Friday 20 April 2018

Effective Performance Measures

Creating an effective performance measure can have a positive, and sometimes dramatic effect. Good measures can:
  • Motivate and inspire people to work towards an important target.
  • Focus attention on what’s important.
  • Identify problems.
In short, a well-designed performance measure can improve your ability to manage a business, project, or task.

A badly designed measure, on the other hand, can:
  • Lead to harmful behaviours (also known as unintended consequences).
  • Have no effect on reaching targets.
  • Give the illusion of progress where no real progress exists. Wheels spin, but forward momentum is non-existent.
In short, a bad measure can cause damage in subtle and invisible ways.

Designing effective performance measures is important; really important. I recently came across a star rating that at first sight had all the hallmarks of a well-designed measure, but on closer inspection was anything but.

It is a rating for teachers – designed to help potential students to choose a new teacher. The star rating is from one to five, and calculated from existing students’ evaluations. After each lesson students are asked to rate their teacher on how well prepared the teacher was for the lesson, how punctual the teacher was, and how happy the student was with the lesson. The calculated result is displayed as a number of stars next to the teacher’s name.

What could be better? This is feedback from the people who are best placed to tell new students what the teacher is like. Well, maybe …

The difficulty is twofold: firstly, the close relationship between teacher and student, and secondly the subjective nature of the rating.

The close relationship means that if the student gives a poor rating, it might hurt the teacher’s feelings, or lead to the student having to explain what was wrong with the lesson. Students are likely to only give bad ratings when a number of lessons have been disappointing, and they have already decided to find another teacher. The close relationship means that only rarely, and in extreme conditions, would students give a poor rating.

The subjective nature of the rating is also problematic. The student might feel good at the end of the lesson, but have actually learned very little. Yes, the teacher was on time, yes, the teacher new their material, but how does a student rate how much they retained? That’s more difficult, and also relies on the student doing their homework and concentrating during the lesson.

As a result, a large number of teachers have a five-star rating, making the rating meaningless. Worse than that, poor teachers believe themselves to be “five-star teachers”, with no incentive to improve.

Yet the star rating system is widely used; often with the same in-built flaws. But could a better measure be designed?

There’s an old saying that actions speak louder than words. So measures that are designed around student loyalty might give better insight into effective teaching, such as measures designed around:
  • The number of active students.
  • Repeat bookings.
  • The length of time a student has worked with a teacher.
  • Students who are working towards an exam, and their exam marks.
These are tougher measures, but might give students a better idea of the quality of teaching.

This is just one example of a measure that looks good on a dashboard, but in reality doesn’t mean a great deal. Unless, of course, your objective is to sell the services of a lot of five-star teachers …

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