Metrics and Empathy

A common objection to the use of metrics goes something like this: "I manage people and not numbers. Won't using metrics cause my team to become Lord of the Flies?" So, maybe that last bit is hyperbolic - but there is a common fear that metrics and empathy don't go together. So, can you have an empathetic workplace that is metrics-driven? It depends on how those metrics are developed and discussed.

Like many things in the workplace, from paid time off to sales goals, metrics can be developed and implemented to build up or tear down. The key ways to ensure your metrics cause strife and suffering are:

  • Hand down the metrics from "on high" and refuse to discuss why you think those metrics are important.
  • Use metrics you read on a book or blog (including this one) because they are the metrics du jour.
  • Pretending that metrics aren't value choices by refusing to acknowledge or explain the tradeoffs of the metric chosen and the underlying strategy and value behind that choice.
  • Fail to include the insights and inputs from those doing the work in what metrics lead to higher quality outputs from the team.

What all of these have in common is a failure to listen to your team. At some point, someone (maybe you) has to make a call about what metric to use. Everyone understands this. Making that call in the echo chamber of management or your head won't promote the sense of ownership needed to bring quality to the level required to delight your customers and stakeholders.

Take a minute to review the metrics you are using today. Ask a member of your team that isn't part of management if they understand the metrics you are using. If the answer is even slight hesitation, evaluate how you can build real, active listening into your metrics creation and implementation.