Doing Things Right

by Stephen T. Messenger

January 1, 2021

I’ve been a runner now for many years typically hitting the pavement five times a week.  In periods where I run just to say I exercised; I rarely improve. I generally don’t see changes in my performance except preventing atrophy.  I can tell my coworkers I ran to impress them, but my body doesn’t show any increase in speed or endurance.  In this case, I am certainly doing the right thing by exercising, yet failing to show improvement.  However, in other periods in my life I deliberately place myself on a running plan.  The internet is flooded with the “Ultimate 5K Plan” or the “Runner’s Guide to a Half Marathon.”  When I follow a plan, my body improves, and I can visibly see my endurance, speed, or both increase week after week.  My purposeful intentions generate positive effects.  In this case, demonstrating improvement over time proves that I’m doing things right.

The military calls these metrics “measures of performance” or doing the right things and “measures of effectiveness” or doing things right.  Ideally, both measures are one and the same.  However, when they fail to align, leaders suffer unintended consequences such as stagnation, disgruntled workforce, or in my case, logging miles without getting any faster or in better shape.  Leaders must understand that the decisions and actions they make generate effects, both positive and negative.  Limited effects equate to limited success.

The Army defines a measure of performance as a way “to assess friendly actions that is tied to measuring task accomplishment.”[i]  The military is notorious for assigning mandatory training in a number of different areas.  For example, summer safety, human trafficking, and cyber security awareness classes are annual requirements.  Many of these classes are online and can be clicked through quite easily with limited knowledge retention.  Some do not require more than an acknowledgement that the information was viewed.  I would argue that a unit can have one hundred percent of its summer safety training completed without some members of the team improving their safety skills in preventing sunburn this year.  A unit’s achievement metrics may look good, but it’s hard to tell if they are any safer than before the training.  

The Army goes on to define a measure of effectiveness as a way “to assess changes in system behavior, capability, or operational environment that is tied to measuring the attainment of an end state, achievement of an objective, or creation of an effect.”  In laymen’s terms, it is a way to see if positive change is occurring.  Taking the previous example, measuring how many people were sunburned after training and comparing it to last year’s statistics could give you an indication of if the task accomplishment leads to benefits for your team.  In a more serious example, conducting meaningful sexual harassment training and seeing a rise in profound conversations outside the training environment will provide an indicator of generating positive effects.

Leaders must be careful not to confuse doing the right things with doing things right.  It is easy to stay busy at work.  However, every action must have a purposeful intent to improve the organization.  The intent may be as simple as building one more widget to sell, hence generating money.  This action has a positive effect.  Often times though, organizations perform tasks that have no positive outcome.  We can all remember a meeting we sat through that was entirely pointless.  The lack of planning, information flow, and purpose led the attendees to walk out of the room wondering aloud how they would get their hour back.  Your employees could have used that sixty-minute block brainstorm new ideas, encourage team members, or connect with a nascent business partner.

Leaders need to purposefully use theirs and their team’s time to generate positive effects.  If a meeting isn’t helping the organization, kill it.  When a client arrives that has no intention of purchasing goods, don’t meet him.  That thirty minutes at the gym where you say you went to the gym but really just walked around and looked at other people workout; yeah, stop doing that.  There are so many tasks we do on a daily basis just for the sake of completing a task.  Make sure that for every act you perform, there is goodness and positive effects that help advance your organization.  

[i] Army Doctrine Reference Publication 1-02, Terms and Military Symbols, February, 2015, pg 1-37.

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