Sidestepping four common mistakes can help social sector organizations save time, money, increase impact and develop successful, action-oriented performance and outcome measures.

One of the most beneficial things an organization can do for their efficiency, effectiveness, revenues and overall impact is to adopt a high-performance measurement culture.  This shift requires organizations to start making decisions using strategic measures which align with the organization’s desired outputs, outcomes, and overall impact.

As highlighted in Impact & Excellence, organizations who have adopted these cultures have significantly higher rates of increased revenues and are witnessing greater change in their communities.  Despite these benefits, only a quarter of government and nonprofit organizations have adopted these cultures.

This inconsistency left me wondering…if these cultures are so good for the sector, why are so few organizations adopting them?  I’ve identified four of the most common mistakes and the strategies to overcome them. These are based on interactions with hundreds of nonprofit and government leaders about the struggle to implement measurement cultures, observing both successful initiatives and ones that never got off the ground.

  1. Overlooking uniqueness in short-term outcomes
  2. Underestimating fear
  3. Devaluing follow-up and action
  4. Unrealistic expectations of change

This four-part blog series will be address each of these four themes.  Together, they suggest ways for social sector leaders to get more from their performance and outcome measurement efforts as these organizations face challenges ranging from increased client demand to the uncertainty of essential funding streams.

Mistake 2. Underestimating Fear

Shifting towards data-driven accountability and performance management systems often require changing the behavior of the leaders as well as line staff.  Although most organizations recognize that this means overcoming resistance to change, too often these organizations are reluctant to address root causes of why leaders act the way they do.  Actions are influenced by thoughts and feelings.  Therefore, to truly fix a behavior, one first must address the underlying thoughts and attitudes related to that behavior.

When funders or organizations start to shift towards using performance and outcome data as an accountability tool, people often feel it is an attack on their current performance.  Thoughts such as “My funder/employer must think I’m not doing a good job if they want to me to start measuring and tracking data” often go through leader’s heads in the initial phases of this work.

When it comes down to why staff do not embrace the change to high-performance measurement cultures, it is fear.

  • Fear of finding out the organization is not creating the impact it wants
  • Fear of setting goals and not achieving them
  • Fear of letting their boss or coworkers down if their performance is not good
  • Fear of others finding out their limitations or weaknesses
  • Fear of becoming irrelevant/less powerful
  • Fear of losing control
  • Fear of the unknown
  • Fear of losing funding
  • Fear of losing their job

Whether conscious or unconscious, the fear of the unknown and having to step outside comfort zones stops people in their tracks.  However, most leaders don’t come out and say, “I don’t want to implement this because I’m afraid of failing”.  Instead, they find other “realities” to help rationalize their fears.  Leaders or employees will use things like time and money as reasons they cannot move forward with implementing a performance and outcomes measurement system. We often see people attack the validity of the tools or question the usefulness of the data to either consciously or unconsciously sabotage a measurement system so they can return to their comfortable status quo.

In one organization, a supervisor told her staff that entering the data into the new tracking tool was optional.  She then came to her leadership team claiming that her staff was overwhelmed, busy, and that the data system was too complicated to participate in the pilot program.  Leadership could have looked at the sparse data in the data system and decided this was evidence of the supervisor’s claims.  This would have ultimately led to the decision to abandon the system, returning to the status quo. Instead, the leadership worked with us to help uncover the root cause of the fear and followed seven steps to help this supervisor and her team overcome their fears.  The result was full compliance and even excitement with the data tracking and management system!

Seven Steps to Help Your Staff Overcome Fear

Although fear is a natural and healthy initial reaction to change in our environment, it is essential that the champions of the transformation to a high-performance measurement culture own their role as coach. This requires them to take seven steps required to minimize employee and stakeholder fear.  Follow these steps to reduce fear and counterproductive behavior.

  1. Acknowledge the change.The first and most important thing to do in the presence of moving to a performance and outcome system is to acknowledge that this will require change.  Be fully transparent of what behaviors and activities might change – both good and bad.  People need to first acknowledge change before they can take steps to accept it, working towards efforts to embracing it.
  1. Acknowledge your own fears. Just as a flight attendant counsels air passengers to put your own oxygen mask on first before assisting someone else, you must face your own fears first before helping others with theirs.  In any change process, staff — even those initiating the change –are likely to have underlying fears.  Make a list of all your fears.  Then, list what steps you would take if that fear came true. This will help minimize your own resistance to change and it will provide you with great talking points when trying to coach others.
  1. Allow others to express their fears. Let your team know it is natural to feel uncomfortable when going through a transition.  Encourage your team to expect and accept their feelings.  Have them reach out to others to share their experiences, reactions, and emotions.  Talking with your team about your own process of overcoming your fears will let them know they are not alone and will provide them with a new way to reframe some of their own concerns.
  1. Communicate.  There is no such thing as “too much communication” during a transition, especially when making the shift to a culture where decisions are made based on performance and outcomes data. Communication must be planned and strategic, and in this case, cannot be passed off to someone else. It is important to focus on the reasons and motivation behind moving towards a high-performance measurement culture and focus on the results that will occur once the new systems are in place.  Use your communication plan to celebrate success and overcome common fears.  Gaps in communication are immediately filled by rumors in times of transitions. These can be damaging to a change management process.
  1. Stay Positive. Fear comes from the image of future negative scenarios in your mind.  It results from how you view change.  Make sure that you are describing the upcoming changes having positive outcomes, not by listing all the things that can go wrong.  Help others overcome their fear by asking them to think of past situations where they had to deal with change and how they successfully navigated it.  This will help others recognize that they have what it takes to get through the change and that things will be better on the other side.
  1. Set realistic expectations. Embrace short-term discomfort for long-term gain.  Think back to a time in your life where you had to make a small or big change – it likely did not feel good at first.  With time, you adjusted.  You and your team have the capacity to transform into a high-performance measurement culture, but know that it will take time. There will likely be pitfalls along the way.
  1. Keep going. Persistence is the key to a successful implementation to a performance and outcome management system. Expect the unexpected, but commit to find solutions to the problems and to keep on going.  When you start down this path, you don’t know what you don’t know.  As you learn more, use this new knowledge to refine and improve on your process.

If you continue to do what you have always done, you will continue to get the same results.  The key to making the transition to a high-performance measurement culture is to keep taking the next best steps. You will be amazed where you will be in six to nine months when you stay positive, set realistic expectations, manage your fears (and those of your team), and keep going. Stay focused on what being able to measure and communicate your impact and value will do for you.  Think of all the new and efficient ways you will be able to make decisions, the greater impact you can have on those you serve, and the ease in which you can save money.

Start the process today!

Are you looking for a painless and efficient process to develop your logic model and to establish your core measures?   Our Quick Start Performance Measurement System is the best solution for you!  In this cost-effective program we do all the hard work while you have all the fun on the road to greater accountability and impact.  Contact us today to schedule a call to explore if this is the best program for you and your organization.