Do you measure task or progress achievement? - 16th Aug 2016

Do you measure task or progress achievement? At a high level, work is just a series of projects to be done. Some overlap in time, concept or content, and depending on the combination of these, make for either efficient work practices or a whole lot of wasted busyness.

The reason I bring this up is because a not too long ago I was working with a leadership team that rewarded activity over productivity, and they were 100% okay with this.

I was spending time with them to observe how they behave with each other in order to develop as a more cohesive group – in particular I was interested in how, what and why they spoke with each other in their executive pow-wows.

I like Pat Lencioni’s model of teams known somewhat negatively as a 5 dysfunctions of a team. This model is predicated on team members having vulnerability-based trust in each other, in order to have robust, work-based conflict whereby they have-it-out about an idea but everyone leaves the meeting with their dignity intact, and importantly, are committed and accountable for achieving results. My problem was, this particular team didn’t have anything to have conflict about –they openly and actively praised completion of tasks without monitoring actual progress towards specified goals.

Their justification for this was that agreed activity meant there must be some progress towards the end goal. Their approach was that there was always “unavoidable fat in the system”. I queried how they knew what was ‘fat’ and what was ‘lean’ progress? Blanks looks abound.
I also queried their appetite for conflict and the response was again surprising – they actively avoided conflict and focused on praising each other for their respective teams’ achievement of getting through a list of tasks. Needing to remain professional I visualized myself head-butting the wall rather than doing so in reality. The meeting progressed to rewarding individuals for being busy. I was flabbergasted but they really were, and still are, a very interesting bunch to work with. It’s refreshing to be confronted by a group who passionately defend an approach that differs from your own.

It transpired that the HR Manager had previously put a case to the Leadership Team, which was accepted, that sought to work differently than many other organisations. With management media reporting the trend of big-name companies throwing away performance appraisals (they’re not by the way, they’re merely changing what they focus on), this organisation decided to buck the trend of using data and metrics, and instead do away with measuring actual progress. I at least convinced them to use their rewarding of activity to spark better conversations about the activity that was taking place and how they as leaders could support staff in their ‘achievement’.

All this got me thinking – having worked with hundreds of teams to measure what matters and have meaningful conversations about aligning practice with purpose, how do you dear reader track your progress?

Counting ticks on a to-do list is certainly a lot easier than tracking actual outcomes produced as a result of undertaking particular work. Results produced are very often difficult to measure if you haven’t scoped what these will look like before you embark on the series of tasks that comprise a project. When I think back to some of the jobs I’ve done in the past, I recall meetings packed with energy and enthusiasm as we planned activity that was little more than a glorified to-do list, that had no real detail about the outputs or outcomes the activity would produce. Worst of all – we felt like we were achieving!

Think about the activity you’re undertaking today – does each task lead to an outcome? Maybe one task enables the next to be started. Is this progress towards a pre-imagined (and hopefully written) result or is it busyness?

I don’t mean to undermine what it is you do or how to go about it, but when we hear of research suggesting 80% of workplaces could be more engaged (some enormously so), I can’t help think greater clarity of purpose is the key to greater productivity. When we know why we do what we do, what the result of ‘work’ looks like and how we play a part of the bigger picture, we can’t help but be engaged to give more effort in a more efficient manner. It’s human nature. What’s not common practice are better conversations about work; at work – hitting the sweet spot between leading and managing. Does your organisation measure tasks done or progress towards a goal, and importantly, is there a clear difference between these in the minds of your staff?


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@KirrynZerna You're welcome - I love your posts @KirrynZerna! Super relevant and on-point. I hope all's well across the ditch!?
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