To celebrate our 20th year of business, Mytech is looking back on what we’ve learned over the past two decades.
Metrics are important for every organization to measure its success, but they can often hurt morale or productivity if done improperly. We asked Nate, our Co-Founder and VP of Business Development, to talk about how he and Mytech’s other founders learned to structure metrics that move the organization forward..
Every metric has unintended consequences.
They’re a necessary part of any organization: without them, you’d just be guessing at your organization’s success, and that can lead to making decisions with your gut instead of your data. But metrics often have a reputation as a necessary evil, or worse – an arbitrary number your team has to hit to avoid punishment. Some employees come from traumatic experiences where metrics were used like weapons, or evidence in a trial; others come from environments lacking in directions and clear expectations.
Like many businesses, Mytech originally implemented metrics to track our teams’ progress. We did our best to establish clear expectations that served to motivate instead of terrorize our team members. But just like many businesses on their first iteration of a new process, we didn’t craft our metrics carefully enough…and we didn’t realize the unintended behaviors those metrics would incentivize.
Metrics drive behavior
On our sales team, for example, we wanted to encourage consistent sales performance every quarter, so that’s what we structured for our sales rep metrics: a quarterly dollar amount in new business. Sometimes they couldn’t hit that metric, which was understandable: things happen, for both internal and external reasons. A single underperforming quarter shouldn’t be a death sentence, and we didn’t treat it like one.
But that missed quarterly goal often caused compounding problems. When a sales rep fell short for a quarter, their goals would “reset” for the next quarter. Instead of working to make up that lost ground, they would move on, and work towards hitting their individual quarterly metric instead of the organization’s annual goal.
In a similar vein, we also ran into issues with the service teams’ performance. The support techs’ roles were to solve IT problems for our clients, so that was one of their metrics: how many support tickets they managed to close in a given timeframe. Ideally, this would be a good indicator for the health of the team and the clients’ support experience, because if their support requests were getting closed out frequently, that meant we were solving their problems quickly!
But as time went on, we noticed that some tickets took far too long to be closed out. Something that should have been resolved within half an hour ultimately took three or four hours of work – creating an unacceptable disruption for the client! When we traced these ticket slowdowns back to the source, we found some support techs getting too invested in resolving individual tickets that were too advanced for their training level. They were hesitant to escalate it to another team member with more experience because they wanted to “get the close” – and that hesitancy meant big delays for our clients.
Align your individual metrics with your organizational goals
At first, these examples might have seemed like an employee making a bad-faith effort to achieve personal success at the expense of the team. But when we examined the situations, their behavior made sense. The sales reps had no reason to care about annual goals if they were only judged (and praised) based on quarterly performance. The support techs were judged based on how many tickets they closed – so escalating the ticket to someone with more experience meant “failing” to close it themselves. The metrics weren’t really as fair or encouraging as we wanted them to be.
Like I said, every metric has unintended consequences. We’d created these metrics that were supposed to align with both individual and organizational goals, but we fell short on matching them closely enough. Our team members were making an earnest effort, but our metrics were exerting a contradictory pressure on them, and pushing their work off course – even when they did everything right!
To fix this, we had to develop more comprehensive metrics that actually matched the desired behavior: if the metrics deviated from that desired behavior, even in small ways, they could cause unnecessary confusion and conflict. So we had to look beyond the top-level goals for each role, and account for all of the particulars that might subtly skew the priorities of the role.
For the sales team, we kept the quarterly metric but also included an annual measurement, to share the focus between quarterly consistency and annual achievement – plus, we included a “catch up” mechanism that encouraged sales reps to keep pushing for success, both during and after a rough quarter.
For the support techs, we stopped measuring the “tickets closed” metric on an individual basis, and started measuring it team-wide. This way, we were still tracking the rate of resolution for client problems, but now techs were incentivized to escalate right away if they knew a task would require a skillset they didn’t possess! In both cases, we saw improvements in morale and behavior, as our team members felt supported and aligned with the company’s goals.
Keeping metrics as painless as possible
One last mini-lesson: as we iterated our metrics to solve these challenges, we found another, smaller way they can distract from your team’s important work – they can waste a lot of time gathering their metrics! It’s good to have data about the work your team is doing. But sometimes, that information-gathering stage can simply waste your team members’ time, without telling you anything you didn’t already know from the top-level metrics!
Ideally, your team’s metrics should be as automated as possible – like the fuel economy screen on your car, or your phone’s battery life display. With just a single glance, you can determine whether things are going according to plan…or if you’re going to need to make an impromptu adjustment. But it’s important to keep that check-in as non-intrusive as possible!
You wouldn’t bring your car in for a full diagnostic scan every time you fuel up: that’s a waste of everybody’s time. In much the same way, you don’t need to send your team out chasing every single detail for their daily or weekly metrics. It’s good to keep that data available, in case you need to look more closely for a team member who’s struggling. But if their top-line performance metrics have been well-built, that should be all you need to continue coaching and improving a well-performing team member’s work.
Iterate your metrics regularly
Although we found success in these individual changes, this is by no means a static process. In the past few years, we have continued to uncover further misalignments in how Mytech employs metrics, and each discovery prompts a re-evaluation of that team’s metrics and goals. But we now have a much better picture of how to spot those misalignments, and we also have experience devising solutions to them.
This approach has also helped us to talk about metrics more effectively with our team members. Having seen the harm done by miscommunication and fixation on a target number instead of a behavioral goal, we can establish expectations with new team members early in the training process: we are seeking a certain behavior, and if that behavior is executed, the metrics will automatically reflect it. The metric is no longer a focus, it's merely one of numerous indicators about the team member’s performance, the health of the team, and the prospects of the organization as a whole.
Metrics are tricky, and come with a lot of managerial baggage. However, by structuring them carefully to align with both your organization’s goals as well as the team member’s goals, you can set meaningful and motivating expectations that help your team members work – and succeed – as one.