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Do Your Measures Make Employees Mad? Or Motivate Them?
Gallup Blog

Do Your Measures Make Employees Mad? Or Motivate Them?

by Mike McDonald
Chart: data points are described in article

Fear. Anxiety. Stress. Anger. Not exactly the emotions we're hoping to invoke in our employees, right?

Not exactly the key to motivational management, anyway.

Unfortunately, those are the emotions many people feel when it's time to discuss their work metrics. Employees dread the idea of their manager reducing them to a number. A number that might be accurate and important but doesn't accurately reflect all they bring to their job.

And no matter the niceties of how it's all delivered, people get defensive and deflated.


"The very act of measuring communicates distrust, power, control and dehumanization." That's what one fellow student said when the topic of performance measurement came up in my Ph.D. class.

He was right. And he was wrong.

He was right because measurement can be dehumanizing. Managers, intentionally or not, end up using measurements negatively in an attempt to motivate people. But it doesn't work. Instead, it makes them fearful, stressed, anxious and mad -- it makes them feel like they're never good enough.

He was wrong because measurement itself does not mandate those effects. And employees want measurement.

Measurement is a positive pillar for developing employees, holding them accountable and giving good, specific recognition -- three performance objectives employees say they need from their manager and organization, according to Gallup's Re-Engineering Performance Management paper.

Measurement is also the key to helping your employees become stars -- the key to helping you create them. Think of any award-winning famous movie star or athlete -- how did they win those titles?

Someone measured their performance. Then recognized them for it. And repeat.

Employees who strongly agree that their manager holds them accountable for their performance are 2.5 times more likely to be engaged in their job, according to Gallup research. And employees who feel adequately recognized are half as likely as those who don't to say they'll quit in the next year.

Measurement used in the right way is motivating.


Measurement used in the wrong way shifts your employees' mentalities away from improving their performance and toward whether you, their manager, is trustworthy and qualified to judge their performance.

I know it's tempting to think you're not making the typical management mistakes that result in anxious employees -- that your measurements must be right if your intentions are good and you give recognition often enough. But there are two clear signs that you're not:

1. Only three in 10 U.S. employees strongly agree that in the last seven days they have received recognition or praise for doing good work.

2. Just one out of five employees strongly agree their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work.

If you measure to motivate, not control, you should have no problem giving meaningful, specific recognition on a regular basis.

There's no way around it. We need to measure performance. But we need fair measurements that truly capture the person, not just the output.

We need ways to use measurement to positively motivate, not to cause heart attacks.

So, how do you know if your measurements are motivating your employees or making them mad? Here are six questions to ask yourself:

1. Do you measure everything? We hope not. Current technology, an emphasis on lean management and other systematic performance approaches provide the ability to deliver metrics on all kinds of measurements. But don't fall into the trap of assuming that just because you can measure something means you should.

2. Can your employees directly influence the work you're measuring? If employees can't connect performance metrics with concrete actions they can take to improve, then toss the metrics. Employees won't accept that a metric is fair if they don't believe they can influence it. Allowing employees to participate in goal setting is a great way to give them some control and ownership of their output.

3. Does what you measure focus on the individual's greatest abilities and contributions? You can create a strong buy-in with a measurement if it aligns with your employees' strengths. Take into account the unique capabilities, responsibilities, expertise, experience and aspirations of each team member -- one size does not fit all, does it?

4. Are your discussions about metrics future-focused and growth-oriented? Managers need to be aware that employees can't change the past, so focusing on past experiences isn't productive without discussing a clear path forward. A "glance back so we can excel moving forward" mentality is important because it allows for both constructive criticism and encouragement.

5. Do metrics come up in your discussions often? Performance metrics tend to feel unfair because they're usually discussed only once a year. A lot can change over the course of a year, even in a few months -- new tasks or projects pop up, or a person's family life may require more attention for a season.

Touching on metrics more frequently reduces fear, enables managers to focus on recent accomplishments and introduces necessary performance corrections before problems become unmanageable.

6. Do your measurements tell a story? Do the numbers you're collecting have an accompanying narrative? Two people may produce the same results according to key performance metrics, but they may have different contextual situations, make a different impact on their colleagues, or hold different value for internal or external customers.

The discussion about your employees' measurements and goals means as much or more than the actual numbers. So, take a focus off the numbers improving, looking instead at what the numbers' improvement means.

Motivate Your Team to Achieve Great Things Through Measurement

Reflecting on the six questions above will allow you to greatly affect the emotional encounters your people have with their measurements. That is not to say that you will find a way for everyone to "measure up" and be a star in their role -- some may not be.

But if you take into account the whole person, whether or not the measurements come back great, you'll both feel satisfied with the outcome. And perhaps on the path to finding another role where a formerly failing individual can excel.

Measurement used in the right way can reduce your employees' negative emotions.

But more importantly, it can help you create a whole team of stars -- people who are motivated to achieve great things, not just prodded to improve a little.

Learn how Gallup can help you motivate your employees through the right measurements and high-performance practices:

Jessica Buono contributed to the writing of this article.


Mike McDonald, Ph.D., is a Senior Workplace Consultant at Gallup.

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