This post is an excerpt from Changing Results by Changing Behavior, a leadership field guide by Julie Poland:
You might think that measurement of results would be a foregone conclusion ─ everyone does it, right? That’s not been our experience. Sure, leaders take a look at certain numbers like gross revenue, gross profit, cash balances and the like, but far fewer have a grip on measurement beyond that.
When there are hard dollar reasons to pursue behavior change it’s natural that hard dollar measurements should result. If you engage someone to work with your sales staff you would expect to see movement in sales per rep, perhaps an increase in the number of presentations, or in their closing percentages. Where you set concrete financial benchmarks at the beginning of your process you’ve set the stage for measuring the downstream effectiveness of your change efforts.
When you define the most appropriate measurements, you can more readily define the interim goals or behaviors that should lead to them. Continuing with the sales example, what behavior changes would your reps need to make to close more sales? Do they need to redefine their “ideal prospects?” Do they need to learn more effective communication techniques to use during the sales process? When you define expectations in specific terms, you help whatever outside resource you’re using (we’ll call it your improvement partner) to tailor a process that directly addresses your situation. The resulting process is more likely to help your people produce the desired results.
Communicating Success Measures when You StartIt’s important, when measuring progress, to tell the participants what the targets are before they start. You (or the highest-ranking executive you can access) should personally participate in the project kickoff, setting the scene by laying out some performance goals. When you choose to do this:
- Participants realize that this isn’t in addition to their job, or tangential to their job ─ it is their job.
- You create an umbrella under which participants can set their individual goals as the process progresses.
- Participants will be able to help you achieve the results you want by addressing the piece that they can impact from their corner of your organization.
Levels of Measurement
You might be interested in finding out your employees’ reactions to whatever development or project-focused process you have involved them in, but that really only gives you a superficial view. Reactions relate more to whether they liked the facilitator, the room and the snacks than whether the process was effective. Yes, it does help to have an engaging facilitator, an accommodating space, etc. But it takes more to evaluate the value of your investment.
You might also want to know about the amount of learning they acquired during training efforts. You can incorporate pre- and post-training exams if you want to increase the accountability for each person to participate fully in gaining the information they need to know. One potentially undesirable side effect of content exams is that they can create the misperception that the primary goal is to obtain knowledge. That’s not it ─ the change you seek may require a knowledge-download component, but ultimately application of knowledge is what creates the behavior change.
Your two most important categories of measurement will come from the behavior changes people make and the new results they achieve. You and your improvement partner will be double-teaming during the change process, with your facilitator providing the tools and processes and you providing the support, context, alignment and accountability for your employees. (You can see why it is advantageous to start with your senior leaders, so you can spread the responsibility around as you go through your company!)
Measuring Behavior Change
The simplest method my colleagues and I use to measure behavior change is the implementation of behavior-related goals. In an earlier chapter I cited the example of the supervisor in saying “Good morning” every morning. Behavioral goals can be tricky in that people will try to commit themselves to a major “go forth and sin no more” expectation ─ an ad infinitum standard that is difficult to sustain. It’s preferable to keep the behavior narrow and specific and the early time frames short to create the opportunity for success. For example:
- Each day this week I will plan the next day’s tasks before I leave the office.
- For today I will ask questions so I better understand the other person’s point rather than dig in and argue my point of view.
- I will distribute a written agenda no later than 48 hours prior to the Friday staff meeting.
There are few goals too small to start the process of behavior change, as long as they meet the SMART criteria (specific, measurable, achievable yet realistically high, and time-deadline stated). Each has just a small impact, but together they create a critical mass of positive momentum. In general terms, more difficult behavioral change goals should carry shorter time frames to keep them realistic. You can evaluate your success on each goal and renew it if you want to refine your approach or commit to an additional segment of time.