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In a previous post, I described how today’s management techniques reflect outdated assumptions of technology-enabled practices, human behavior, and the meaning of success. That’s why organizations must shift to what I’m calling Modernize Leadership.

I’m writing individual posts for each of the eight key changes required to modernize leadership. In this post, I’m examining the shift from:

Measure and Track to Observe and Improve

Here’s some more information to better understand this shift:

Outdated Thinking
Here are some ways in which leaders must change how they view the world:

  • You can’t manage what you can’t measure. That’s a refrain that I often hear, and it pushes people in the totally wrong direction. The reality is that most things in life are managed without explicit measurements. Think about a typical day. You get up, get dressed, eat breakfast, and commute to work without referring to a dashboard of metrics. That does not mean that measurements can’t help, but they hardly ever tell the entire story.
  • Managers often look for metrics they can to use to hold people and organizations accountable. Setting measurable goals is not a bad thing, but it can cause bad behaviors. Managers will sometimes overly focus on the metrics and ignore nuances such as actual behaviors of the team and shifts in the situation. They act as  if it’s possible to manage something you don’t truly understand. That all falls apart when the an organization needs to deviate from a “straight ahead” orientation.
  • When employees believe that a metric is very important, they are explicitly and implicitly encouraged to do whatever it takes to achieve the goal. This can lead to inappropriate behaviors such as a car salesperson insisting that you give him a “10” on a survey. At Staples, a metric of $200 of add-ons for each computer pushed employees to refuse selling computers to customers who weren’t going to purchase add-ons.

Heres a quote that is often attributed to Albert Einstein:

“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

Modernized Leadership Actions
Here are some ways in which leaders should act based on a modernized perspective:

  • Look positively forward. Metrics often show how an organization has performed during some previous timeframe, but what you really care about is how it will get better in the future. Make sure that your discussions with people are focused on what the organization can learn in order to  improve, not on blaming people for the problems that caused a poor score.
  • Encourage the right behaviors. If you want your organization to make improvements, then nurture the employee behaviors that will deliver better results. So celebrate employees who are doing the right things, even when the metrics aren’t great.
  • Build operational empathy. If you want your employees to do the right things, then they should feel as if you know their environment. Rather than having employees just see you commenting on metrics from afar, set aside time to regularly get immersed in different parts of the organization. Ask employees how they think the company can improve. This will help you understand when to “back off” reacting too strongly to the metrics and let employees know that numbers aren’t everything.
  • Enable continuous improvement. Instead of using measurements as a pure grading system, use them to identify places for improvement, and always ask: what have we learned and how can we get better? Your organization needs to have an ongoing improvement cycle that is at least at the same pace as your measurement system, otherwise metrics will only lead to frustration.

The bottom line: Observe your organization and focus on improvements.

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