Posts Tagged ‘outcomes’

Smart Measurement

August 4, 2014

If data told you where to improve and whether you’re successful or off-course, would you want it? Would you use it? When talk turns to metrics –people often shut down. Mostly, it’s because relevance and utility are absent. Sometimes it’s because people prefer to avoid accountability.

The sticky and too-common problem: people collect and report a vast range of items that are easy to measure instead of deeply understanding and choosing a vital few metrics.

Key performance indicators (KPIs) should be vital navigation gauges to understand where your work stands compared to planned results. The right data is used to improve both processes and impact. In your selection, make sure data is both  relevant and actionable.

One way to organize indicators is to see your organization in several big parts. A simple four-piece dashboard common to the private sector includes: customers (or participants), financial performance (outcomes), internal processes, and talent. Those noted in parentheses are a social sector comparable.

What do you need to know about each to make decisions?

1.Customers or Participants It makes sense to have information about your customers or participants…without them, the enterprise quickly fails. For both exempt and for-profit organizations, you might want to know what is your participant retention rate? You also might want to know about “reach,” which is closely associated with the effectiveness of your marketing strategy. How well do you translate inquiries, invitations, presentations, web views into new participants? This is a “conversion rate.” To determine growth, the size of your slice of the pie, compared to others in the same market is important to know, too. This is relative market share.

2.Financial Performance or Outcomes The private sector identifies a revenue growth rate or net profit margin. In this context, it’s also relatively simple to calculate return on investment. Although more complex, the social sector can describe outcomes, too. Results often come in the form of reductions or gains, e.g., fewer teens in the criminal justice system or better science scores by 9th grade. It’s important to be able to describe short-, intermediate and long-term outcomes. Specifying those outcome chains in a time sequence  informs smart plans, adaptation and progress. It’s essential to know where you are …to get where you’re going. A social service agency or foundation cites the aggregate of their effort across multiple programs or grantees. For example, Pew Trusts delivers public value from environmental partnerships in several selected priorities.

3.Internal Processes The cost and quality of internal processes are ripe areas for review because these can be directly influenced by capable managers. We know the overall enterprise performance is deeply connected with routine functions. The maturation or relative sophistication in processes is an important measure. So, for example, in planning: Does rigor, discipline and evidence occur in a standard process and cycle? In addition, capacity as well as productivity are areas to assess against standards, as is the value on-going projects contribute to operations.

4.Talent High performing organizations rely on great talent. Organizational leadership as well as human resource practices vary in quality. Both significantly influence workforce and the workplace. “Best in class” human resource practices focus on talent identification, selection, development and retention. The talent domain raises these and many more questions: What competencies and attributes matter most in our staff? Do we have the right people? Will staff recommend their employer as a great place to work? Do staff attitudes and behaviors contribute to the enterprise goals? How do staff rate each other, themselves, their supervisors? What’s the depth of the management bench? Is the prevailing culture healthy or toxic?

Einstein said: “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” Steering your ship requires the right information at the right time to inform choices. It is why skillful management measures carefully.

-Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

Staking A Claim

March 15, 2011

We need to “move the needle. “ It’s one of the most common clichés used to describe the need to generate change. It might be the best one but there are others, like: “bring home the bacon”, “beat the street”, “go gang-busters.” These translate to “help me show results.” They are about performance. As frequently said but not-so-original or interesting phrases they are often delivered with a tone of slight desperation as people try to validate their work.

Precious Feedback
The private sector learned a long time ago to incorporate metrics in their day-to-day work. Metrics and their use are also a key part of formal training that prepares you for the “world of business.” Sales, price–to-earnings, indexes, customer satisfaction scores, debt ratios, profit margins, projections, and efficiencies are all aspects central to performance in the private sector. They offer both guidance on progress as well as terminal performance ratings. They help us describe current status, aspirations and results. Metrics are essential feedback in operations, acquisitions, mergers and value. This is because they are integral factors in managing.

Many of the debates about the use, skills with and request for metrics in the nonprofit and philanthropic sector are puzzling. It’s vital, for sure, to recognize that social change is not a “controlled” space like a drug trial or cookie factory. In fact, I think the complexities of social change suggest an even greater value for the critical feedback metrics provide in managing and leading. Both evaluative thinking and evaluation are essential to all sectors.

Claims and Cause
While those who declare “move the needle” may not know it… the needle will move. Regardless of their efforts or lack of. Change is constant. There are external and internal dynamics that absolutely will influence the gauge reading or needle status. Frequently, when this phrase is used to inform/define an organization or program’s work, the construct in play is cause. It’s an intention to declare value or stake a claim. Can I declare contribution or attribution, neither or both?

The difference in contribution and attribution are relative proportion of cause. I hit the car when I ran a red light is an example of direct cause. The event is attributed to me. I gave $500 to the $4.8M capital campaign goal deems me a contributor. I am a small part of a big result. When seeking attribution it means particular protocols must be used to determine the portion of effect. It is a high standard.

For example, in determining the influence of a pre-literacy intervention for preschool children we compared children and teachers in Head Start with a Head Start control group. Those with the special intervention and preparation exceeded learning and performance measures many times greater than the control group. This allows the intervention program, with significant confidence, to claim attribution (or direct cause).

Determining contribution is not as difficult and it is more common. The role or sequence of factors in an intervention can be essential to understanding contribution. The strength of a plausible connection allows us to claim contribution. It is a part of cause. Specification of contribution should rely on multiple techniques. Models, plans and other items are useful tools in this determination.

Metrics Application
It is vital that independent and quality assessment occurs to assure credibility. There are big challenges in understanding the use and mis-use of evaluation. Evaluation is most certainly affected by politics. If not high quality, the metrics represented by evaluation can easily be “cover” or marketing. Capable professionals know this is why the field has quality standards. They also can spot shoddy quality, marketing and promotional or “lite” use of evaluation. People have anxiety about metrics because they are useful with accountability.

Individually and in our organizations, we all want to “make a difference.” We want our lives and our organizations to be relevant, have meaning and credibility. Whether the sole cause or a contributor, it’s vital to use metrics to set targets, review progress and determine influence on results. This makes evaluation an essential literacy for anyone managing and leading. The dangers and costs of mishandling are extraordinary. When done well, so is the value.

-Lisa Wyatt Knowlton, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. She is also a W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. Contact her via: lisawk@pwkinc.com.


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