let's start by recalling that farm success is ensured by defining cost, productivity, and financial measures; monitoring them by comparing with set goals; and making corrective and continuous improvement adjustments. In other words, using measurement.

We can, in similar fashion, ensure individual success by defining outcomes - performance expectations - for each individual (or team), routinely comparing actual performance to the performance expectations, and making corrective and continuous improvement adjustments.  This process is referred to as a performance management system.

Enables Quality Feedback

Every list of characteristics of high quality feedback includes "specific." "Specific" is necessary for the employee to recognize the value and/or need for the feedback and to feel that the feedback is fair. It is difficult to impossible to provide "specific" feedback without measurement.

When providing positive feedback, the specificity proved by measurement enables the employee to recognize exactly what he or she has done to deserve the complement. The specificity also serves to reinforce the positive action. "The feed logs show that the proportion variations are well below the expectations we set. Great job" is much better than "Great job mixing feed."

In providing redirection and negative feedback, the failure of actual performance to meet expected performance is documented so the need to improve is clear to the employee.  Without measurement - performance expectations - supervisors must say something like: "You need to improve" or "You need to move faster."

These latter statements have two problems. First, the employee likely will not understand what is wrong and why he or she must improve.  Second, little information is provided to guide required changes to reach satisfactory performance. Without measurement, the employee will often feel he or she is being treated unfairly when redirection or negative feedback is provided.

Full steam ahead.

Dr. Bob Milligan offers a full range of employee management and training services for dairy farm owners and managers through his Learning Edge and Dairy Strategies organizations based in Lauderdale, Minn. He may be reached at [email protected] or by phone at 651 647-0495.