Category Archives: Performance Measures & Scoring

Insights on our Insights – Part 1

In our first insight piece we explored the finding that those at higher levels of the organization report more clarity with respect to the overall direction of their efforts.

Some of our respondents were generous enough to offer thoughts on how this arose. The responses illustrate how quickly a context can be created to explain a situation.

Storyline 1 – Not clear? Pay attention… or ask!

One response pointed the finger squarely at a persistent performance problem: incompetence. This person suggested that some responsibility be borne by senior leadership to provide clear direction, but the lion’s share of blame for this reported ambiguity should go to middle management who is either incompetent or disengaged.

Storyline 2 – You don’t know what you don’t know.

“The devil is in the details” can sum up this line of thought.  This respondent suggests the reason that senior leadership is clearer comes from being removed from the very real trade-offs. As stakeholder interactions become more complex, often those in the trenches don’t even understand the implications!

We will suggest that both explanations are logical, rational and defensible. More importantly, the belief may set the stage for corrective action: (1) gather the rank-and-file and communicate again (louder if necessary!); or (2) force senior management to realize real implementation challenges of the crafted strategy (and maybe even get them to reverse a decision or two).

Needless to say, both courses require a warning label:  Proceed with Caution. Taking a moment to better understand beliefs can inform what corrective action (if any) will best improve performance.

Thank you again for your participation and we welcome your feedback! Stay tuned for further insight pieces.

Collaboration and other tired words

There is a lifecycle to the words that we use to talk about business performance. Overuse flattens the impact of what were once meaningful contributions to the English language. Some casualties may include “Value Added,” “Synergy,” and “Change Management,” but my favourite on this list is “Collaboration.” Part of the fatigue with “Collaboration” may come from the inherent tension between nurturing relationships and delivering results. So without using that word, how can we get along with each other AND get things done?

Let’s look at the some of the possibilities.

Potential Solution Reasoned Rationale Predictable Problem
Build trust People will develop faith that a colleague is not just being objectionable; they are just doing their job. What if these people are actually messing it up for the rest of us?
Better communication This could build the trust that clears the air. Again, what if the wrong people learn how to be persuasive?
Clear performance measures Use the right measures.Note: If you need to, go watch “Moneyball” (Brad Pitt is great in it!) But does a good 1st quarter necessarily mean a good 2nd one? A good year? Long-term performance?
Better hiring If you have people who “get it,” then it becomes so much easier. But don’t you need new perspectives?
Less competition Some breathing room in the market would let us go back to being nice to each other. Where are you going to find less competition these days?


How about this?

Potential Solution Reasoned Rationale Predictable Problem
Better alignment of tangible measures with overall objectives Conflict arises only over how best to accomplish the shared goals and objectives, and we agree on the chosen measures. It is a potentially messy proposition…

It’s not collaboration that is complicated; it’s aligning activity toward purpose. There can be very different perceptions and interpretations of “What are we trying to accomplish?” and “How will we know we are getting there?”

For example, imagine the senior executive who is convinced that success of the organization (or department) hinges on having everyone at their desk from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm with no more than a 60 minute break for lunch. Can you also imagine the motivated (potentially younger) worker who feels they are more productive if they go the gym before work or on an extended lunch hour, but is more than happy to catch up on work in the evenings and on weekends?

The messiness comes from revealing the limitations of some of our core beliefs (for example, does punctuality really indicate productivity?). If you can understand and question some of the relevant logical links, you can start to better align the important elements of performance. Decisions become clearer, and less time and energy are spent on trying to affect change.

We have developed a short diagnostic to gather some insights into how this is currently working for you. Here is an external link to a questionnaire. (This should take 5 or 6 minutes (more if you answer the optional question).)

If you are interested in being kept in our loop, please add your e-mail address at the end. Look for updates at

NOTE: This article originally appeared in the June 2013 newsletter of the Canadian Supply Chain Sector Council (

Finding Good “Measures of Success”

I had the good fortune to attend the “Measuring Performance in the Social Sector: Essential or Impossible?”  panel discussion called hosted by the Schulich School of Business last month. Forums such as this one truly demonstrate the value of the “Schulich Community.” Brenda Gainer curated a fascinating panel of practitioners in socially-minded organizations. The well-attended evening also featured Dr. Alnoor Ebrahim, a former Torontonian, who is an Associate Professor at Harvard Business School.

The following are my big “take-aways” from the discussion.

As a consultant to practitioners, I found the discussion on selecting measures most applicable to client situations that I have seen. Dr. Ebrahim suggested that there are two fundamental questions to consider in selecting an appropriate measurement by which to judge your organization:

  1. How certain isf the causality you assign to your activities achieving the desired impact?
  2. What are the limits of your control in affecting that impact?

These are not easy questions to answer, but, if addressed sincerely, will spur a valuable discussion in any organizational context.

The “limit of control” part of the model mirrors the elements present in a logic model: inputs, outputs, outcomes and impact. For example: If the impact I am after is a cleaner environment in an urban centre, I could pursue an outcome of less landfill waste by running blue box programs (outputs). For this I would need money (inputs) to buy boxes, to promote use and enable distribution.

That example is oversimplified to illustrate the components. There could be violent disagreement as to whether something is an “outcome” or an “impact,” which transitions us into the “causal uncertainty” discussion. This is where the “theory of change” thinking is reflected. For example, Plan Canada’s “Because I am a girl” initiative links providing education for females in the developing world to a myriad of issues. According to The Public Health Agency of Canada, there is a strong link between “childhood vaccination” and “reduction of certain preventable illnesses.” If I understand the approach correctly, asking the question is not disputing the assumptions, but merely illustrating that some links have more empirical backing than others. Again, you can imagine the type of colourful conversation that could ensue with different stakeholder groups or even within one organization.

Once the dust settles on these discussions, you many find your organization “fits” in one of four general areas.

General Area #1 – Raise awareness to the problem even though there’s no clear solution

  • Grid position:        HIGH causal uncertainty/Control stops at Input and Output
  • Description:          “We can’t be sure that it works directly, but we think it is worth doing what we are doing to get the impact we want.”
  • Useful measure:   Measure your degree of influence over powerful stakeholders

General Area #2 – We will do more good by better doing what we do

  • Grid position:           LOW causal uncertainty/Control stops at Input and Output
  • Description:             “We know what we are doing works in delivering the impact that we want. We control how the resources are deployed.”
  • Useful measure:      Measure your output and your efficiency.

General Area #3 – Share information to figure out our impact

  • Grid position:            HIGH causal uncertainty/Control continues to Outcomes
  • Description:             “We have the means to control outcomes, but connecting what we do to the final impact is difficult.”
  • Useful measure:       Collaborate with others to find meaningful measures of impact.

General Area #4 – The goal is clear and we need to establish a common scoreboard

  • Grid position:            LOW causal uncertainty/Control continues to Outcomes
  • Description:             “The impact is clear. There are others involved in helping us get there.”
  • Useful measure:       Use integrated measures and an integrated approach.

CAUTION: In reading this article you are getting my thoughts on a framework that is currently under development. That said, the conversations about causality and control are very good to have. I will suggest that they may also be difficult to have because the questions challenge what might be institutional truths. Don’t be shy about asking for help!