In many of my posts I have expressed my belief that true performance improvement comes from changing behavior. I’ve also invested many words on my own site on the topic. Accordingly, I’ve mentioned many times that metrics will drive behavior. Our goal is to identify or create metrics that deliberately drive desired behavior.
Unfortunately, many of those assertions are not followed with solid examples of how metrics and behavior work together. So, herein is a discussion of metrics and behavior, and some thoughts for how to manage the phenomenon that occurs between them. The example is so common and widespread I imagine that everyone has witnessed it.
Consider the practice of using Corrective Action Reports (CARs) to identify and track process “escapes” or problems that result in undesired outcomes. Whatever we call our identifiers, most of us with any formal process control or process improvement methodology use something to draw attention to the fact that a process or procedure failed to work or we failed to follow it.
Naturally, we keep metrics on these reports. We want to know how many reports are made every month, where they are coming from, and we want to know that issues or weaknesses in our methods are being addressed. We want to know if more problems are occurring more frequently, and we hope that fewer problems are occurring over time and that we are ultimately controlling or improving our methods.
These are important business and process improvement questions. They are a good idea. Unfortunately, our act of tracking and measuring them, our metrics, do not always work in our favor.
As I stated, the purpose of a CAR is to draw attention to a problem so that it can be properly addressed. I also mentioned our collective hope that we gradually experience fewer problems less frequently as we get better at improving our processes. Therein is the devil.
Our personnel, eager to please and desirous not to disappoint, especially if they perceive that their performance review and salary will reflect it, do not want to draw attention to problems, and prefer to report metrics in-line with what we all know we want. So, the impetus is strong to discourage CARs or to rationalize that one is not necessary in one case or another. Not only is the metric compromised, the behavior becomes wrong.
The behavior we desire is one where people actively identify opportunities for things to go wrong and to take initiative and prioritize the effort to, remedy the problem either immediately or proactively. Unfortunately, human nature and its interaction with the metric drive a behavior of not identifying problems and either fixing them in inappropriate “under the radar” ways, or not fixing them at all.
We see the same problem with many, many metrics. If we report days without a reportable injury, no one wants to be involved with breaking the trend on the metric, so we are all discouraged from reporting an injury. We are not necessarily encouraged to proactively prevent the injury. I’m sure there are many psychology hobbyists and professionals that would love to tell us why we behave this way, but the important thing is to accept that it happens. We all know it does.
We don’t want people to hide problems. We do want people to communicate problems and to actively solve them. When our metrics on CARs eventually drops to virtually zero, instead of patting ourselves on the back or sighing with relief, we should go out to the production floor and the cubicle village and find out why people have stopped reporting. It is arrogant and foolish to believe, as much as we would like to do so, that we have achieved Utopian perfection.
CARs are good things. They are indicators of good behavior. Remember, CARs are an indicator that we are curing disease; they are not the disease.
So, how do we drive the right behavior and still keep our important metrics? We must use tools that are more powerful than metrics at driving behavior. The first is concerted, consistent communication of the values and what the metrics mean to them. The second is leading by example.
Most of us find it easier to follow the intent of the law than the letter of the law. Consider this assertion with regard to metrics and our intended behavior. If we actively, persistently communicate that we are tracking CARs so that we can be aware of problems and to encourage everyone to actively fix the problems then we are telling everyone, regularly, that the desired behavior is to fix problems.
We must back up our communications with actions that reinforce our intentions. Instead of saying, “Good job, you didn’t report any CARs this quarter,” at a performance review, say instead, “Why didn’t you report any CARs this quarter?” Let your own behavior inspire the correct behavior.
Furthermore, make the actions to reinforce desired behavior a daily or weekly occurrence, not an annual or quarterly one. Among the leadership of your function, department, or organization, divvy up the CARs that have been issued in the last week or month. Each leader takes at least one and talks with the person or team that addressed the error.
Make it known that allowing a quality issue to escape to the internal or external customer is not OK. Re-communicate that shortcutting process at the risk of quality or safety will not be tolerated. Also, recognize that the team identified the problem and addressed it. Help them address it if they need further backing or authority or the removal of a roadblock. Mentor them if there is a preferable way to address the problem than the one they chose. Above all, thank them for doing the right thing and for preventing a recurrence.
The actions of leaders speak louder than the words of leaders or the numbers on the metrics board. As proof, consider the metrics that go unimproved or untracked because no one perceives that anyone cares. If no one cares about the metric, then no one will address it.
Our actions concerning the things our metrics measure will speak louder and drive behavior more strongly than the metric will. When people are eager to show us that they are correcting issues, we are driving the right behavior. When your personnel ask, “Hey, can I write a CAR for this remedy we put in place even though we fixed it before it could cause a reportable problem,” we know we have achieved a behavioral, cultural victory.
Metrics are important tools for business and process improvement. Yes, metrics can be deliberately used to drive behaviors, but they don’t always drive the behaviors we want. A better pairing of tools to drive desired behavior is to team active, expectation-setting communications with leadership actions that set an example of the right behaviors.
Take a good look at your metrics. Ask yourself and your team, honestly and objectively, if those metrics are reporting the truth, or if they are inadvertently encouraging people to fudge the truth. If you know or suspect that the wrong behavior is, or could be, driven by your metrics, set into action a plan of communication and leadership by example. Do not let your metrics be a source of poor behavior.
Stay wise, friends.
If you like what you just read, find more of Alan’s thoughts at www.bizwizwithin.com
Filed Under: Rapid prototyping