Three habits that evidence-based leaders master

by Stacey Barr15 Jul 2016
Evidence-based leadership is not about how to lead. It’s about what to lead.

It’s not about how to communicate or inspire or direct or engage. It’s about using all this to lead the organisation to fulfil its reason for being, make the difference it exists to make, and do this with excellence.

How an organisation performs is evidenced by what it achieves, not by the work it does. To know what results an organisation is achieving, those results must be measured.

Performance measures are evidence of how well we’re achieving results.

Without good performance measures, we have no evidence. With no evidence, we can’t know. If we can’t know, we’re guessing. Evidence-based leaders don’t guess.

There are three habits that separate evidence-based leaders – leaders of successful organisations – from the rest. These three habits are the foundation of how to inspire an organisation to perform with excellence.

Habit 1: Direction is about articulating a measurable strategy.

To be measurable in a meaningful way, a strategy must be results-oriented, understandable to everyone, and ruthlessly prioritised. Then people feel compelled to make it reality. The three most important principles of this first habit are:

Results, not actions. Strategic goals need to be results-oriented, not action-oriented. That’s what it means to perform: to produce results. The actions we take are a means to an end. Actions aren’t goals. Results are.

No weasel words. Strategic goals need to be understood before people can buy in to them. Management jargon, buzzwords and weasel words must go. They create confusion and cynicism, not conviction.

Be ruthless. Strategic goals have to be ruthlessly prioritised to focus on what matters most, right now. Often, strategy is far too operational, and reads more like a business model. The more goals we have, the fewer we’ll achieve.

Habit 2: Evidence is about setting meaningful performance measures for each strategic goal.

Surprisingly, just about every strategic goal that matters can be made measurable in a meaningful way. The most meaningful measures are quantitative, evidence of goals, and focused on improvement. Three important principles for this second habit are:

Measures quantify evidence. The only way we can know that a goal is happening is to observe it. Like Sherlock Holmes looking for clues, we must look for convincing evidence of our intended results. Quantifying this evidence gives us direct measures of those results.

Measure what matters. Lots of stuff can be measured, and too much usually is. We need to narrow down our measures to evidence only what matters most. And what matters most, right now, is articulated in the organisation’s strategic direction.

Learning, not judging. The biggest fear people have about performance measures is that they will be used to judge them. Measures are powerful only when they are tools in people’s hands, not rods for their backs. 

Habit 3: Execution is about getting the corporate strategy implemented and the strategic goals achieved.

The best strategy execution, that produces the highest return, uses the leverage of continuous improvement of business processes. It’s not about ‘bolting on’ new capability, it’s about un-constraining what’s there. The third habit is based on these principles:

Leverage, not force. Strategy execution is not about working harder, it’s about working smarter. It’s about liberating latent performance capability constrained by organisation’s policies, processes and systems.

Patterns, not points. Execution is not about hitting the numbers, it’s about reducing variability. Chasing quotas encourages tampering and gaming, and performance usually gets worse. Understanding variation, and managing it, brings lasting improvement.

Processes, not people. Improving performance is not about managing people, it’s about improving processes. People are constrained by policies, processes and politics. To expect people to perform better in a poor process is harassment. It’s the processes that need to perform.

These habits and their principles might sound logical and obvious. And they are. But how well are they practiced?
 
Stacey Barr is a specialist in business performance measurement and KPIs, and the author of the book ‘Practical Performance Measurement: Using the PuMP Blueprint for Fast, Easy, and Engaging KPIs’. For more, visit www.staceybarr.com.
 

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