From Performance Measurement to Performance Management

By Mark Aesch, CEO

Organizational excellence is any industry’s desired outcome. Whether you work at the zoo, a hospital or a transit agency, there are fundamental elements of any organization being successful. 

Many have spent their careers in one particular industry and are often quick to say “my industry is different” and “They don’t have any experience in my industry.” That’s what subject matter experts are for, of course.

To look after the otters, the zoo CEO needs someone with deep experience in otters. 

To look after children with congenital heart issues, the hospital CEO needs an expert who has dedicated their life to that work. 

A transit CEO needs deep expertise in route planning to develop the most efficient, balanced with customer-facing train or bus schedule. 

And yet, at the executive level, there can sometimes be an over-reliance on industry expertise. This “process first, performance second” mentality can lead to a culture of blind rule following, management of ‘what is’, and obstacle inhibitors. 

Organizational excellence can be broken down into four foundational pillars:

Clarity of mission, vision, values, and purpose. A clear quantifiable commitment to outcomes: what we call “success outcomes.”

Think President Kennedy declaring that “we will send a man to the moon and back, by the end of the decade.” Some call them SMART goals: Specific, measurable, achievable, results-oriented and time bound. Yes, yes, and yes.  

These are the actions to produce those desired outcomes. The overall goal of the zoo isn’t to be great at feeding the lions at 6:00AM, noon and 7:00PM – the overall goal of the zoo is to have guests come enjoy the lions (outcome).  For the guests to come enjoy them, the lions must be healthy (output). For the animals to be healthy, a series of inputs must be met, including feeding them on a timely basis, exercising them, etc.

Similarly, the goal of a transit agency isn’t to clean the buses or maintain a State of Good Repair or have a fancy technology system: the desired outcome is happy customers. Achieving that requires on-time buses that are clean with bus operators that say “welcome aboard” with a smile. And then it is using your budget to fund those appropriate actions that will produce the desired outcomes. 

Rarely, if ever, does your plan unfold as desired. President Eisenhower is credited with having said “No plan survives contact with the enemy.” Boxer Mike Tyson said it more succinctly, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” By measuring what matters, and not chasing noise, the latest newspaper idea, or the latest “I think” in a meeting, clear-thinking executives can know if their plan is working and what needs to be adjusted to achieve the desired outcomes. 

This is the hard part. Declare the desired outcome, too many remain vague here, but it is possible to get the concept. 

Building a budget that funds success-driven actions requires rethinking your budgeting appropriation, which will likely make your finance department play a subordinate role to strategy, but that’s just internal bureaucracy. Measuring what matters just makes sense. The goal isn’t preventive maintenance done on time, the goal is more, happy customers.

But when we start to get the results, and they aren’t what we desire, how do we move with urgency, agility, and inspiration to change those results? 

We have found there are five fundamental elements of Behavior Change for organizational excellence:

Meetings That Matter
Having the right meetings, with the right people, with the right cadence to drive fundamental change.

Clarity of Ownership
Who owns what, when, and where.

Inspiration vs Imposition
Being super clear on the desired result and inviting the owner to think through the solution – and the skills and tools necessary to achieve that outcome. 

Frequent Feedback
Meaningful and frequent feedback to the individuals and team responsible for driving the changed behaviors that will produce the desired results. 

Agreed upon in advance incentives if the measurable objectives are achieved. Achieve X by Y and Z happens for you. 

Very few organizations get the first three elements of organizational excellence right. Those that do are equipped to confront the final mountaintop ascent, inspiring the changes in organizational behavior that will produce the desired results that bring measurable value to customers, taxpayers and the workforce alike. 

Measuring work is relatively simple.  Managing your work to produce improved measurements is relatively hard. Getting there, however, will inspire your team, put smiles on your customers, and invite your community to consider further investment. 


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