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Measuring performance

Solving problems

When you try to measure performance people immediately think that you have identified a problem and that it is them.
The result of this is that there is resistance to behaviour and results measurement.
The final result seems inevitable in many people’s minds that a fault will be identified, they will get the blame which will result in, at the least, a sanction and at worst dismissal.
Not likely to increase motivation.

Part of establishing any form of measurement system is to convince people why you are doing it and what merit there is in it.
Of course, you may be looking for improvements in performance but not at the expense of trying to blame someone.
It is the role of everyone to try an improve performance.
At the end of the day people are not taken on because they are poor workers.

Anything that helps someone perform better will help others.
This help may be in the form of increased company profits but also in better department and team efficiencies which will reduce frustrations, improve moral and relieve stresses.

Measurement is very important as an initial step in identifying issues but this alone will not solve any problems.
There are many problem solving techniques that will help identify particular problems and focus on solutions (see The Complete Project Management package).
Measurement is merely the start of the process for improved performance and as such can be considered as an ‘antecedent’ (see Giving Orders).

This antecedent can help kick start a behaviour that leads to a particular consequence.
However, of the 4 consequence types (see Consequences – part 1) most people’ experience is not reinforcing but tends to lead to punishment.

The four types are:

  • Positive reinforcement

This is something you would like to get or happen.

  • Negative reinforcement

This is when you manage to avoid something that you don’t want to get or happen.

For punishment and penalty we have:

  • Punishment

You gain something you would rather not have.

  • Penalty

This is when you lose something you already had.

Any resistance to measurement often suggests fear of punishment as a consequence.
Measurement is used as an antecedent to initiate a modification of behaviour.
At what rate and at what frequency this behaviour manifests itself will depend upon the quality of the reinforcement.

Once people enjoy the reinforcement they will be happy to have their performance measured.
Motivation for measurement will have been raised.


Trying to introduce performance measurement without any ground work may fail owing to the fears raised above.
There needs to be a campaign of communication of the purpose of performance management and just what that might mean in the workplace. In addition, you can begin to introduce its key principles by showing positive reinforcement for current good behaviours.

If you have already implemented some measures of performance management then positively reinforce these.
If you do this over a period of say 1 or 2 months the scene will be better set for introducing measurement more formally.

What is measurement?

Remember that before you begin measuring any behaviour or result you must be able to define them accurately, that is, ‘pinpoint’ them (see Behaviour - Results Orientated).

Counting and judgement

All performance can be measured but not necessarily ‘counted’.
If you are looking at the rate of production of, say, sheets of glass per hour, this is easy to measure by counting them.
If you are unable to count a performance then you will have to measure it by the use of ‘judgement’.

Naturally, if you can, count. Most business is interested in trying to increase the rate of the production of something.

Raw data

You can lose the true meaning derived from the raw data when you begin to convert to other forms of presenting the data.
Percentages can hide a lot of information and can be quite misleading.

If you have a target of 2000 units per hour and produce only 1500 that would be 75%.
If the target is moved, for what ever reason, to 2500 and you manage to produce 1875 units this is also 75%.
In terms of percentages there is no difference but in fact an extra 385 units were produced.
This will mask the need for examining possible causes and will ignore a possible increase in performance of the worker.

Clearly, when measuring performance this sort of target change and the way the data is reported leads to a very misleading result.

Another problem area for managers is defects.
If out of 2000 items 1500 pass quality control you will have 500 defects, that is, 25%.
If, on the other hand, you produce 2500 per day and 25% are defects that is 625.
So, although the defect percentage is the same the actual number of defects has increased.
The percentage data masks this information.

It is always best to interpret the raw data rather than a percentage figure.


If you can possibly avoid it don’t use rankings.
By their very nature they create conflict and any ranking system will generate losers and reduce motivation.
If you can’t count your results then use judgement based upon a rating system that reflects achievements.

Incremental change

Simply carrying out a programme of modifying behaviour by applying an appropriate positive reinforcement may not easily solve a problem.
If the improvement that you are looking for is gradual then it may not be easy to see.
If you use raw data you will be able to see a trend much more easily especially if the change is minor.
This may give you an indication that perseverance will eventually lead to the result you want.