Pretty sure you’ve heard the idiom, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” While workers aren’t like monsters and work, hopefully, isn’t like hell, it’s easy for the well-intended metrics we establish to produce the types of unintended consequences that can make a good idea a bad reality.

Once Upon A Metric…      

A Sales and Marketing team decided that they wanted to prioritize customer focus and satisfaction. They wanted to ensure their clients felt that the team was ultra-available and highly responsive to whatever needs may arise. They instituted a performance metric that stated that to reach a perfect assessment score of 5/5, employees needed to have 300 face-to-face client visits a year to ensure clients were properly serviced AND have updated CRM notes for each. Sounds doable, right? Sounds like a healthy stretch target for a company concerned with providing a superior client experience and a team concerned with being visible to their clients. Everybody wins! But let’s break that down.

300 face-to-face client visits a year. There are 20 working days a month (roughly – with holidays, a little less), and there are 12 months in a year. If an employee were to see a client a day, every day, and never take a holiday, vacation, or sick leave, that’s 240 client visits. So, already, more than one visit a day is required to meet this metric. Oh No!… The call is coming from inside the house! (Gold star if you got the reference – if you didn’t, it’s just a way of stating that the problem is already on top of you, waiting to appear.)

Well, as expected, employees did everything they could to succeed. They scheduled more meetings and met more clients, but they weren’t able to meet the new metric. So, they started logging EVERYTHING as a face-to-face visit. Ran into a client at Starbucks or Panera? That’s a visit. Shared a taxi or a train car with a client? That counts. Passed a client in the hallway? You guessed it. The employees were no longer merely scheduling meetings with clients. They were creating meetings with clients – sometimes showing up to offices unannounced and unexpected. As proof of their scheduling prowess, the employees flooded the CRM with data that showed an uptick in client visits. Still, they didn’t accurately reflect what had occurred – violating, if not the rules of the new metric, certainly the spirit.

The company started getting feedback from the clients on how the new service initiative was working, and it wasn’t what they expected. The clients let management know that they did not feel that the team had become more service-oriented and context-aware. In fact, they were becoming pushy and annoying. The unscheduled visits felt aggressive and became detrimental to the client’s daily business operations. They demanded the company stop sending the representatives altogether.

The employees felt disempowered by the negative feedback and saw no possible way to meet the unmeetable metric. The data was unusable, relationships were damaged, and workers, who were only trying to succeed within the new parameters, realized they couldn’t and became disengaged. The result of this new client outreach effort was the exact opposite effect of its intention. No one was happy.

The Case for Metrics Audits

Metric audits are an examination of the metrics used to measure individual and organizational success. It’s a study of the metric’s original intent, what it was instituted to accomplish, and how it’s being deployed throughout the organization. While everything might not be foreseeable, a metric audit should also endeavor to determine what unintended consequences can arise when a metric and the goal are poorly aligned.

Metrics drive behavior – but are you aware of the behavior you’re driving? Are your metrics accidentally creating the very conditions you are hoping to avoid? Aligning your metrics with your company’s culture and goals is the best way to drive results. Wanting to provide an excellent client experience while maintaining an empowered and motivated workforce is an admirable, achievable goal.

Your organization’s processes and culture can be improved by routinely performing metric audits to guarantee you are driving the behaviors you intended. This way, the road paved with good intentions will lead to profit and growth for your business.

Resource for Conducting an Effective Metric Audit

For information on how to conduct a lever and metric audit, download my metric audit toolkit found on the free resources page here.