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There’s an old saying ‘what gets measured gets done.’ I often hear the phrase when performance management is discussed in organisations. The idea is that setting targets and objectives that are measurable is a step in the right direction. The process helps make sure the correct things get done.

The interesting thing is how often the measures drive the wrong behaviours:

  • A few years ago, I used to work in contact centres where agents had a target to answer a number of calls each day. The ideal employee was one that answered the most number of calls. Those who answered a small number were placed on development plans or taken off the phones. The problem was that ‘high performers’ would get through calls so quickly that customer issues often remained unresolved, leading to repeat calls and dissatisfaction. The number of centres with a number of calls per day target for agents has reduced, but many still have measures in place that drive the same behaviour (such as time to handle a call).
  • I worked in a centre tasked with resolving faults on a mobile telephone network. Engineers were set a target to deal with faults in the quickest possible time; which often led to a wrong diagnosis or inappropriate action due to poor analysis.
  • In emergency services, I have often been involved in discussions about the best way to target dispatchers who send resources to incidents. The problem is that if the target is to dispatch as quickly as possible, the wrong resource may be assigned or the nearest suitable resource overlooked.

Part of the performance management process invariably involves ‘agreeing’ targets or objectives with staff. My advice to managers is to fully understand the kind of behaviour that any agreed measures will drive. Often the best way forward is to develop a balance of measures (quantity and quality measures, for example) and to get staff very closely involved in the whole process.

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