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:
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- When the phone rings, do you drop whatever you're doing to answer it? Do you interrupt face-to-face
conversations with live people to respond to the jerk of your cellular leash? Listen to seemingly endless
queues of voicemail messages? Here are some reminders of the choices we sometimes forget we have.
- When Stress Strikes
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- Confirmation Bias: Workplace Consequences Part II
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- False Summits: I
- Mountaineers often experience "false summits," when just as they thought they were nearing
the summit, it turns out that there is much more climbing to do. So it is in project work.
- Workplace Anti-Patterns
- We find patterns of counter-effective behavior — anti-patterns — in every part of life,
including the workplace. Why? What are their features?
See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.
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- Risk creep is a term that describes the insidious and unrecognized increase in risk that occurs despite our every effort to mitigate risk or avoid it altogether. What are the dominant sources of risk creep? Available here and by RSS on November 1.
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