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"Who said busy is better": how to make measurements work

28th Jun 2007
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By Alison Bond, ABA Research, Halo Works Ltd

“What gets measured gets done, so why measure what you have done, instead measure the relationships and the benefits you create.”

One of the agreements I had with my husband when we got married ten years ago was that we were not going to do 'busy'. What this meant in practice was giving up watching soap operas on TV, not worrying about what we 'should' be doing and think more about what we wanted to do. What we were aiming for was to feel the benefits of life rather than the burdens. It worked really well, (smart readers here will notice the use of the past tense here) but life sort of got in the way. We moved to a bigger house, had a family and our business changed and developed. What was required was a radical shift back to the mantra of 'lets get better not busier' - but how to do this?

In theory we are in the perfect position to make this shift as we have developed a way to help organisations and businesses make just this shift, and have been doing this with them over the last four years. This includes some big, blue chip names, as well as smaller, dynamic companies and numerous public sector bodies. So what do we do and why?

"I had seen first hand how measures were being used to conduct command and control management of groups of people who had not signed up to that type of environment and whose service was far from enhanced by it."

Having spent years working in measurement and spouting the normal mantras of 'what gets measured gets done' I started to doubt the effectiveness of what was being done with measures. I had seen first hand how measures were being used to conduct command and control management of groups of people who had not signed up to that type of environment and whose service was far from enhanced by it. The service being offered by people managed like this became systemised depersonalised and, frankly, rubbish. The organisations using this type of management found that loyalty from both staff and users was diminishing and just to stand still they were having to outsource to unsuitable places to fill the roles which were turning over.

The method we devised was called 'Halo'. We found that if an organisation measures transactions, that is the things which it does, then it gets busier. This is because organisations follow their measures, that’s why they have those measures. What was required however was an understanding of what organisations needed to measure in order make them better, and therefore deliver the benefits which people thought they had asked for or bought. This led to the very logical conclusion that what should be measured is benefits. If an organisation went in the direction of its measures and we were measuring benefits then surely it should get better. The reason we called it Halo was because these are the measures which light the way to pull people to an organisation. We call the logical measures in an organisation 'head' measures and the benefit measures 'Halo' measures.

Busy is not better

The last four years have meant hours of painstaking work, picking over the metrics organisations have, looking at the direction those are driving them to, and reworking them to send them in the direction they want to go. We spend time finding out why people work there, what they do which they feel gets them to where they want to be, and what just makes them busy. No prizes for guessing that most people feel they spend too long on admin and not enough with customers. We also talk to customers about the things they want from their suppliers; the real benefits they need delivered to enhance their life.

Do you know, for example what makes most customers feel more comfortable about their pensions provider? It is being able to talk to someone, as this makes them feel secure. No surprise then, that the off shore call centres are so unpopular in this sector, with customers. The reason the suppliers like them is that they are able to hit their 'busy' targets more quickly. The trouble is, busy is not better.

"No prizes for guessing that most people feel they spend too long on admin and not enough with customers."

So after all this work looking at what it is important to measure, what have we discovered and how can this be used to help organisations and businesses? To make this simpler I have come up with a three point plan which can be used anywhere. In a team, in a business, in a partnership or even a huge, enormous conglomerate. It works because it is simple, the reason it won’t work everywhere is because it requires something to be given up, and that is the idea that measures can be used to control people. They can’t. It was an illusion that they could be used in this way. What would be wonderful in 2007 is to see more organisations give up the idea of command and control and move to a Halo approach; this involves trust and integrity as core values.

So the three point plan:

1. Be clear about the benefits, which people think they are getting from you and your organisation. Understand it, articulate it, write it down and have it top of mind. This means talking to those around you and who subscribe to your service in any way and properly knowing what those benefits are and how they are expected to be delivered. If you are an outsourcer who does the grunt work for a more glamorous business, then remember that your business is no less important than theirs, your people are just as good, it’s just that they don’t need the glamour tag to make them feel good. Don’t aim to be as glamorous as they are, the benefit they get from you is not the glamour; it’s the reliable work you do for them in order to make them appear glamorous.

2. Measure in the benefit space, not just the transactional one. For example, if your users or customers are looking to you to help their feeling of security, measure this and be guided on this feedback. Use transactional measures but only where they are aligned to your benefits ones. This means not worrying too much about speed if it means you are going to compromise the feeling of security. There are some key benefits which fit across most organisations, because human beings want mainly the same things.

This is where benefits measures differ from transactional ones. Transactionally, all organisations are different, benefit-wise they are very similar. The key benefits people are looking for are real integrity, security – driven by a feeling that there are suitable systems in place but with flexibility - and enthusiasm, a feeling of being alive and cheerful, communication, optimism and positivity.

3. Understand the impact you and your organisation have. Get the scale right. If you are a huge organisation that touches every part of the population on a regular basis measuring small will make you irresponsible. If you are small but are measuring big, you may achieve great things, but you will also be overly bothered about things which you can do very little about which will make it difficult to get to where you need to be.

There is a saying - “what other people think of you is none of your business”. Clearly this was not written by a market researcher, but it is worth remembering. No one else is on the same path as you. They do not know the full extent of what you are trying to achieve and therefore listen to what other people have to say about you and your objectives but realise that what they think of you personally is their own business and need not concern you. What this means on measurement is not to measure too much in the 'personality' space. Who cares if people think you are a lean, green, fighting machine when what you do is provide components for large machines. Keep it relevant and stick with measures which support this knowledge.

So that’s the three-point plan. Now how can I use it to make sure the next ten years of marriage go with the original plan of the benefits of life not the busy burdens? Firstly, we need to be the people we married, cheerful supportive and outgoing. Secondly, we need to make sure the holiday quotient stays up, with enough time spent pootling around and doing what we enjoy to be inspired with life and its blessings. Finally, we need to remember that we wear lots of hats. We need to support each other, being reasonable parents (don’t want to aim too high here, who knows what a good parent is anyway?) excellent suppliers to our clients and inspiring associates to those we work with. Also along the way we also need to get out there, meet people, contribute and have a jolly good laugh. There is no need for soap operas.

Alison Bond has 20 years market research experience. She is a director of ABA Research Ltd, the company she started in 1994, and of The Halo Works Ltd a new business offering a low cost online tool to enable organisations to deploy Halo Measures. Alison is also the author of Direct Hit, the textbook on direct marketing, and the Definitive Handbook of Direct and Interactive Marketing. Her latest book is on consumer insight and was commissioned by the Market Research Society and published in 2005.

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