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Measurement, competition and the right person for the job

Everyone just loves performance evaluations.

Employees tend to dread them because they’re often a useless exercise of “well, you’re doing ok, here’s your 2% raise, see you in 6 months or a year or whatever”.

Sometimes you’ll hear that you need to improve something, but more often than not you’ll hear nothing specific that you can really bear down on. Back to the treadmill you go, cubicle boy.

While there are exceptions in high-quality (and sometimes, high-pressure) organizations, salespeople with easy-to-measure performance metrics (deals, revenue, etc) often get little in the way of feedback other than a Zig Ziglar book tossed in their direction.

Don’t get me wrong, that’s not a bad thing and it’ll likely help – but it isn’t detailed, high-quality feedback that helps you improve your performance. Quotas aren’t feedback and neither is a serving of Zig, no matter how tasty a morsel of brain food it might be.

Self-employed folks like me get evaluations in a slightly different way: in the form of testimonials or by not having our calls returned, or by something somewhere in between. Not unlike an employee performance review – you almost always know why and to expect what you got.

Don’t be the majority

The majority of folks just don’t get a lot of guidance on what they need to do and specifically how to get there.

Some companies are better at this than others, but most just don’t seem to focus on it. Big mistake, because without specifics, you don’t know much.

You don’t know for sure who the best is, unless you consult your “Seat of the pants” meter – and we all know how accurate that is.

You might think you know because Joe talks about what he does more than Mary or Jerry, but it might turn out that Stefan (who you never see) is really the one putting out the programming that has the fewest bugs, the pottery that has lowest return rate, the timber framing that requires the least amount of shim, the websites that produce the best sales, the brochures that generate the most calls, or whatever.

All of these things are measurable.

If your business isn’t one of the ones I mentioned, there’s something that your employees do that can be measured – and thus, managed (yes, a Druckerism).

You already know what to measure. But you might not be doing it, and you likely aren’t doing it by employee, much less breaking it down by time of day, days since the last day off, days since first leaving for a sick day and so on.

Real world

Let’s make it a little bit harder by making the job a little bit harder to measure.

Imagine that you’re trying to do this measurement at an architecture firm. There’s a lot of highly-subjective work going on there. Seems like it would be hard to measure.

Who makes the best designs? And what does “best” really mean?

Sells the best? Uses the least amount of resources? Burns the least energy when compared to similarly purposed structures?

You have to decide what “best” is because until you do, best is a gut feel.

That’s a terrible way to assess performance, particularly of complex tasks like architecture, engineering and programming, but it isn’t any more attractive for less-complex roles.

Knowing your staff. REALLY knowing them

Without performance measurement of this nature, you might not have an idea who is more productive with high quality work when single family homes vs. commercial structures.

You might not know who does crappy work when they take 1 sick day and hits their normal quality level when they take 2 days. If they happen to perform critical path, possibly life-threatening work on that second day, wouldn’t you want to know?

The really cool thing is that it can completely alter your company’s future by vastly improving the one thing that lots of folks mess up, or at least, don’t do a very good job of.


Every manager has a bad hire story, maybe two.

Trouble is, that’s the part of the iceberg that’s above the water. Avoiding that hire or giving HR and management more tools to make a better hire are what you really need.

Measurement to the rescue.

Aych Arr

Using this same measurement data, your hiring can change – if you want it to.

For example, instead of hiring someone who knows how to competently design 437 different structures (in generic terms, a civil or mechanical engineer), you may just need to find the master of all composite wood beam designs because that’s the weak spot on your team.

You know this because… your measurement data says so.

Even if your composite wood beam expert just retired, you can still look at your measurement data to see which parts of their job should be given to existing staff and what specialties across the entire staff are your company’s weakness.

Either way, you hire for strength in the skills your data indicate – remember, the data illustrates what your existing staff do best.

IT managers and software execs: Imagine if your favorite programming environment could do this. What could you get from a tool that measured development at this level of granularity?

What if you knew who performs task A faster than everyone else, but stinks at performing task B, but you never really figure this out because each person does their own project from beginning to end.

Get to the point, will ya?

You have all this data. As a result, you have better people who are creating better work. If you bid jobs, your performance data will help you produce better bids (we talked about that last week).

And why exactly aren’t you measuring performance?

8 replies on “Measurement, competition and the right person for the job”

We hired so many people and subsequently fired them, or they just stopped showing up, before we figured out that a job description, testing of prospective employees at a temp agency, and regular performance evaluations were crucial to all of our success.
We learned the hard way! After 9 years finally have a great staff, and we still sit down for regular performance reviews based on our job descriptions.

Im so glad to hear that:)

The time and $ that can potentially wasted on hiring the wrong person is huge. Speaking of, remind me the next time we talk to tell you about a strategy I use to filter responses to newspaper / online ads.

I really like this post because I’ve always believed that paying attention to all this data is key in making the right decisions. However, the trouble comes from figuring out how to actively measure the data on a continuous basis. And more importantly, how to combine it in a time efficient manner so that it can be accessed and interpreted efficiently? I think that’s where most managers and business owners have a hard time.


Youve got to find a way to incorporate it into your process. With manual processes that can be difficult, but you can do it. Get buy in by rewarding the right behavior, giving folks the work they are best at (and thus probably like the most) and so many other possibilities – not to mention making your biz stronger, more efficient and as a result, more resilient. Thanks for reading and commenting:)

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