Plenty of work. Rewarding and challenging work. Urgent work. Meanwhile, our lives also carried on, complete with successes and failures and the demands of children and parents and friends. It’s been an unbelievably hectic ten months, and I’m proud that our little company has been able to help so many clients in our first year. More specifically, I’m grateful that we stuck to our first two goals so rigidly.
But what about the third goal? That important goal we set for ourselves in the beginning, which constantly got pushed aside in favor of deadlines and emergencies. Sadly, we fell prey to the oldest trap in performance management: we focused on what was urgent to the exclusion of what was important.
All of this would be a little more forgivable if so much of the year hadn’t been spent counseling our clients to stop doing just that.
It’s one of the biggest hurdles any organization faces when they begin their learning measurement/analytics journey: knowing where to focus. In most cases, organizations start their journey from a place of urgency. They are inundated with issues and inefficiencies, so they gather copious amounts of data, assuming that they will be able to “crunch the numbers” later. They focus on easy-to-gather data and broad, basic metrics. In the end, they exert tons of energy doing urgent work that isn’t designed to yield important results.
Why do they do this? Because “urgency” is easy to define. Urgency is driven by deadlines and emergencies. Urgency is a reactive state; it’s an easy state to achieve. (I’d go so far as to say it’s our natural state as humans.)
But identifying what’s important (particularly if it’s not urgent) is less obvious. In the wake of our own recent epiphanies, let me offer a few tips we’ve learned about how to avoid overlooking what’s important in favor of what’s urgent.
Know what is important to you.
It sounds simple, but you would be amazed how infrequently organizations have defined the behaviors they find important. They know the results they find important, but not the behaviors they’d like to see to accomplish those results. Knowing that “improved sales” are important to your organization is as insightful as knowing that “staying alive” is important to a fulfilling life.
When we’ve asked organizations to define the most important behaviors of their successful salespeople, we’re frequently met with blank stares. Most have never defined the behaviors that are important to them, much less measured them, or designed a strategy around them. The process of identifying impact metrics (the on-the-job performance data) should be an opportunity to truly define the behaviors that your organization values, and should be measuring. If they aren’t measuring anything (don’t worry…many aren’t), this is your opportunity to help the organization define some of its guiding principles – and to stop flailing around wildly and reactively.
Avoid present bias.
If you are used to living in a reactive, urgent culture you get used to reactivity as a solution state. This causes present bias, the tendency to give more weight to immediate payoffs than future, long-term payoffs. But the things that are important (and are often the most impactful) may never become urgent problems for us. As a result, we learn to overlook them. (Our overlooked third goal is the perfect example of that. Nobody ever complained that we weren’t sharing our expertise freely. We didn’t appear to lose any clients because of it. These facts don;t make the goal any less important – just less visible, given our present-biased state.)
Plenty of organizations never measure their most important behaviors because they simply assume everyone is performing them. With no obvious losses or complaints, there’s nothing to react to, so the behavior is overlooked when defining a measurement strategy. And we’re left trying to identify predictive behaviors without any knowledge of the most important, impactful behaviors.
Build your tolerance for proactive thinking.
In a world driven by daily valuations and quarterly reports, thinking about long-term strategies feels like a risky behavior. Even if your organization has been gathering data in hundreds of different “urgent” ways for months, don’t be afraid to start over from scratch with a proactive mindset. The previous two tips will help set the stage for a proactive, insightful strategy, but it will require an intentional commitment – some willpower and self-discipline – to continue the process, instead of ignoring or abandoning it in favor of something “urgent”.If you have any questions or want to discuss this topic (or any topic related to learning measurement) further, please feel free to reach out to me via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or in the comments section below.
And a big thank you to everyone we’ve connected with in the past ten months, and here’s to the desire to follow our own guidance and share more in the coming year!
A.D. Detrick is a strategy and measurement consultant, human capital analytics expert, project manager, instructional designer, and trainer. He's also a self-confessed comic book geek and a believer in using humor and humanity to teach complex concepts.
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