Writing Our Own Scorecards

I recently spoke to about a hundred C-level executives at a partner conference hosted by one of the top IT providers. As part of the workshop, the executives predicted how their employees would rate their agreement with 15 statements dealing with organizational climate. The second lowest agreement score of the fifteen was this for this statement: “I can clearly explain the mission of my company and how I contribute”.

A continuing theme in the literature on best places to work, is that leadership in Best-Place companies makes it easy for people to know, and in fact, measure for themselves, their work output and the resulting impact on their organization. Sounds easy and straightforward, doesn’t it? Yet, it proves to be a daunting, almost impossible task for many organizations and teams.  That gap has the resulting impact of being a significant impediment to both the business impact itself, as well as the sense of pride and well-being and confidence of being assured that our work product is (or isn’t) hitting the business mark.

Patrick Lencioni, in his book,  “The Three Signs of a Miserable Job”, talks about “immeasurement” as one of the three signs.  “Employees need to be able to gauge their progress and level of contribution for themselves.  They cannot be fulfilled in their work if their success depends on the opinions or whims of another person no matter how benevolent that person may be.”  How many of us either anticipate or dread the annual performance review with our boss to get their blessing or curse on our work product?  What in heaven’s name did we do for the rest of the year to know where we stood?  I can think of maybe one or two bosses in a forty year career that gave me regular and objective feedback as a routine function of managing me, and my discussions with colleagues tell me that is more the norm than the exception.

Grab the May 2011 edition of the Harvard Business Review for an excellent article by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer on “The Power of Small Wins”.  (HBR Reprint R1105C).  Amabile and Kramer studied the impact of employees’ ”inner work life” on their performance inside complex organizations.  A seminal finding of their research:  “What motivates people on a day to day day basis is the sense they are making progress.”   They echo the classic work by Frederick Herzberg in his 1960’s studies of how employees are motivated.  “People are most satisfied with their jobs …. When those jobs give them the opportunity to experience achievement”.

Turning their research forward into idea for how managers can ensure that their people are getting the visibility they need into their own performance, they not only lay out the four primary ways that managers drain work of its meaning (!!) but in a more positive vein, they lay out a Daily Progress Checklist to help managers measure and deal with measures of both positive and negative factors in measuring daily progress.  Their intent is to help managers build the habitual processes which enable them to create the “Progress Loop” with their teams.

“Inner work life drives performance; in turn, good performance, which depends on consistent progress, enhances inner work life. We call this the progress loop; it reveals the potential for self-reinforcing benefits.

“So, the most important implication of the progress principle is this: By supporting people and their daily progress in meaningful work, managers improve not only the inner work lives of their employees but also the organization’s long-term performance, which enhances inner work life even more.  Of course, there is a dark side—the possibility of negative feedback loops. If managers fail to support progress and the people trying to make it, inner work life suffers and so does performance; and degraded performance further undermines inner work life.

“A second implication of the progress principle is that managers needn’t fret about trying to read the psyches of their workers, or manipulate complicated incentive schemes, to ensure that employees are motivated and happy. As long as they show basic respect and consideration, they can focus on supporting the work itself.”

We have to enable our employees to write their own scorecard, and then help them do what it takes to put runs on the board.