Thursday, February 27, 2014

Are Metrics Killing Morale?

Metrics.  They’re everywhere.  They’re ubiquitous and overused.  And they’re killing us in the workplace. 

Before entering into private practice, I worked for a non-profit organization that decided to begin a new reporting protocol to track the services used by our client population.  That might sound reasonable, except that a similar program was already in place, and the original reports were not being replaced by this new, more time-consuming one.   Further, there was no clear purpose or benefit for the added information.  Our already over-worked team was shaken at the idea of being asked to duplicate their time-consuming paperwork. 

My husband, an IT professional, has experienced different challenges with metrics.  He has been asked to track and report on the usage of each piece of equipment (information that he notes has never led to change) and each client interaction.  The latter with the unfortunate focus (and reward) being on the number of clients served.  This client-service tracking led some techs to reduce their customer service or take costly short-cuts.  In this case, the metrics incentivized poor service.   

And while working with clients, I have learned of similar challenges and frustrations that were tied to seemingly irrelevant record keeping and tracking.  Some of these situations were at the core of staff member conflicts, taking the form of insubordination, or inter-team conflicts.   

Looking at the above situations, the use of metrics brought about an increase in workplace tensions and conflict, a lowering of productivity and morale, and a reduction in customer service and satisfaction.   How did this happen?  Aren’t metrics supposed to help us improve processes, customer service, and profitability?   As I see it, yes and no.  

Yes, they can (potentially) help us improve these things, but no, they aren’t always the right answer for accomplishing the goal.   

Here’s the limitation - Metrics cannot take the place of good management, careful oversight, or involved, committed employees.  They cannot make necessary inferences and watch for confirmation of the results.  These qualities are why we prefer a person for customer service over an automated system.  And these human elements are at the core of eliminating theft, building productivity, and enhancing customer interaction.  Humans have the ability to ask a question, seek more information when needed, interpret, intuit, and comprehend.  Data limits this – and us.   

If we really want to bring about important change, or track concerns or issues in the workforce, we need to communicate this to our managers and employees.  We must enlist their intelligence, creativity and support in accomplishing the goals intended.  We need to engage them in planning, and conversely, we need to listen to their needs.  To accomplish our goals and build a strong team, we need to bring about change in a cohesive way; One that allows for unguarded information sharing, open communication and reciprocal trust.  Only then can we begin to work collectively to reaching our goals – and only then will the goals actually matter.