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"You Get What You Inspect, Not What You Expect"

Office_3 Rallyfan of Random Thoughts on Life and Work is in the middle of a big process mapping project, looking at what his organization does, who's doing it and why. They've started to get back the results of some of their surveys and to his dismay (although not surprise), they are finding that a lot of paper is being pushed and not everyone is clear about why that is. He writes:

"When an organization trends towards a top-down management style, reporting becomes part of the machinery.  Often (I am willing give the benefit of the doubt a little bit anyway) the initial thoughts behind the performance reporting are valid.  Management should be reviewing certain pictures of what is occuring within the organization and the performance of its various programs.  As the saying goes, “You get what you inspect not what you expect.”

Over time, these trends become ingrained in the staff that are required to provide the information.  And before long, as staff turnover occurs, the original reason for tracking a particular facet of the organization is lost.  A systematic review of all reporting, measurement, and tracking activities should be engaged in by the organization.  The overriding question however is not “What are we measuring?” but “Why are we measuring that?”  This is where many organizations get lost.

Statistics junkies like myself like to manipulate numbers.

  • How many donors called last month?
  • How many donors called the same month last year?
  • How many donation challenges did we have this month?
  • How many gifts over $100 did we receive last year?
  • How many donors did we lose last year?
  • How many donors did we gain from this activity?

The list is of course endless.  Here is the loaded question - How much of it is pointless?"

What a great question. As Rallyfan points out, if you're not going to DO something with the information, don't put your staff through the pain of collecting it.

Several years ago I was doing some work with a large government agency. Whenever they were ending their relationship with a client, they would do an exit interview, including a customer satisfaction survey. Unfortunately, once completed by the case manager, the customer satisfaction survey went into the client's file and then into the bowels of the agency's filing system, never to be seen again. It was a pointless piece of paper that added a good 15 minutes to each client exit interview and did nothing to change what the agency was doing. 

Since that time I've process mapped functions for several organizations and we always find tons of data that's being collected but no one knows why and nothing is being done with it. Worse, data that they should be collecting isn't being gathered and staff are unable to find the time to provide services because they're busy filling out forms that no one looks at anyway. It's a frustrating cycle for everyone, but one that could be stopped if we took the time now and then to re-examine our processes and get rid of what is no longer necessary or working.

In a later post I'm going to share some tips on process mapping, as well as some tools you can use to more easily manage and visualize the information you're getting. For now, think about the last time you looked at your processes and consider how you might be able to improve what you do by taking the time to document and re-configure your practices.


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Great picture to go with this post. Thanks for the reference in your blog. This process is turning out to be real interesting. It is satisfying to read the insight that so many of the staff have. Now it is time to take advantage of that insight and streamline our processes. Maybe we can keep from adding new staff this year.

Stay tuned. There is more to come.

Keep up the good work.

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