Organizational Results: Identify Benchmark Performance

Kendall L. Stewart, M.D.

Once you decide what to measure, you will naturally want to compare your performance with your colleagues and competitors. And you will want to find out how the very best companies in the world are performing on those indicators. Finding and displaying apples-to-apples comparisons can be a challenge. Leaders, fearful that they really don’t measure up, will complain that they can’t find good comparative data, and particularly benchmark performance data. That’s just an excuse. You can always find out how the best organizations are performing. The organizations that are producing exceptional results are usually eager to share them.

1. Make your expectations clear. Don’t let your colleagues off the hook. Find out how the best leaders are performing, even if you have to look outside your own industry. Don’t accept any excuses. Demand benchmark comparative data for every major performance indicator.

2. Participate in a national database. Since every leader who aspires to be successful is interested in measuring performance, an endless number of national performance databases have emerged. These will report your percentile ranking on customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction and physician satisfaction. This makes it easy to know exactly where you stand. It does not make it easy to achieve and sustain exceptional performance, but you can know where you stand.

3. Include benchmark performance on every performance chart. Once the number is there, people will not be able to ignore it. And their competitive juices will kick in. The slackers will lobby hard not to publish world-class performance results because they know that you will then expect them to stop slacking and producing exceptional results instead.

How do you identify benchmark performance in your organization?

Organizational Results: Set Demanding Goals

Kendall L. Stewart, M.D.

Once you focus on results by identifying performance metrics, you will need to set some goals. To your surprise, even your best people will lobby to set goals that are easy to achieve. People want to feel good about themselves as they are. Very few people roll out of bed every day looking forward to working hard. We all want to do only what we want to do and we want it to be easy, fun and quick. And the idea that one’s performance must keep improving year after year is positively annoying to people who have convinced themselves that they are already special.

1. Begin where you are. Set annual goals that are both tough and realistic. Setting the 95th percentile as your target when you are currently functioning at the 10th percentile is ridiculous. Such expectations are not motivating; they are merely discouraging. As you approach top quartile performance, strive for smaller improvements each year. It’s a lot harder to go from the 89th percentile to the 91st percentile than it is to improve from the 38th to the 45th.

2. Use comparative performance to set your goals. If you are producing at the 6th percentile and your competitor is already functioning at the 51st, you will look pretty stupid setting your goal at the 12th percentile.

3. Decide on the level of performance you expect to sustain over time. Most leaders would agree that the organization that is consistently producing results across the company in the 90th percentile (the top 10 percent in the country) is a better organization than one that hits the 99th percentile in one or two areas and is merely average in the rest.

How do you assure that your goals are both demanding and realistic?

Organizational Results: Display Comparative Data

Kendall L. Stewart, M.D.

Reporting individual and organizational performance data is one thing, but finding and publishing comparative data is another thing entirely. I may think that my 95 percent accuracy is just fine until I learn that the rest of my colleagues are averaging 98 percent. It then becomes clear that my own performance is unacceptably poor, that I am the worst performer in the group. Whiny leaders often complain that accurate comparative performance data does not exist or cannot be found, but real leaders neither make nor buy that excuse. You can always find meaningful comparative data. And you must.

1. Demand comparative data. Begin by comparing your individual performance to your colleagues’ performance. Move on to comparing your team’s performance with other similar organizations. Finally, compare your organization’s performance with your competitors. That really satisfies or stings, depending on your relative performance.

2. Emphasize comparative performance. Once you begin reporting comparative performance data, its superiority over individual performance will become obvious. Before you know it, comparative data will be the only metric anyone is interested in.

3. Go public. While this is brutal, it is highly motivating. There is nothing like seeing your comparative performance on the Web for making or ruining your day.

How do you use comparative data in your department?

Organizational Results: Publish Your Results

Kendall L. Stewart, M.D.

When you decide what to measure, publish your results for everyone to see. If your published results don’t make people uncomfortable, you are measuring the wrong things or you have not set your goals high enough. People will be fine with public performance data showing them to be perfect just as they are, but poor comparative performance data stings. Until you make your performance public, you will remain focused not on results but on continuing to do only what you feel like doing. People are strongly inclined to avoid discomfort.

1. When possible, publish some individual data. Such data give individuals a sense of control.

2. Always publish team performance data. This illustrates the most basic truth of organizational life. It is simply not possible to achieve and sustain exceptional results without teamwork.

3. Publish your results on the Internet. There are few better ways for organizations to invite their stakeholders to hold them accountable. This openness helps to create a culture of transparency, ownership and competitive motivation.

How do you publish your organizational results?

Organizational Results: Focus Relentlessly on Results

Kendall L. Stewart, M.D.

This is not nearly as easy as it sounds. Our lives are filled with distractions that tempt us to remove our noses from the unpleasant grindstones that produce results. Crises interrupt. We would much rather manage these anyway. Our colleagues whine, gossip and complain. Someone reads a book or attends a conference and suggests a new management fad. A good leader moves on. A worthless boss digs in. Too much is going on to focus on results. It’s boring. People just want to have fun.

Immersed in this seductive corporate cacophony, real leaders cover their ears and hunker down. They focus themselves. They focus others. Here’s how they do it:

1. Focus yourself first. Don’t fret about the slackers and pot stirrers until you have yourself in hand. Look at whatever piece of paper or screen is in front of you. Write “RESULTS” in big letters at the top of it. That will help you think straight.

2. Refocus yourself several times a day. As you work through your daily schedule, ask yourself what results you want from this meeting. If you must attend a worthless meeting—and they cannot all be avoided—multitask mentally while occasionally making eye contact with the speakers and nodding. Think about results. Your colleagues will be none the wiser.

3. Ask the obvious questions no one else is asking. “What results are we trying to produce here? What is the problem exactly? What are our options? What’s the best option? What will we do next? Who will do it? When will we do it?”

How do you relentlessly focus yourself and others on results?

Organizational Results: Measure Things That Matter

Kendall L. Stewart, M.D.

Everyone wants to achieve great results—so long as the process for producing those results is easy, simple, quick and fun. Predictably, achieving goals that mean something involves more than that. And meaningful performance and outcome indicators are not that easy to find. Most successful leaders invest considerable energy over a period of time in finding and deploying the best indicators.

1. Get a small group of committed and knowledgeable leaders together. At this early stage, there is no point in talking with colleagues who believe measuring performance is a waste of time. Select people who care and who are knowledgeable about the processes involved for this critical first step.

2. Brainstorm a list of possible indicators. Invite your group of diehards to suggest every possible measurement they can. This is not the time to be critical. Just get the ideas flowing.

3. Winnow the list by subjecting each proposed indicator to some hard questions. Will the stakeholders agree that this metric matters? Does the measure involved data you are already collecting or can retrieve reliably without a huge additional investment of time and energy? Are comparative data available? Can the process owners make a difference in this indicator? Will people feel proud when they have achieved the goal?

How do you go about measuring things that matter?

Organizational Results: Begin with Your Ideal Values

Kendall L. Stewart, M.D.

We hate to admit it, but we all conduct our personal and professional lives based, at least in part, on values that do not make us proud. The driving values in our lives are often not excellence, service and teamwork, but conformity, greed and selfishness. While the base human values cannot be entirely eliminated from our lives and organizations, desirable results begin with the identification of our ideal values, those things the best parts of us long to become.

1. Identify the role models in your organization. You know who they are. They are the people who inspire others to be better. They are the folks the slackers and miserable cusses despise. Ask them what values should drive the organization. They will tell you. Listen to them.

2. Rank your values. You can’t focus on everything. Depending on your business, certain values will naturally matter more than others. In health care, for example, few would argue that safety should not be the primary organizational value.

3. Limit the number of your core organizational values. There are an endless number of laudable values you might pursue, but results demand a sustained focus. Human beings can only focus on a limited number of things at one time.

What ideal values drive your personal and organizational results?

Organizational Results: Decide on the Results You Want

Kendall L. Stewart, M.D.

The possibilities for measurement are endless. Since we all want to succeed without expending any real effort, your colleagues will initially lobby for easy measures. Then they will argue for measures they can personally control; it’s much harder to persuade others to go along with you to achieve results. Some things are too labor intensive to measure and all metrics can and will be criticized for being inaccurate or misleading.

1. Begin with your core organizational values. Every organization now posts its mission, vision and values on any empty wall. What measures would bring those values to life? If teamwork is one of your core values, how exactly would you measure that? Since there are just so many core values to go around, it is likely that your colleagues and competitors are pursuing similar values. How do they measure their success in conforming to the organizational values they espouse? This approach brings the added value of helping you to identify comparative data, which will aid you in judging your relative performance.

2. Choose measures with some scientific validity. By their nature, measures of employee and customer satisfaction are measures of perception. But standard surveys have advanced to the point that they are highly reliable and predictive given their validated methodologies and the large databases most vendors now maintain.

3. Include some process and some outcome indicators in your balanced scorecard. Exceptional performance on key process indicators will reassure you that you are doing the right things to achieve the outcomes you seek. Outcome indictors reveal whether you are actually delivering the outcomes you intended.

How do you decide on the results you want to achieve?

Organizational Results

Kendall L. Stewart, M.D.

Leaders exist to produce exceptional results. This is a lot harder than it sounds. Leaders tend to avoid discomfort just like everyone else. But sustained, exceptional results always demand an ongoing investment of significant emotional energy that is uncomfortable. At the end of our careers, only half of us will have been above average. Everyone wants to achieve and sustain exceptional results, but few are willing to pay the price.
Most people do not show up to work burning with the passion to produce exceptional results. They want to do what they want to do. They don’t want to do what they don’t want to do. They want to be paid more for it. They want to be told how wonderful they are—particularly when they are not. They don’t want to be uncomfortable. They don’t want to change. They often do not know what to do. When they do, they often would rather not.
In the face of these daunting challenges, successful leaders follow an evidence-based process to achieve and sustain exceptional results. Some of the steps in that process follow:

1. Focus relentlessly on results. Don’t be afraid to be a fanatic. Start every meeting with a pointed discussion about those results that are falling short and why. Keep pressing until you have a credible action plan. Create an energizing discomfort by insisting on specific task lists, individual accountability and timelines.

2. Field the best-possible leadership teams throughout the organization. When we get a job—even a leadership position—we forget the playground reality that players are chosen for the team based on their ability to contribute to the team’s success. In spite of the pain involved, leaders are morally obligated to field the best-possible organizational team.

3. Extrude the net-negative people. All of us have positives and negatives and so long as our positives outweigh our negatives we can make a valuable contribution to our organizations. When we become net-negative though, we poison the atmosphere and distract those who are trying to focus on producing the results we want.
What steps do you take to get results?