My wife and I are currently going through the stage of life that I like to refer to as a sports frenzy. We have three children in grade school and are crazy busy all the time with their activities - but it is so much fun. I coach many of their sports teams and (hopefully) am able to teach the kids some valuable lessons like so many coaches did for me. Sometimes these kids even return the favor and teach me something that I can apply in my work.
Last fall I was a flag football coach for a group of second and third graders. The season started pretty quickly so there was really only time for a couple of practices before the first game. And I use the word "practice" pretty loosely (those who have ever had a group of 10 or so eight year old boys out in a field practicing a contact sport know exactly what I am talking about).
We were able to work on one offensive play. Yup, one. Well - I guess it could technically be two plays because we were able to run it to either the left or right side of the field. Good job coach.
Game Day...and we are not even close to ready
I'll admit it. I was extremely worried that at some point during our game the eight year old rendition of WrestleMania was going to be on full display for all the parents. Luckily, that didn't happen. In fact, on our first offensive play our running back took the handoff and ran the distance of the field for a touchdown. To this day, I insist this was because of a superior play design and had nothing to do with the fact that he was the fastest kid on the field (that was sarcasm, in case you didn't catch it).
The kids were so excited. And so was I. As the cheering faded and we lined up for the kick-off, one of the kids looked up at me and asked, "where is the scoreboard?"
My reply - "We don't keep score, we are just out here to play hard and get better."
And like any typical third grader, he had the next question all queued up and ready to hit me with it...
"If we don't keep score, how do we know if we are getting better?"
I paused for a second, looking down at him blinking back at me waiting for a reply.
I didn't get the chance to answer before the kickoff, but it didn't matter. Do you know what the kids on both teams started doing? They kept score. They tallied the touchdowns and did the math themselves.
Now why would they do that? Why can't they just play?
They want to know how they are doing. They want to know if they are performing well. They want to know if they are getting better. In the absence of a score, they have no basis to judge their own performance. They have no way to judge their team's performance. These are kids. When we take away their performance measure (the score) they instinctively measure performance themselves.
What is the score in your business?
People working in your business or department need the same visibility to the team's (your company or department's) performance as those kids did. So many people come to work and are asked to do their best and work hard. They are even told - "be engaged!", "improve!", or "we need to continually get better!". Even if they try their best - how can they be sure their efforts are making things better?
Put up the scoreboard.
1) Determine your limited set of key business metrics. Do not try to measure everything. Think of how confusing a football game would be if there was a giant scoreboard tallying every single statistic as the game went on.
2) Make them visible. Yes. Hang them on the wall. For everyone to see. If you are not proud of what they tell you, hiding them won't make it better. They don't turn off the scoreboard when a team falls way behind. Simply knowing where things stand often causes an uptick in performance, and as performance improves, enthusiasm will build.
3) Repost results as frequently as practical. Revealing the results of the 1st quarter halfway through the 4th quarter won't help a football team all that much. Shorten the loop between execution and metrics - monthly is typically adequate.
Most people want to be engaged and work hard, but do they know if their actions are making a difference? Does your team know the score?
Christopher M. Spranger, MBA, ASQ MBB
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