GLS 2016: Performance Measurement

This year was my 10th Global Leadership Summit, and it did not disappoint. The CARE for AIDS story was featured in a Grander Vision video that will reach a global audience of 300,000+ people. But also, the content was probably the best of any GLS I have attended. One theme that stood out to me was the emphasis placed on performance measurement. This is not a topic commonly addressed among church and nonprofit leaders, so I’m glad it had a prominent place in the program.

First of all, why are measurement and data so scarce in the nonprofit space? Here are a few ideas:

  • We’ve been told to value people over performance, so we avoid holding people accountable and having difficult conversations.
  • Good performance (lives transformed) can be hard to define and even harder to measure, so people don’t even attempt it.
  • Nonprofits don’t always feel the pressure from clients, competitors, or contributors to create more effective or efficient operations, so they stop striving to improve.
  • Activities (served x number of clients) are easier to measure and satisfy most donors while impact and outcomes (created x amount of transformation) are harder to measure and less valued by donors.
  • Many nonprofits aren’t willing to take the time and money away from programs to monitor them effectively.
  • Measurement means that poor performance will be exposed and there will be a strong organizational resistance to that.

These and other reasons keep nonprofits from investing the energy and resources on measuring employee performance and ministry impact. But, it does a disservice to your vision and your stakeholders to continue providing services with uncertain results.

At least four presenters spoke at some length about employee and organizational performance measurement. Here are some highlights:

Bill Hybels – People desperately want to know the answer to the question, “How am I doing?” Every department at Willow is evaluated every 6 months and assigned a rating of 1) Thriving, 2) Healthy, or 3) Underperforming. The processes for measuring performance will have to constantly be evaluated and adjusted.

Melinda Gates – “At Microsoft, we had data about our clients. When we started in the not-for-profit world, we were blown away at how decisions were being made with no data. The data is what allows us to move forward on behalf of women around the world.”

Alan Mulally – When he took over as CEO of Ford, the company was projected to lose $17 billion that year. In his first meeting, he asked each business unit to present their projects in a color-coded format- red, yellow, or green. Despite the company recording historic losses, every single chart was colored green, implying that everything was healthy and on track. Clearly, no one wanted to deliver bad news to the boss. Alan praised the first person who brought a red chart to the meeting, and the team was shocked that this person wasn’t fired. Before long, more charts slowly started turning red. These honest performance conversations may have saved the company.

Chris McChesney – Chris had four important insights into performance measurement. The first is to “narrow the focus” on the Wildly Important Goal (WIG). The more goals you attempt simultaneously, the fewer you will accomplish. There will always be more good ideas than your capacity to execute. The second principle was to “act on the lead measures.” He defined a lead measure as having two main qualities: 1) it is “predictive” of your progress towards your goal and 2) it is “influence-able” by the team members. Thirdly, he challenged us to “keep a compelling scoreboard.” He said the #1 driver of high morale is a sense that you are winning. Lastly, we must create “a cadence of accountability” to keep engagement high.

The big takeaway for me from Chris’ presentation was the question- Are my people playing a high-stakes, winnable game?

I believe measurement can unleash more potential from our teams and our programs. I don’t think it is distracting or dehumanizing. The opposite it true. It actually focuses teams and gives dignity to the people you are trying to serve.