Updated: Mar 23
As the pace of business accelerates and hybrid work becomes the standard, technology and analytics become more critical.
If a company's success depends strictly on analytics that reflects processes, not how these processes affect people and outcomes, that company will suffer in the long run. This was the case at an ISP where my engineering team provided tier-three technical support. We were under intense pressure to resolve more customer tickets, shorten their resolution time, and boost customer kudos even if it negatively affected our ability to provide quality service. And it did.
Managers are usually taught how to manage time, tasks, and priorities. As a former network engineer, most managers told my team what to do, when to do it, and often how to do it, as if we were drones – no listening, no choices, no feedback, and no questions. Get to it!
Desperate to meet metrics, managers hustled to resolve customer escalations, spent most of the day yelling at our team to work faster, and fought with the provisioning department, insisting that tickets generated from system configurations newly put into production were their responsibility.
Employee Abuse: in the name of numbers
Over the years, I saw burned-out managers hover over employees' shoulders, speak to them in a condescending tone, belittle them, and reject or ignore their ideas, concerns, and obstacles. The abuse was nonstop. Forget about employee purpose, meaning or receiving praise for a job well done – it was non-existent.
Employee morale, engagement, commitment, and incentive to perform well plummeted.
I witnessed men tear up and women weep; one person was found huddled under his desk shaking in distress after being reamed out by his manager OVER NUMBERS. At another ISP, most technical engineers worked 14-hour days, ate while typing, and popped anxiety, migraine, and stomach medications from the stress and pressure.
Employees in this toxic environment kept their heads down. They worked feverishly as they watched co-workers who didn't keep their numbers up pack their belongings. No one dared to stop working to say goodbyes to those dismissed. Resignations and termination were common phenomena. But the managers, also under pressure to meet target metrics, were so busy watching numbers, running reports, and handing out termination letters they overlooked their poor leadership and the impact it had on their employees and thus the organization's customers.
Metrics and analytics are powerful; they can lead to efficiency when used appropriately. But how does an employee resolve issues and get customer kudos when they're racing to up the metrics? How does a manager get employee kudos, let alone trust, buy-in, and loyalty, when strong-arming their team to produce top metrics?
When managers focus on metrics, they lose sight of people
Managers at another ISP could not determine why their numbers looked good, yet their customers were irate and experienced high employee and customer churn rates. They would have known why if they were in tune with their employees.
The metrics forced managers to cut corners on treating employees like humans and caused employees to apply Band-Aid fixes instead of finding root causes and optimal customer solutions.
In addition, the metrics they tracked failed to measure repeat customer calls and employee missteps. Repeat customer issues seemed to climb at the same rate as customer resolution, only the problems weren't fully resolved, especially on first contact. Some customers went through three tiers of support and escalation two or more times before the final resolution. So much for customer lifetime value, hence the churn.
If decision-makers put two-and-two together, they would have seen that the support queue was excessively busy because closing tickets took priority over finding ultimate solutions. Meaning if engineers had the time to do the job right the first time, they would have had fewer reoccurring tickets.
In addition, managers could have avoided employee missteps if they had tweaked their success metrics to match the issue's complexity. For instance, customer static route changes take a lot less time than configuring, troubleshooting, and testing Voice over IP Class of Service or access lists on a firewall. Some engineers started their day by grabbing the easier tickets to increase their tally.
Metric pushing also increased unhealthy competition, pitting workers against each other. Since management's concern was with the number of tickets closed without considering if the problem was truly resolved, employee goals followed suit.
The metrics used for KPIs pushed managers to crack the whip on employees, driving numbers up but the quality of service into the ground. Managers also measured annual employee performance by their level of team contribution. Team? What team? If employees took time to help a team member, it would decrease their daily ticket tally. No one felt like a team while getting metric lashings each day. As you would expect, this company lost so many employees and customers its infrastructure was acquired by a competitor within a few years of implementing its metric software.
The type of metrics matter
Today, companies need their managers to drive performance with a human touch and in an ever-more virtual world - that spells people analytics. Piloting software must go beyond seamless systems integration. It needs to be tested and piloted by the people. Decision-makers must involve employees to understand how technology impacts their ability to perform well; part of that is seeking to understand how metrics shift management's focus, priorities, and ability to manage effectively. Anyone can implement a software program to measure data and build KPIs. The problem lies in the ability to measure and analyze what counts. And what counts is how those measurements impact the daily lives, incentives, and relationship dynamics of the people who must interface with the software.
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
– Albert Einstein
While analytics allows for a more holistic picture of performance, organizations still miss the big picture. Managers and developers must find ways to bridge the gaps between data, people, and processes.
Organizations need to understand if the analytic outcomes truly meet the organization's objectives or are merely inflating numbers that look good on paper. In other words, organizations must THINK CAREFULLY ABOUT WHAT IS NOT MEASURED, especially when building KPIs, as they can make or break corporate culture. Organizations need to know how data variables connect to human variables and influence manager and employee behaviors. Once they recognize these relationships, they can better use metrics to predict human behaviors and then use human behaviors to support desired outcomes.
"Do not put your faith in what statistics say until you have carefully considered what they do not say."
- William Whyte Watt, author of "An American Rhetoric."
Companies have long tried to teach managers leadership and people skills. It's not that all managers are emotionally unintelligent.
They, after all, are burned out by the demands of their superiors. Yet, it's often the case that their superiors are not operating on a complete set of metrics, diving headfirst into the analytic rabbit hole.
People Analytics helps managers build relationships that get results
Knowing what metrics to apply and analyze is ever more critical given the nature of virtual work. Metrics are useless when they put processes before people.
The numbers will increase when organizations use metrics to improve employer-employee relationships. People analytics cannot change berating managers, but it can make busy managers less burned out and more mindful by providing insights that help them understand where they are going wrong.
Once managers are in sync with employees, managing time, tasks, and priorities comes with greater ease because they will realize problems exist and address them instead of allowing them to snowball out of control.
Experienced employees don't need micromanagers. They want empathetic leaders who trust their judgment and are in touch with their goals, obstacles, and day-to-day reality. And they need leaders who see the whole picture, have a plan to improve inefficient processes and aren't afraid to stand up to their superiors and say, "The million-dollar performance analytics are failing to meet our core objectives. We must focus on people, how our processes affect them, and their performance."
In the end, quality beats quantity
With each passing year, organizations expect managers to generate more revenue and create more value for customers than the previous year. This is especially true of companies in the technology sector, which has a reputation for moving quickly.
What's working? What's not? It's essential to find out by evaluating key metrics and their influence on managers and employees. If metrics are too narrow and cause managers to work toward them but away from their workers, you won't achieve the desired results. Frustrated and burned-out managers driven to improve numbers and not relationships cannot lead people effectively.
"You will always do better if you ignore the information you don't understand that if you try to act based on it."
- Richard S. Wurman, co-founder of TED conferences
Organizations run into trouble this way. They're often tracking metrics that don't actually help them understand how their business, on the whole, is performing and are often blind to the fact that the metrics themselves are generating leadership performance problems. This oversight makes it difficult to take necessary actions to get managers back on track – putting their entire business at risk.
Companies must measure their metrics' impact on manager performance to understand employee performance and make adjustments before implementing an analytic program solely based on its performance.
Note from the author:
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