If you're a manager, how can you tell how good a job you're doing? Take a survey? Do a 360 assessment?
When you measure something, you influence it. For instance, investors value companies according to their profits. Knowing this, many executives make decisions that favor short-term profits over the company's long-term well being, and some actually fudge the figures.
Applied to organizations, this phenomenon is called the Hawthorne Effect — when people know you're measuring something, they try to make the measurement turn out "right." Most measurements of employee satisfaction run afoul of this phenomenon. How can you measure without Hawthorne distortion?
Begin by looking at what you're measuring. The good news: we measure way too much. We try to measure the immeasurable, and we use those measurements to try to control the uncontrollable. By reducing our overall measurement effort, and accounting for Hawthorne distortion, we can measure less and get a lot more value from the effort. Here are three keys to effective measurement:
- Measure only what is objectively measurable. Judgment isn't objectively measurable.
- Measure only what you hope to control. Have in mind actions you can take that directly influence trends in whatever you measure.
- Understand the Hawthorne Effect: if people know they're being measured, they alter their behavior to optimize the measurement.
Too often, we try
to measure the
uncontrollableThe name "Hawthorne Effect" comes from some early work (1927-1932) on organizational measurement done at the Western Electric plant in Hawthorne, Illinois, where management tried to determine optimum levels of factory-floor lighting. Because the employees knew about the study, they responded to each adjustment in light level by increasing productivity.
But the Hawthorne Effect can be much broader. In one approach to controlling software quality, we measure defects by severity category. Since software isn't releasable unless defect counts are below acceptable levels, there is pressure to downgrade the severity of any defects in categories that are over threshold.
Measuring with discretion is one route around Hawthorne. Here are some trends you can measure outside the awareness of most employees. Most must be measured per capita per month. Their interpretation depends on your particular situation, though some are obvious.
- Voluntary turnover
- Number of hits to corporate gripe sites
- Posted Dilbert cartoons
- Fraction of posted Dilbert cartoons that involve Ratbert the HR manager
- Percentage use of sick days and vacation days
- Average usage-hours of parking spaces
- Employer-funded education credits earned
- Number of complaints per month about peers
- Number of "Tweaking CC" emails (see "The Tweaking CC," Point Lookout for February 7, 2001)
- Number of known feuds
- Fraction of posted Dilbert cartoons that involve the pointy-haired manager
- Fraction of desks with Dilbert desk calendars
- Vending machine candy consumption
- Percentage of meetings rescheduled
- Project lateness, in dollar-days per capita
Would you like to know trends in any of these measurements? Can you think of other measurements you'd rather make? Top Next Issue
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Snapshots of Squirming Subjects
- Today we use data as a management tool. We store, recall, and process data about our operations to help
us manage resources and processes. But this kind of management data is often scattered, out of date,
or just plain incorrect, and taking a snapshot doesn't work. There is a better way.
- Dealing with Negative Progress
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we reduce the incidence of setbacks?
- What Measurements Work Well?
- To manage well, we need to know where we are, where we would like to be, and what we need to do to get
there. Measurement can help us achieve our goals, by telling us where we are and how much progress we're
making. But some things aren't measurable, and some measurement methods yield misleading results. How
can we use measurement effectively?
- Ending Sidebars
- We say that a sidebar is underway in a meeting when two or more meeting participants converse without
having been recognized by the chair. Sidebars can be helpful, but they can also be disruptive. How can
we end sidebars quickly and politely?
- The Self-Explanation Effect
- In the learning context, self-explanation is the act of explaining to oneself what one is learning.
Self-explanation has been shown to increase the rate of acquiring mastery. The mystery is why we don't
structure knowledge work to exploit this phenomenon.
See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 7: Toxic Disrupters: Tactics
- Some people tend to disrupt meetings. Their motives vary, but they use techniques drawn from a limited collection. Examples: they violate norms, demand attention, mess with the agenda, and sow distrust. Response begins with recognizing their tactics. Available here and by RSS on June 7.
- And on June 14: Pseudo-Collaborations
- Most workplace collaborations produce results of value. But some collaborations — pseudo-collaborations — are inherently incapable of producing value, due to performance management systems, or lack of authority, or lack of access to information. Available here and by RSS on June 14.
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