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Article # 0049
METRICS FOR THE UNMEASURABLE
(Measuring Staff Performance)
R.L. LANGLEY, P.E.
Sometime during his/her career, an engineer will likely lead a technical or other type staff group that provides services for the organization. Accompanying that is the often dreaded annual performance review process. The main source of the angst is usually the somewhat subjective nature of the process (since it’s usually designed by non technical types) as well as the inherently inexact science (or is it art?) of judging human effort. This paper is an attempt to remove some of that apprehension by providing a methodology that lends objectivity to an inherently subjective process.
The sound engineering principles of (a) gathering pertinent data, (b) setting specifications/requirements, and (c) establishing metrics to gauge performance still apply to this seemingly esoteric area.
Identify the Customers
Work Process 101 for a staff group says the first step involves identifying the customers and the work products required (we’ll talk more on this later). This step answers the basic question, “What is our purpose?”
Identifying the “who” the staff group serves involves answering the following questions:
· Who do we send our reports to?
· Who do we provide advice/consultation to—i.e. who do we receive inquiries from that require our response?
· What other work groups do we work with to achieve the overall mission/vision of the organization?
Identify the Work Products—“Deliverables”
Once the client “who” is defined, then we move to the “what” is required—i.e. what is it specifically that the members of the staff group are required to provide? For a staff group it usually centers on the following:
· Written reports, specifications, technical analyses, plans, design standards, root cause failure analysis, economic optimizations, recommendations, etc.
This can vary from a phone call/e-mail inquiry that requires an expert’s qualified opinion to commissioning a major study for some significant issue or project. Sometimes, “advice” may not necessarily be answering the inquiry if it’s outside the staff group’s purview, but directing the inquirer to another more appropriate resource. You know the saying—“half of knowledge is not necessarily knowing the answer but knowing where to find the answer.”
To effectively produce the expected deliverables, the work group head will usually have to develop and implement annual training/development plans for each work group member so they can develop the required expertise.
Meet with the Customers
The next step for the staff group leader is to schedule workgroup meetings with the clients. Sometimes these can be combined, but to maintain focus, it’s often best to meet with one client group at a time. Generally, the essence of these sessions can be boiled down to discussing the following questions:
Also, while discussing each one of these, solicit from the client group information about how the bulleted work is performed and delivered. What is their perception of how it is done vs. how they believe it should be done? How a service is delivered is very important. One can build the best, most sophisticated, high tech missile in the world, but if the delivery system is substandard, then the entire mission will be compromised. Similarly, one can develop the most accurate, well informed and thorough white paper in the organization on a particular technical subject, but if it’s delivered incorrectly, the results may be lost.
Be careful on the third bullet. Most clients will ask for the moon of a staff group if they think there’s even a chance it’ll be provided. Going in to the session, be well aware of the scope of the workgroup’s services and what’s required to support the overall organizational mission. Manage expectations. It’s just as important to know what your staff group is not responsible for as well as what it is charged to provide. It’s counterproductive to have a session and agree to provide everything to everybody if there’s no intention of doing so. It’s not “wrong” for a client to bring up desired services that may be outside this staff group’s scope, but those should be “parked” and documented as being passed on for follow-up by another group.
Also, beware of pet projects, hidden agendas and organizational dynamics going into these sessions. The staff group leader needs to be aware of the big picture before conducting these meetings, including the history/evolution of his/her own workgroup and how it got to be where it is today.
On the second bullet, delve into the priority items and how the client would like to see the deliverable improved. Sometimes, they may not even know, and you may have to help them along or resolve to make improvement attempts and see where it goes….it’s frustrating to an engineer, but the truth is (particularly with upper management) sometimes it’s like “…I’m not sure I know what it is I’m asking for, but I will know when you achieve it.”
Without being autocratic, it’s important for the leader to stick to the workgroup’s scope, purpose and function in the organization, prioritize the deliverable items so as not to feel overwhelmed by it all and not get diverted down endless superfluous “rabbit trails” trying to solve world hunger type issues for the organization. Again, manage expectations.
Begin to Establish the Metrics
While conducting the workgroup meeting and identifying the how/what of required deliverables, it’s a good time for each area to get the client’s input on:
This establishes the low, medium, and high end for the metrics. The staff group can fill in any needed details (see below).
Establishing Performance Standards
It’s now time to meet internally with the staff workgroup, followed by individual meetings with staff members establish detailed performance standards for each position. Generally, for a staff group, the generic performance areas will be in the following categories:
There may be several performance parameters within each category. For purposes of this discussion, let’s pick one “what” and one “how” type performance area and detail one performance parameter in each.
Getting down to Details
Performance Area: Thoroughness
Evaluation Parameter: Properly Frames and Identifies the Key Issues and scope of the project before commencing work.
Remember the client meeting exercise? This is one of the parameters they suggested. Also they identified and described performance markers for this parameter as follows:
(1) Unacceptable: Minimal, nonexistent or superficial discussions with customer to really understand the problem. Accepts apparent issues as real issues without delving sufficiently into the matter or conducting an effective root cause analysis. May have formed conclusions before work is started. Interprets off the cuff comments or anecdotal information as facts and valid key issues.
(3) Acceptable/Adequate: Works diligently with customers to identify the principal key issues. Capably applies experience and knowledge in a value added, open minded way.
(5) Excellent: Leaves no stone unturned. Conducts very effective root cause analysis. Separates fact from fiction quickly. Listens well to all customers and establishes good rapport at the outset to understand every aspect of the key issues and all the “big picture” implications thereof. Quickly develops comprehensive, “on target” key issues identification statement with client concurrence before starting. Has a work process orientation vs. project mind set.
Although one can work within three performance increment metrics, experience indicates this doesn’t give enough calibration between “good” and “bad” performance. Therefore, it’s suggested that an additional 2 performance levels are indicated between these three. The staff group can self define these at this point. In this case
descriptions are as follows:
(2) Needs Improvement: Doesn’t base premise of project on just superficial, apparent or east to obtain information. Performs basic root cause analysis. However, sometimes misses key points and could work closer with customers in identifying true key issues.
(4) Exceeds Expectations: Engaged with key stakeholder/customers and obtains meaningful information. Generally, has the ability to objectively analyze and formulate into actionable, concise statement of key issues. Any shortcomings lie mainly in experience, unfamiliarity with the work processes being reviewed or overall organizational functional knowledge.
Other parameters for the “Thoroughness” performance parameter could be (a) research and data collection, and (b)analysis, conclusions, recommendations.
Let’s move to a “how” performance area . We’ll take Interpersonal Skills, which can include several parameters ….professionalism, responsiveness to others, team player attitudes.
Performance Area: Interpersonal Skills
(1) Unacceptable: Abrasive, rude and condescending “know it all”. Overly impatient. Quick to drop names or pull rank for selfish ends. Doesn’t seek or see the importance of dialogue or discussion of others’ ideas. Makes it known that results are more important than people and their “feelings”. Is not above shading the truth or leaving out important information to guide to a predetermined result. Known as a “hidden agenda” type person. Not very open--often intentionally mysterious and secretive.
(2) Needs Improvement: May be disrespectful or impatient with others at times, especially if things not going his/her way. Occasionally pulls rank, name drops or is too officious in dealing with others. Doesn’t show enough regard for others’ ideas and input. Will subvert relationships in driving to a result.
(3) Acceptable: Generally respectful, polite, businesslike and considerate of others. Usually values input of others and evaluates it objectively. Seldom name drops or pulls rank to obtain a result or meet a deadline. Modus operandi is to speak the truth and operate “up front”.
(4) Exceeds Expectations: A person of integrity and honesty. Seldom competes for attention or is officious. Objective and businesslike, but not cold toward others. Receptive and fosters good group dynamics. May have biases, but is generally willing to subvert those in being open to new ideas or approaches. Results driven, but not at the expense of relationships. Looks at the longer term “big picture” in relationships.
(5) Excellent: Exhibits utmost integrity in all situations and relationships—both inside and external to the company. Seeks and acts on qualified input. Goes to extra lengths in a genuine way in his/her concern for others. Does the right thing even when no one is looking. Works by the principles (a) do the right thing, (b) do the best you can, and (c) treat others as you think they want to be treated.
Applying engineering principles to an inherently subjective area such as measuring staff group performance can bring tangible, quantifiable results in setting and measuring both group and individual performance. However, it should not be turned into a solely “numbers game” or it will often miss the mark of cooperative continuous improvement supporting the organizational mission/vision.
Measuring the Unmeasurable (A Process to Measure Performance of a Staff Work Group (Chevron Corporation-1992; not copyrighted). Author provided resources resulting in this work.
Robert (Bob) Langley, P.E. holds a
B.S. Degree in Chemical
Engineering from the
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