Great Leaders are in the People Business

In the past I have blogged about how performance measurement aids in creating high-performance cultures. But performance measurement should never eclipse an organization’s most powerful asset- people.

Metrics and measures have a funny way of pushing their way into the forefront of a leaders attention, particularly during times when they’re facing economic hardship or increased stress.  Often they hole-up in their office and stare at numbers on their screen thinking that if they just stare hard enough, maybe they’ll move. They retreat and spend less time with their team.

When I see that happening, I encourage leaders to get out of the office and invest in their people first.  I’ve found that when we do that, the numbers will almost always correct themselves.

Performance measurement begins with investment in people.

In his book, The Carolina Way, Dean Smith says that it’s critical to focus on people and process, not on winning. Winning will be the end result. His rational – If

you focus exclusively on winning you’ll take shortcuts and success will not be sustainable.

This was illustrated to me some time ago when I was traveling.

My departing flight was delayed in Grand Rapids resulting in a late arrival in Cleveland. Despite that, I was able to get to the gate of my connecting flight a few minutes early but I was not allowed to board because they had closed the gate doors. So, the airline booked me on another flight.

After I had boarded and, while many on the plane were still putting their bags in the overheads and getting situated, the plane began to back away from the gate. Passengers were surprised and some were angry. In a few short minutes we would watch a video from the CEO of the airline assuring us that we were in good hands because the airline’s top priority was safety – yet here the plane was backing up while people were standing in the aisle with luggage over their head. Fail. I learned later that crews are measured on whether or not they leave the gate on time. As a result, they’ve learned to circumvent this bureaucratic rule by simply backing away from the gate before the designated departure time, whether the plane was ready to or not.

The airline had placed a higher emphasis on measuring departure times than on entrusting their flight crews to make better decisions- decisions that could have a significantly greater impact on the health of their company than arbitrary metrics.  In the eyes of this airline, employees and customers took a seat in coach.

These problems are not just endemic to airlines. Too often businesses place a higher emphasis on numbers than they do on people. That mentality inhibits innovation, drives talent (the “A Player”) away, and eventually it kills customer loyalty.

The next time that you’re considering driving people with numbers, reconsider how driving the numbers with people might change the game altogether for you!