We often make the mistake of thinking that something can only be measurable if we can count it or put it on a graph, especially when it comes to measuring performance.  But measures can be qualitative too, and sometimes if we don’t reach for a qualitative standard we fall into the trap of measuring what can be counted instead of measuring what really counts.

I was reminded of this fact this morning as I watched Chip Conley’s TED talk Measuring What Makes Life Worthwhile.  Conley, a hospitality entrepreneur/speaker/writer, became fascinated with this topic a few years back and flew to Bhutan to explore the Bhutanese king’s insistence on measuring Gross National Happiness (GNH) instead of GDP.  He managed to get a meeting with the Prime Minister, who told him that Bhutan has a GNH vision and planning process based upon four pillars–sustainable development, cultural integrity, ecosystem conservation, and good governance.  Government officials base decisions on eight contributors to well-being and general happiness within these four pillars.

I went to Bhutan myself about 12 years ago, and I still enjoy relating some of the anecdotes that illustrate their focus on happiness.  Bhutan’s capital city, Timphu, boasts of being the only capital city in the world with no traffic light.  They had a traffic light once, but after it was installed the people of Bhutan complained that they missed having personal interaction with the traffic cops who once manned the intersection.  So the king removed the light and put the traffic cops back.

What does this have to do with performance management?  As trainers we all like to talk about the importance of “soft skills” or people skills to leadership effectiveness or team performance.  We know that strong relationships and effective communication make for more engaged employees who perform at a higher level.  But our performance plans and appraisals rarely have measures for these soft skills because it’s too hard to quantify them.

So next time you’re writing a performance plan, consider telling a “Situation-Action-Result” story about observable performance in the area of people skills. For example, your teleworking team leader was faced with a situation in which she needed to create cohesion on a team that usually only met via teleconference, and she did so by allocating time during each call for team members to get to know each other on a personal level and build trust. The result was that team members tended to give each other the benefit of the doubt when things didn’t go well, rather than pointing fingers.  Maybe you can’t put a number to that, but you can specifically describe both the behavior and the result.  You can also make the case for the impact of increasing trust on employee happiness and therefore team performance.  Just because a measure is qualitative rather than quantitative doesn’t mean that it isn’t a measure.  What matters is whether you’re measuring the stuff that matters.

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