As a leader, the goals you set for your organization will be instrumental in achieving the change you want in your community. Consider the after-school program that triples the number of children who earn a B-plus or above; the Fire Department that can raise the percentage of fires contained to the room of origin within a calendar year; or the foundation that meets its goal of ensuring that 75 percent of grantees make measurable improvements on their performance measures.
It doesn’t matter what sector or field you’re in. If you want to create a culture of results within your organization, make sure that those around you understand who the customers are and what they can do for them. Then create performance measures that will indicate whether the customer will be any better off as a result of your service. But how can you then motivate and inspire your staff to improve these measure? Here are 3 tips to improve the performance of your organization:
Tip 1. Invest in yourself and others.
A shared belief among those working in the social sector is that education can unlock an individual’s potential. Any investment that can develop one’s social, economic, or professional development is worth the expense. There’s even a bumper sticker that professes, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”
In our case, what’s true for individuals is also true for organizations. Investing in the development of your team is almost always worth the cost. If you’re a manager, take an interest in your staff’s training and education. You (or someone) else presumably hired them because they brought certain skills or experiences to the job, right? So take the opportunity to develop those skills and improve the quality of your organization’s work.
With online and e-Learning courses flourishing, it’s now easier than ever for your team to build their skillsets without leaving the job. Take the lead in finding out what classes, workshops, conferences, or training sessions would be most applicable to your field. If you can, subsidize these programs or set aside time each month or year for continuing education.
Of course, not all of these events are free. And for managers of organizations with tight budgets, many of them may worry, “What if I train my staff and they leave?” But the more daunting question is, “What if you don’t train them and they don’t leave? That possibility certainly won’t bring you Measurable Impact.
Tip 2. Don’t market your tools. Market the impact of your work.
It’s easy to make the mistake of marketing the use of a specific performance management framework or goals. But remember, this whole exercise—this whole quest—is for measurable impact. At the end of the day, the people you’re helping and serving don’t really care about the tools you used. They care about results you’ve achieved. Market your successes by demonstrating your own measurable improvements. If you have to market a specific management framework (at Clear Impact, we use Results-Based Accountability), explain how better tools and better processes will generate better results for your organization’s clients.
Consider the lesson learned by a state government program manager; we’ll call him Larry. After a day-long training, Larry returned to his office excited and eager about what he’d just learned. He managed to mention Results-Based Accountability (RBA) in every other sentence, regardless of the topic. Listening to Larry, you would think RBA alone would feed the hungry, cure the sick, and even raise the dead. And although Larry did a great job of describing what RBA could empower practitioners to do, he did a lousy job of explaining what RBA would do to help his team succeed at their jobs. And so instead of encouraging his team to adopt the framework, Larry ended up annoying (and alienating) the people he wanted to engage.
Instead, Larry should have rallied his team behind the measurable impact they wanted to achieve. If he had been focused on whatever performance measure that his team cared about, he would have been better able to tap into the passion of his colleagues.
Tip 3. Keep score.
We keep score in almost all human enterprises, institutions, and activities. For example, students are scored using grades or pass/fail frameworks, we determine winners in gaming and sports using point scores (which are really a proxy for gauging skill and teamwork), the Better Business Bureau “scores” the trustworthiness of businesses, we use star-based or other kinds of systems to rate our favorite TV shows and movies, and we put a number on the health of the economy using indexes like the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
Scoring schemes help us simplify and make sense of the highly complex and interconnected factors that make up whatever “problem” we’re analyzing. Scores help us avoid feeling overwhelmed when faced with important decisions – like the clearly critical activity of choosing which Netflix show to watch after a long day at the office :). A score and the data that determines it is never the whole story, but it gives us something to strive for and plays off our competitive nature.
Measuring the performance of our programs and services is a way of keeping score. This score can help us make better decisions, identify problem areas, and measure whether anyone is better off as a result of our efforts. The visual nature of scoring (eg. viewing performance data on a graph) has a psychological impact that drives our innate desire to improve.
For example, in a gaming study conducted in the Computer Science Department of Texas A&M University, researchers found that “Score motivates gameplay by rewarding behavior and providing a gauge of performance, enabling comparison and competition. Players compete individually and collaboratively to maximize score. A scoring rubric assigns value to action, motivating players to accomplish specific tasks.” While our work in the public sector isn’t exactly equivalent to gameplay, you can argue that the stakes are higher, which may lead to more motivation to improve.
Keeping score of employee engagement with performance tools (eg. performance improvement software) is also useful because it provides a gauge of accountability to continuous improvement. For example, in the Clear Impact Scorecard, users can activate two Accountability Scores to help them measure overall organizational engagement and impact.
Scoring doesn’t come without its downsides. But most of the downsides can be avoided if you use it as a continuous improvement tool and not to “punish” employees or departments for low scores. Again, this is why scoring should never be unaccompanied by contextual information.
Tip 4. Celebrate success.
Nothing motivates people more than public recognition (except maybe free food). Even the humblest among us appreciates being recognized for our efforts.
You can tap into this phenomenon to inspire those around you to succeed. For some, being celebrated for a job well done can be even more rewarding than monetary compensation. That sense of validation, especially among one’s peers, is impossible to put a price on.
Another reason why leaders should recognize positive accomplishments is that it’s the best way to reinforce the type of work you want others to produce. Watching others lauded changes the way we think about our own efforts and goals. We start saying to ourselves, “If Bob, Debbie, and Steve can be Employee of the Month, then what’s stopping me?”
Celebrating success in our organizations not only generates positive energy, it also helps build momentum. Knowing that we’ve improved a performance measure, reached a milestone, or broken a record suggests that we’re headed in the right direction. And if at times, those wins seem few and far between, recognizing them when they occur can relieve anxiety about meeting the next goal down the line.
Food for Thought:
What other methods have you found to be successful in improving the performance of your organization? Are there any that others would find surprising? I’d love to hear your ideas below.
About the author:
Adam Luecking, CEO of Clear Impact, is an author, speaker, and trainer on topics related to Results-Based Accountability (RBA) and achieving measurable improvement. As CEO, he manages executive leadership programs, consulting services and technology deployment to agencies that serve children, families, and communities with the growing Clear Impact team. In 2013, he authored the book “The Holy Grail of Public Leadership” and was named on of Maryland’s 2015 most admired CEOs by the Daily Record.