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
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Knowing Where You're Going
- Groups that can't even agree on what to do can often find themselves debating about how
to do it. Here are some simple things to remember to help you focus on defining the goal.
- Dealing with Deadlock
- At times it seems that nothing works. Whenever we try to get moving, we encounter obstacles. If we try
to go around them, we find more obstacles. How do we get stuck? And how can we get unstuck?
- Why Don't They Believe Me?
- When we want people to believe us, and they don't, it just might be a result of our own actions or demeanor.
How does this happen?
- Ethical Debate at Work: II
- Outcomes of debates at work sometimes favor one party, not only at the expense of the other or others,
but also at the expense of the organization. Here's Part II of a set of guidelines for steering debates
toward wise outcomes.
- Meeting Troubles: Collaboration
- In some meetings, we collaborate not in reaching objectives, but in preventing our doing so. Here are
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See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
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