E34 - Stop measuring people's performance! An interview with Stacey Barr, performance measurement specialist
Stacey Barr is the world’s leading expert on strategic performance measurement and evidence-based leadership. She shows organisations and teams how to develop and measure what matters most. She has an international team of professionals who deliver her licensed program, the PuMP methodology, around the globe, including Australia, Africa, Canada, the USA, UK, and Europe.
She is the author of best-selling books, “Practical Performance Measurement” and “Prove It - How to create a high-performance culture and measurable success”.
- Weird things people measure
- The difference between a result, a target, a measure, and an initiative and why you need to care
- What must and must not be measured in business
- Why you should NEVER measure people’s performance
- How staff can still feel like they are achieving progress and development, without having their performance measured
- How to cut out the flabby and bloated parts of your business
- 3 steps to get started with practical performance measurement
Speaker 1: Welcome to the Zoë Routh Leadership Podcast, your source of strategies and insights to make you a better leader. Influence, improve, inspire. (Music)
Zoë Routh: Hi, this is Zoë Routh and oh boy, we're in for a bit of fun today 'cause I have legend, uber wonderful person Stacey Barr on podcast today. And she is the world's leading expert on strategic performance measurement and evidence based leadership guru. She shows organizations and teams how to develop and measure what matters most. And you'd be surprised what people are measuring and how they're doing it, and how they're not doing it that well.
She has an international team of professionals who deliver her licensed program called COM. The pump methodology and they run programs around the globe including Australia, Africa, Canada, USA, UK and Europe. She's author of two best-selling books, "Practical Performance Measurement" and her latest one "Prove It: How to Create High Performance Culture and Measurable Success."
Stacey Barr: Thank you Zoë. That was like a great big verbal hug. (Laughs) That intro, I love it.
Zoë Routh: Well, I think we should also let the listeners know that we are mates. We've been friends since 2008, so that's coming on nine years now. And-
Stacey Barr: Yeah.
Zoë Routh: I have a high degree of respect for your work, and use it in my work, and refer your work all the time to my clients. And, because it has such a big impact on how they do well or not do well in their businesses and it's a pretty big piece of the puzzle when it comes to business success. So, I'm really excited to talk to you about some of your work today and get some critical insights for folks listening.
So, first question for you, legend (Laughs)-
Stacey Barr: (Laughs) Quit that, you'll make my head big.
Zoë Routh: Okay, yeah. We don't want to explode the air pump.
Okay, measurement, right? So, it's a pretty specialized field like KPI. Who would have thought you could make a career out of that? How on earth did you end up here?
Stacey Barr: You know, a lot of people ask me that question because it is kind of a weird thing to specialize in. And not many people do specialize in measurement in KPIs. I have to say it started ... It might have actually started earlier than where I think it started. I was going to say it starts with school because I was naturally good at maths. Never studied for it and always managed to either be top of the class or second top in the class for it. So, I took all the advanced maths courses in high school and though, well, the natural thing to do and Uni is to do more maths, so I did that and majored in pure math and statistics.
So, it's not so much that, I wouldn't call myself a mathematician per se, but I think there's something about the way you have to think when you are doing maths. Like, logically and practically, and also a little bit abstractedly. Is that a word? And you also need to understand the idea of proof. So, I think that really laid the foundation. But coupled with that, and another reason, I guess, why I've ended up in what I call an application of maths in the business world, in business performance, is that I love progress. I love achievement. And that's probably something that started in my personality before the realization of being good at maths. So, I'm a bit of a goal oriented nerd in business and in life, and I love practicality. I love making things simpler for people to follow and to make a difference in their lives. So, bringing all that together, that kind a means that measuring business performance is the perfect spot for me to be in.
Zoë Routh: Well, you certainly hope that you get progress achievement and practical aspects in business, otherwise what are you doing? You're just kind of winging it, right?
Stacey Barr: Yeah. Guessing, or assuming, hoping. And none of those things satisfy me. And I know none of those things satisfy a lot of people. But, I guess not everybody has come to performance measurement in the way I have, so for most people it still feels like a bit of a black box or a little bit scary, I guess, in a way. Ask around. A lot of people just say, "Oh, I'm not a numbers person, and I was never really good at math. And I don't really like that kind of stuff." And it's not actually because it's hard, it's just perception that they've grown up with.
Zoë Routh: Yeah. And I'm thinking, because I'm a creative type, getting down to brass tax and nitty gritty has always been a challenge in my business. I would much rather play the big idea and the fun stuff. Outdoors and the wilderness is my tea, then buckle down and do measurement. Because that's before I actually knew what that meant. And now that I can tie it back to my program's actually doing what it's supposed to be doing, are people getting what they need out of it, and it helps me be better, then it's kind of changed my interpretation and interaction with tracking numbers. And I hope-
Stacey Barr: Yeah.
Zoë Routh: I'm hoping that I'll help other people too, who are like that. Who love their business, love their work and the structure of measurement and numbers is something that's evading them. And you know what? That's the ironic thing, is because doing that stuff makes the rest of it so much better.
Stacey Barr: It does. There's an author that inspired me early in my career. His name's Dean Spitzer and he's in the United States. He wrote a book called "Transforming Performance Measurement." And in that book somewhere he says something along the lines of measurement's the most powerful thing you can do in business because everything else depends on the measurement system. How good everything else happens, depends on the measurement system.
And it's feedback, you know? How could a human body work without a feedback loop? So, when you put your hand on a hot plate or a burning match, that your brain knows to pull your arm away. I mean, that's a feedback loop and measurement has kind of a similar role in business.
Zoë Routh: Yeah. And I love that. How do you know what your doing is actually working or is burning your fingers? You can burn your whole body in half before you go, "Uh, something's the matter here." And I've been through that and it's not fun. So, I reckon a simple measurement strategy to signal when things are going pear shaped, just to throw another metaphor in there, when things are starting to go on fire is a really useful and practical thing.
With the measurement stuff ... We were just speaking about this before the podcast started. Weird things that people measure. So, obviously you want to track some numbers in your business, but let's start with the weird ones. What are some weird stuff you'd seen happen?
Stacey Barr: I started down the self-quantification path, let's say six or eight years ago. And not the typical self-quant stuff where you put a heart rate monitor on to go out for a run and figure out what your average heart rate was and how many calories you burned. Yes, I track those things. And not so much standing on the scales every day and knowing what you weigh. But I was learning about all this other cool stuff you can use to track your health and your fitness, like heart rate variability, which is not the same as you know as heart rate. Heart rate variability is an indicator of the reliance of your nervous system.
So, if you have high heart rate variability your fit, your healthy, and your immune system's probably pretty strong. But If you have low heart rate variability you might be coming down with something, or your fatigued, or jet lagged, or you've been over trained. So, that kind of stuff's really useful for me in my line of work because I love to train hard on my bike, but I travel a lot and I work pretty hard when I'm with clients. So, managing those decisions that I had to look after myself was great with a measure like that.
But, you can go even further. You can measure your ... Oh, this is a bit gross. I hope nobody gets grossed out but there's a thing called the Bristol Poo Scale (Laughs) and poo tells you stuff about how healthy you are. And there's a scale. And you match up a number with a picture. So, look in the toilet, match it up with a number, and keep will track daily. Their Bristol Poo Scale score. And it's useful. I know it sounds weird, and funny but these things can be quite useful. It gives you a lot more control or influence at least, over your health and well-being.
Zoë Routh: Well, that image is kind of heart stacked what I have in mind when you talk about looking at your poo, is back to Middle Ages when they had the King or Queen poo into a dish because they didn't have toilets. And they examined it. The medical practitioner of the time would look at the King's scat, and examine it for disturbances in their humours. And I kind of think that's what we do. My naturopath is all about looking at poo as a gauge to what's going on systemically and in the bodies system. Cause, you know, if things are on the watery end of things, you know something is not right. And it's a good indicator. How was your poo today? I would say number four. Oh, thumbs up. Number seven, not so good. I think that's an interesting one. So, a good scale like that.
So, yeah. Those are pretty weird things to measure. Self-quantification thing, it's massive. So many apps coming out about how to track this, that, and the other for the exact same reasons I think, why you got into maths, or enjoyed maths. It's for that sense of progress and achievement, and being able to make sound decisions as a result. And I love the HRV example because when your HRV drops it actually gives you permission not to work out. (Laughs)
Stacey Barr: Yeah.
Zoë Routh: And sometimes those days are good. I'm like, "Oh, thank God. I don't have to go." It helps you get out of the cycle of must get up and do this thing, when your body just need a break. And it's good to have an external feedback mechanism that helps you make those decisions. And I guess it's like that in business, right? It helps you be detached from the activity. Is that what you see happen?
Stacey Barr: I think that's probably a good word, detached. We can get way to absorbed in activity. In just doing, doing, doing. And thinking that by completing the things we start out doing, we've succeeded. But there is a logical leap from that to success. From completing an activity to success. And that leap, that gap, is what measurement fills so that we can decide whether our actions are better or not.
But, we can still do some weird measurement in business too. As you know, Zoë. So, I think this lack of comfort with measurement, a lack of enough experience, and learning in that measurement field, can lead us to measure all kinds of weird things. When we think we're doing the right thing and it ends up being just as useless as measuring nothing.
Zoë Routh: Well, how do you know you're measuring the wrong thing?
Stacey Barr: That is a multi-pronged answer to that question.
Zoë Routh: Oh, okay.
Stacey Barr: Basically, when the thing you're measuring is not telling you about the goal you're trying to achieve, or the thing that you're trying to make better, or change. So, to illustrate with an example, one of the ways you can know you're measuring the wrong thing is when the data comes from the wrong place. The data's got eyes to it.
So a freight client of mine was measuring customer satisfaction, and they wanted me to have a closer look at their customer survey to figure out if they were asking the right questions. And so I'd had a look at their customer survey and I asked them, "Tell me the process. Like, how do you administer this survey? Who do you send it to? And how do you get the data back?" And they say, "Oh, we give it to our account managers." And I said, "Who are they?" And they said, "Oh, they're our people who look after our different segments of our customers. So, we give our surveys to our account managers." And I was expecting them to say, "And then our account managers ring up our clients and ask them the questions." But they actually said to me was, "And then the account managers fill it out on behalf of customers and then they collect the data and we create this customer satisfaction measure." Right. They had no clue. It made no sense what they were doing. So I said, "So you don't ask your customers?" And they said, "No, no, no. We don't want to bother our customers."
Zoë Routh: (Laughs) So it's like-
Stacey Barr: Completely[inaudible 00:13:33]
Zoë Routh: Yeah. Cause how do you even know? You're just like, "They smiled at me, therefore they're happy."
Stacey Barr: Or, the account managers are really concerned about how the day was going to reflect back on them so if their customer were actually more unhappy than another account manager's customers, then is that account manager gonna get performance managed? And is he going to be a problem? And that is another way you know you're measuring the wrong thing. Is when potentially it'll drive the wrong behaviour. So, the account managers would be manufacturing the data to look good, so that they weren't put under the spot light.
Zoë Routh: Okay. So the data source is questionable, and then it's affecting behaviour negatively. Okay.
Stacey Barr: Not in the way you want it to. To be-
Zoë Routh: Yeah. Well I think that's an interesting one. Because often we make decisions in our businesses, and we hadn't really thought through the consequences of those decisions. And all of a sudden we have this changed behaviour to produce a target result, and yet the behaviour is causing a whole bunch more problems.
So, an example of that is a business that has revenue targets and it introduces a punishment scheme. So, if you didn't hit your targets you would get counselling. And as a result, what happened is that the people who then had these targets put over their head with this punishment scheme then started working really long hours, and started being resentful. And it caused culture problems. And a bit of self-interest, then. People stealing work from each other just to get their numbers up. So that's an example of a decision where you're tracking targets instead of results.
Actually, that's probably a good question. What's the difference between a target and a result?
Stacey Barr: I want to add a third word in there. I want to talk about what a result is, what a measure is, and what a target is.
Zoë Routh: Okay.
Stacey Barr: So we mix these things up all the time. A result is a verbal statement of a quality or a state you want to achieve. So a good example of a result is, "Our customers are loyal to us." We want that as a result. Another result might be, "We don't waste any time in the delivery of goods to our customer."
Zoë Routh: Okay.
Stacey Barr: A measure is how that result would be quantified so we can monitor the degree to which it is happening. So if we're interested in having customers that are loyal to us, then we'd have to find a way to quantify loyalty. And that might be every time the customer needs a service like ours, they come directly to us first. So what percentage of the time do customers choose us first, for this kind of service?
And we want to increase that. We would love it to be up around 100%. But maybe at the moment it's only 40%. So, we want to improve from where we are to get closer to the hundred. That's a long leap though, from 40% to 100%. You know? 100% of the time customers are choosing us first. That's quite a perfect world. So we might set a target then, to get from 40% to 60% and then we would look at ... Actually a fourth thing, initiatives. We'd look at what things can we change in how we do business that would mean that our clients would more often come to us first. And maybe that's about putting more time into the relationship with customers. Or being clearer about the value that we offer, and how it aligns with what our customers need. And if that's clearer, and the relationship's stronger, then we might look at the measure and see that the measure is actually increasing from that 40% and we're getting closer and closer to our target of 60%.
Zoë Routh: I love this. I love it because it's reverse engineering the results that you want. It goes against typical business planning. Which is, what do you want to achieve this year? "Oh, let's earn a million dollars." Let's start with a target. And then they set a budget, and then they go, "Oh, maybe we should figure out how we're going to do that." And then they develop strategy. And even if they get to measurement, apart from just the target, and it's all about the goal, or the target, as opposed to really thinking about the results. So, why pick a million dollars? What's meaningful about that?
And the way that you run your whole system is about understanding the meaning behind what you're doing. And then starting with the end in mind. I love that. Do you find that your clients find that a bit of a mind bend? That they sort of have to reverse engineer things? Or do you find that they sort of jump into it naturally?
Stacey Barr: They don't jump into it naturally. If they did it naturally, then I probably wouldn't have clients.
So I've just come back from a couple of days in Sydney with a great client there. And they have never had results oriented goals, nor have they had any kinds of measures, quantifications of their performance or progress. And so, all they did have was a set of initiatives that they tried to align to the strategic direction of their company. And they knew this was a problem. I think they're VP had read "Prove It", that second book of mine that you mentioned earlier Zoë, and the lights came on for him. And he said, "Oh, we need this. All we do is have initiatives." So in the last two days we created results oriented goals for them, and got halfway through the design of measure for them. Cause they ended up with more goals than they anticipated. But it was an amazing amount of progress. At the end of the workshop they said that it was easy, it flowed for them, and this is the first time ever they've understood and had results oriented goals. And they're very excited about it. They've used words like tantalizing, and revealing. And that's what the day meant to them.
Zoë Routh: Where were you doing [crosstalk 00:19:30] (Laughs)
Stacey Barr: (Laughs)
Zoë Routh: I just imagine you with your feathers, teaching your program. Tantalizing and revealing.
Stacey Barr: Um, okay. I'll keep that in mind. Maybe that could be a future bit of fun. I don't know. Yeah, so feathers.
And they struggled with it. It was hard thinking. It was thinking they've never done before. But when your deliberate about it ... That's what I meant earlier when I said I like making these things practical and deliberate. When there's a process to follow, it does flow. It does feel easy. It does feel revealing. And it's tantalizing, because for the first time ever you see how much influence can you have over your performance. The performance of your organization.
And they had a list of initiatives, actions that we're doing, projects, and they got part way through the workshop and it was, "We're probably doing a whole lot of stuff that's not gonna even impact any of these goals that are, you know, important to us. So, good grief. Are we wasting money on what we're already doing?" So, that's the next part of the activity, is to align their initiatives to their new goals and measures, to see where there is fit and alignment, and where they're wasting time and money and could possible stop doing things.
Zoë Routh: I love that. I love the fact that they had such an awakening moment and got on board, because it made their busy work purposeful. Or made them realize they didn't have to do the busy work to be purposeful.
So, I've got this burning question coming up. When you're talking about results oriented goals, are there goals that are not results oriented?
Stacey Barr: Yeah. Actions. A lot of people will write actions as goals. They'll say things like, "We'll implement a new customer relationship management system." They'll think that's a goal. And that's an initiative. That's an action.
Zoë Routh: Okay.
Stacey Barr: Or they'll complete the training of all of their staff in safe work practices. That's an initiative, that's an action. It's not a result.
Zoë Routh: Coming back to the example before, let's say the revenue "goal", you can tell me if it's a goal or not, is $1,000,000. Wanna make $1,000,000 in profit this financial year. Is that a target, or is that a goal? Or are they the same thing?
Stacey Barr: That's a target. What a goal might look like that would end up with a measure of revenue and a target of $1,000,000, the goal would be, "We need to grow our business. We want to grow our business either in our current market, or grow our business in new markets." It could be a simple goal, like we want to be more profitable or we want to increase sales. That would just be the verbal way of writing the goal. The measure then becomes revenue-
Zoë Routh: Okay.
Stacey Barr: And the target is $1,000,000.
Zoë Routh: Okay. Thank you. That just helped a lot. (Laughs)
Stacey Barr: Cool.
Zoë Routh: So results are ... I like the fact that you can define as a verbal statement.
Stacey Barr: Yeah.
Zoë Routh: And that's really useful, cause that sort of tells the story of your business in a way that just numbers doesn't.
Stacey Barr: You know what? It does. It absolutely does. And in these last two days with my client in Sydney, the VP at one point, he had this great suggestion. He said, "Okay. Now that we've got all our goals listed" we put them in what's called a results map which links all the goals together in cause/affect relationships, or companion relationships, or flags where there might be some conflicts. It kind a links all of the goals together and then aligns them to the whole of company to the whole of company like high level vision missions, strategic goals. And the VP wanted each of his leadership team to stand up and give a one minute summary of the story of their new strategy. And that was amazing because each of them, even though they used their own words, they were describing exactly the same story and strategy. So those words are really important, because that is the way that leadership are all going to go out to their staff and talk about this strategy for the whole division, and help those people understand how they'll contribute to it.
Words are really important. They're important, first, to come up to good measures. But they're important, too, to make that story of the strategy understandable to everybody.
Zoë Routh: I love it. And that's pretty fundamental if you're going to inspire and motivate your team.
Stacey Barr: Absolutely.
Zoë Routh: So, with all this talk about business and measurement, do you believe there's anything businesses must measure? Like, there's non negotiables. Every business should be measuring this thing.
Stacey Barr: Two ways to answer that question Zoë. Firstly, I think that if they have a goal they intent to achieve it must be measured. But I know that's not quite the question you're asking. If there was a generic ... I think I've got an article in my blog that talks about three or five measures that are worth wile for everybody to measure if you haven't got goals and you can't figure out what matters. One of them is cycle time.
So, every business in made up of a collection of processes. The way we do stuff, the way we serve our customer, the way we procure goods and services, the way we recruit and train or develop staff. These are processes. The cycle time of these processes is a really good measure because to aim to reduce the cycle time means that you are always going to improve the process, if you do it really deliberately.
Another good measure is rework. Where are we wasting time and effort? That's a great generic measure. Customer satisfaction, of course. Or even more so these days, people are moving more to a net promoter score, which is about how likely your customers are to recommend you to a friend or colleague. So there are three pretty generic measures that are useful for just about any business, if they've got absolutely no clue where to start.
Zoë Routh: So, I would not have guessed any of those. I was going to revenue, and profitability. (Laughs) Would those not be essential ones? Or, tell me about your opinion on that.
Stacey Barr: They are lag measures. The most lag measures in a sense. And they don't drive improvement action. And you really do want measures to drive improvement action. Now it could be that a commercial business really wants to grow its revenue, then certainly it would measure it. And it has to measure its revenue as part of good governance of the company. You've got to know your revenue to properly declare your taxes. So, those things are gonna be measured as a given. But as performance measures, as measures to drive performance improvement, just to look at your revenue numbers doesn't really give you any insight. But to try to analyse why your cycle time is the way it is, or why you've got so much rework, or why your customers aren't as satisfied or as loyal as you want them to be, those things lead to better questions that actually change the fabric of how you do business. Which ultimately will result, likely, in more revenue. More profitability, even better.
Zoë Routh: Yeah. Well that was just life changing, what you just said. So, I'm pretty excited about that. Rework. I'm like, oh my goodness. Where would you start with that? How would you even set about developing a system to measure rework?
Stacey Barr: You'd need to think about what kinds of rework you'd like to target first. So, a very common type of rework or wasted time in organizations is approvals. When staff aren't given the appropriate authority to do their jobs, they're constantly looking up to management or supervisors to get permission before they can do something next.
Zoë Routh: Okay.
Stacey Barr: And that time for approvals is a massive waste. So it delays the process, it slows it down. But it also can create rework, because by the time the approval comes back saying, "Oh, I want you to change this," that's immediate rework and another approval is needed after that little change has been made. And most often these approvals aren't necessary. They don't impact on the end outcome.
Zoë Routh: Okay. I got it. Wow. It's a great place where you can make your business less flabby and more fit.
Stacey Barr: That's a great example. It's about the flabbiness. Where are we carrying all this excess effort that isn't contributing to our ultimate outcomes. It's just really holding us down, holding us back.
Zoë Routh: Love it. Okay, cool. Now I have an excellent metaphor. We've got some really good tips. (Laughs)
Stacey Barr: (Laughs)
Zoë Routh: Those are some things that I would think would be great for any business to measure. Is there anything that should not be measured?
Stacey Barr: Again, two ways to answer your question. The first is the generic thing, that anything that drives the wrong behaviour or just isn't useful, should absolutely not be measured. Because the effort and cost of time, but also attention, is going to add more waste to your business. It's not going to be useful.
Driving the wrong behaviour will actually send you backwards and often that's when we're measuring peoples' performance that we end up with that problem. Where we're getting the wrong behaviour. We're getting people gaming the measures, or gaming the system, and not working to improve the result. So, in general, if it drives the wrong behaviour or it's not useful in achieving your goals, don't measure it. Don't waste your time and effort.
Zoë Routh: Okay.
Stacey Barr: There's one measure that keeps coming up every time I'm working with people. Number of complaints, number of complaints. How many times customers have complained to us. Yeah, that's a really common measure cause it's easy. 'Cause a lot of companies have a customer complaint system and it's very easy to go in and count how many there were this week, and compare it to how many there were last week and the week before, and the week before, and think that it's telling us something. But I think it's a lazy measure for often what people are trying to know. And the things they're trying to know is do customers trust us? Do they respect us? Are customers collaborating more with us? Are customers satisfied with what we do? Are we delivering on time to customers and that customer complaints measure keeps coming up and it's not direct evidence of any of those things. The only thing it's direct evidence of is that you have some customers and they want to let you know what they think. It's not even representative of your total customer base because there'll be plenty of customers that love you and won't let you know, and plenty of customers that are annoyed with the last thing you did for them but they're not going to complain about it. So it's a lame measure. It doesn't have a lot of power to help us with our decision making as common as it is.
Zoë Routh: Okay. So you mention measuring peoples performance is one of the problems, or can create problems in terms of people gaming the measures. And I know this is a particular bug there for you. And I'd love to hear your solution to it, because let's have a performance review. And people sort of grit their teeth and get ready to go into their performance review. So tell me, what is your approach to helping people get a sense of acknowledgement in the workplace that traditional performance revues have served. So, what's the problem with measuring people's performance, and what's the alternative.
Stacey Barr: The problem is the assumption on which it's based. There are a couple of assumptions, but one is that the sum of the peoples performance equals the organizations overall performance. Just a mathematical equation. And it's a false equation. That equation does not describe how organizations work at all. The performance of the organization in not he sum of the individual peoples performance. The performance of the organization is actually in the product of the collaboration of people with each other following the right processes. And that's what causes organization performance. And performance revues do nothing to support that. In fact, with performance revues, because individual people are being measured, and their performance being managed, it creates a few psychological dynamics in people. One is this feeling of competition that if they're being measured, and their colleague is being measured, like the account managers we mentioned before, if they all know they're being measured that means one of them is gonna rise to the top of the ranking and one of them is gonna be at the bottom and the rest of them are going to be distributed in between. And that's not helpful. That competitive feeling is not what we want between colleagues. We want collaboration between colleagues.
The other psychological dynamic is fear. Because when someone's measured, it's a threat. I'm trying to work out whether you're good enough or not. And if you're not good enough, something is going to happen. And people don't like that feeling and it causes defensiveness and coupled with that is just this whole idea that for somebody to think that they can sum up a person's performance by a few, usually, poorly designed performance measures, so undignifying. There'sno way to dignify a person, and to empower them and to put them into a collaborative, creative, committed kind of mind set when your saying that their performance as a person can be summed up by a few trivial numbers. So I hate it for all of those reasons. And I have a very tall soap box to deal with this. I believe that you should not measure people's performance.
Zoë Routh: Right. So, what's the alternative then? For individual recognition, and people like to know they've done a good job, and they get a sense of meaningful progress in the work that they do and they feel like their making a meaningful contribution, how do you achieve those needs if you're not measuring their performance.
Stacey Barr: In part, you take the numbers right away from the people and put them on the results that teams produce together, or put them on results that a business process produces and the people that work in that business process then have those processes as a tool in their hand. Something to inform them, something to help them, something to give them satisfaction when they're making progress. And never use them as a rod for people's backs. So, that reframe of how measures can be helpful in giving people that sense of progress, is gotta be a tool in their hand, not a rod for their back.
Now, on the other side of it, how else do you make people feel they're making a meaningful contribution? How do you help them self-actualize and improve as people as people, and improve in their roles in the organization? I'm not even going to comment on it because I'm not an expert on it and I think, to think that you just need measurement to manage people's performance means that you're ignoring this vast body of knowledge about how to help people have meaningful contributions, and meaningful return from the work they do. That's just not my bag at all. I think we need to go to experts who really understand that. Like, Daniel Pink and his book "Drive." He touches on some of it in that.
Zoë Routh: Okay. Because, I guess, behind all this is a simpler question. If we're not measuring performance, people's performance, and there's no yard stick because it can be a yard for their back, how do you get an opportunity to get a gold star? And it's your gold star, not your team's gold star. Is that even possible?
Stacey Barr: It probably is possible, for sure. Do people really want gold stars, is the question that I would ask. I'm not ... yeah, they do.
Zoë Routh: Let me just re qualify that. Some people are all about getting gold stars, and some people couldn't give a damn. And a lot of its personality driven and what's important to the individual. For some people, that kind of recognition is significant motivation. For other's it doesn't mean a thing. So, case in point. My husband could not give a toss about gold star or status. It's like, really? It's not a motivator. Whereas for me? Yes, it is. (Laughs) And it's just the way that we're wired and the way that we evolved into who we are.
Stacey Barr: The status would for me in that case, 'cause I understand that, I have an achievement ethic as well and I guess I'll just reflect on what a gold star means to me. I don't need it given to me by somebody else. I want the achievement, I want to feeling like I'm moving forward and achieving on things that matter to me. On goals that I've set for myself. So, maybe there's a clue for the gold star oriented people in a company. I don't see any problem at all with them deciding what their personal goals might be. Either by contributing to the organization or for learning, or growing and developing. But they set those goals in the same way that we set business or team goals and they decide how to measure those goals and they track them for their own purpose only.
So the measure is still a tool in their hand. It's not something that they then hand to a manager and say, "Manager, you can whip me over the back with this until you think I've earned a gold star." So, I guess that would be ... and it's quite the self-quantification thing, isn't it?
Zoë Routh: Yeah, that's right. I love it. That was just kind of a ping moment. That was excellent. So the solution, then, is for the individual to determine what their result is that's meaningful to them and then to develop measures that are going to work towards that. And it could be in a collaboration, could be on an individual effort basis. And they work in tandem, or hand in hand with their manager in support around that.
Okay. This could work for the gold star hungry people.
Stacey Barr: (Laughs) Cool.
Zoë Routh: Cool. All right. The subtitle of your second book "Prove It" is "How to Build a High Performance Culture." What does that look like in practical terms to you? How do you see that looking?
Stacey Barr: It has a few qualities to it. One of the most important qualities, is ultimately a high performance culture, is one that drives the organization to high performance. Which means, that the organization routinely achieves meaningful targets. In other words it's been clear about what it's purpose is for existing. So, it's written in results oriented language. It's measured the fulfilment of its purpose, like how well it's fulfilling that purpose. And it's set targets for how much it wants to get better at that. And a high performance organization is one step further, which is and they're actually reaching those targets. And they're reaching those targets easier, and easier as time goes by. So, any change they make to themselves to fulfil their purpose better has a high return on investment. So, ultimately that's what a high performance organization is.
And a high performance organization can't be high performance without a high performance culture. And that culture has a lot of collaboration. Collaboration in particular, across the white space on the organizational chart. Between the silos, a cross team collaboration. Teams that might work in six different departments but they all work or contribute to the same cross functional business process. So they collaborate regularly to make that business process flow really beautifully.
There's definitely a different definition of accountability in a high performance culture. And it's not about hitting personal performance targets, like we've just been talking about. Accountability is about how well people monitor the goals and results that really matter. How validly they interpret what the measures are telling them about those goals and results. And how quickly and discerningly they initiate improvement action, only when that action is needed. And then pulling the team together that's going to help improve that area of performance and carry that action out. So that, to me, is what accountability is about. If people aren't doing those things, they're not really doing their job. The can't just turn up and do a task list each day. They have to turn up knowing there are tasks to do, but being committed to why they are doing those tasks and to the impact, and how well those tasks are working and contributing.
Zoë Routh: That's awesome. I'm just taking a thousand notes as you're talking. Can't just do a task with each day. You gotta know why you're doing it and what's meaningful about it. And it's all tied back to results and the improvement processes. I love that.
Stacey Barr: Yeah. And the fulfilment of the organization's purpose. Everybody in a high performance culture has a clear line of site through what they're trying to achieve through their role in a team, and all the way through to the purpose. They can describe how they are ultimately contributing to the purpose of the organization.
Zoë Routh: That's awesome. So, if I'm a CEO or I'm a business owner and I'm sitting here like, "Were do I start with getting my performance measurement mojo happening?" What's the first thing they ought to do? Where can they start to have an assessment about what's going on and how can they improve it?
Stacey Barr: Can I give you three steps?
Zoë Routh: Okay. Yep.
Stacey Barr: 'cause I think they're important. I think with the three steps you'll get the momentum to carry on with it, rather than just start with it. Put your toe in the water and then forget about it and do something else.
The first step might sound easy but it's actually a lot harder than it sounds. And that's simply to make the decision to be an evidenced based leader. It sounds simple, but the consequences of deciding to be an evidence based leader is that you have to be transparent and accountable for the true results of the organization. You have to really know what's going on, even if the news is bad. Now, "Hard Facts, Dangerous Half Truths, and Total Nonsense" which is a book by Pfeffer and Sutton-
Zoë Routh: Right.
Stacey Barr: They say that the decision is basically you're either deciding to be told you're always right, or you're deciding to always know what matters, what's not working and actively improve the organization. And you can't do both. So, if you're a CEO and all you get is good news from your staff, it's probably because they believe you've made the first decision, that you only want to be told that you're right. You don't want to know what's really going on, so you can make the right decisions to improve things. So, it's a hard decision to make because it's quite a revealing, exposing kind of state to be in. And evidenced based leader.
Zoë Routh: What's the name of that book? "Hard Truths"?
Stacey Barr: Hard facts.
Zoë Routh: Oh, hard facts. Yep.
Stacey Barr: Dangerous half truths.
Zoë Routh: Yeah.
Stacey Barr: And total nonsense.
Zoë Routh: What a great book title.
Stacey Barr: Yeah. It's cool.
Zoë Routh: Awesome. Thanks for that. I'll put a link for that in the show notes which will be at Zoerouth.com/podcast/proveit
Stacey Barr: So step-
Zoë Routh: Yeah. Cool. So that's -
Stacey Barr: Step two?
Zoë Routh: So what's step two?
Stacey Barr: Make sure your strategic goals for the company are clear and measurable. And that means fundamentally that they're result oriented and you do not use weasel words when you write them.
Zoë Routh: Okay. What's an example of a weasel word?
Stacey Barr: Efficient, effective, capacity, sustaining, sustainable, productive, quality, reliable, all of those kinds of words that sound really professional. We also call them management speak or management jargon. And the problem with them is that they don't say anything specific. So everybody can draw different interpretations of it. If you've got everybody in your company with a different interpretation of what your strategic direction is, that strategic direction will be impossible to achieve because everybody will be going in random, different directions based on their interpretation of it.
Zoë Routh: Yeah. Okay. Cool.
Stacey Barr: And it won't be measurable.
Zoë Routh: Yeah. Okay. Got it. So, what's step three.
Stacey Barr: Treat measurement deliberately. Don't think that it's just something that you do in a brainstorming session. You don't just brainstorm some KPIs on measures. Measurement is a deliberate process. And for all those people who feel they're not numbers people and that KPIs have never been useful in the past, and they don't really see any good examples of it, and they've only ever had bad measures, it's only because they didn't take a deliberate approach to it. So, being deliberate, doing some education, some learning around how good measurement happens, that is an important commitment. Cause measurements is at the centre of all of this. Of proving it. Of being an evidence based leader, of having a high performance organization. Measurement's the gravity that holds all of that together, so it has to be done well for the whole thing to work.
Zoë Routh: Okay. Awesome. I think that's the part that I struggle with the most. Probably treating it deliberately, as opposed to yet another thing on the task list. And I think it probably comes back to the root problem of have I got my results defined correctly and that are meaningful. And developing the right measures. And not too many measures, right? I think that's another thing. Like, you can get excited about the potential of what all this could mean and then have too many. Is there an ideal number of measures?
Stacey Barr: Yes, kind of. If you have six strategic goals for your company, then each of those strategic goals is most likely going to have one or two measures for it. So that's a good balance, a good ratio. For a goal, you'll want one, maybe two measures for it. But if you’re an executive team of let's say five people, and you've got 23 goals, you've over done it. Cause you're gonna have close to 40 or 50 measures. And for a team of five leaders to try to measure all of that and interpret all of that, and initiate action to improve all of that, it's overwhelming. So being ruthless is very important. I would say the best guideline is go for the fewest possible measures you can manage. It's kind of like when you're trying to lose weight. You eat as little as you can without being constantly hungry, and dizzy and lightheaded. You're sort a aiming for that sweet spot with the measures as well. As few measures as you can get away with.
Zoë Routh: Right. Okay. Awesome. Stacey, I could keep talking to you about this stuff for hours. I love this stuff, I love your work. It's enlightening and so exciting because it just helps someone like me who is like, "Oh, look at the next shiny object" just drill down into what matters. And I love that that's part of your whole business framing. So, I want to say thank you. If you want to find Stacey you can have a look at her site. And that's spelled S-T-A-C-E-Y B-A-R-R dot com. And it will be a link on the show notes for her site and for her books, and for the books that she mentioned today.
So, Stace, thank you so much.
Stacey Barr: It's always fun doing things with you, so thank you very much for the opportunity to stand on my soap box another time.
Zoë Routh: Yeah, it was worth it. Thanks.