Tip #511: How to Handle Employee Push Back Against Metrics

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“The strongest human instinct is to impart information, the second strongest is to resist it.”  Kenneth Grahame

These days, performance management seems to be increasingly about the metrics. Many organizations are now measuring employee productivity and the quality of the results much more rigorously. New employees may take this in their stride, as just part of their employment. However, employees who have been with the organizations for many years may push back against the metrics.

There are many possible reasons for push back against metrics. There are the psychological factors. Metrics can seem cold and impersonal. They reduce human beings to numbers, or at least that is how it may appear to employees. If little or no measurement was conducted in the past, metrics represent an unwelcome change. Some employees may simply not like the idea of being held accountable for their performance. The real or imagined consequences of failing metrics may be frightening.

The metrics themselves can present real challenges. Employees may question the information used to establish the metrics. They may not agree with the work activity selected to be measured. They may feel that the metrics do not provide an accurate picture, particularly if the work activity involves interactions with customers.

How the metric measures are publicized can also create difficulties. If performance figures are listed next to the employees’ names, this can be demoralizing if the numbers are poor.  They can also cause friction or resentment, particularly if bonuses or pay raises are based on an entire team or unit’s total metrics.

How low metrics are addressed is another potentially damaging issue. Poor performance may be beyond the control of an employee if support systems are lacking or if adequate training was never provided.

Regardless of the reason for the push back, it is something that needs to be addressed if an organization wants to establish and maintain good employee morale (which translates into good performance). Here are some suggestions:

1.    Explain the source and purpose of the metrics. Any organization that does not strive for increased efficiency, effectiveness and quality is an organization that will not long survive in the current environment. Present the use of metrics as a good source of information rather than a witch hunt.

2.    Recognize that this is a change management situation. Do your best to alleviate concerns regarding consequences for poor performance. To the extent possible, give the employees a sense of control- perhaps by asking them to identify any revisions to policies, procedures or resources that will enable them to improve performance.

3.    Ask the employees to tell you how they would measure success, other than through the metrics. It is unlikely that they will be able to suggest an alternative.

4.    Reassure the employees that you know how good they are at their jobs- and now the metrics will show this to others.

5.    Point out how good it will feel to have validation, through the metrics, on a day when things go well.

6.    Explain that you want the employees to be successful- and the metrics can identify when additional support or training is necessary.

7.    Post the metrics without employee names. Instead, use numbers to identify the individual employees.

8.    Demonstrate that you realize poor performance may not be the fault of the employee. You can do this by investigating the root causes rather than acting on the assumption that the employee is choosing not to perform.

9.    Use the metrics as an indicator of the need to take a closer look at the systems and resources that support performance. Procedures may need to be revised, systems updated, additional resources provided, training revisited, or coaching implemented.

10.    Acknowledge that metrics alone can only tell part of the story. There are intangibles, such as good communication or interpersonal skills that cannot be easily measured. Your best employee may not be your best performer.

What else can you do to manage push back?

May your learning be sweet.


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