Monday, March 25, 2013

Measuring Behaviors, Not Outcomes

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I've written before about the difficulties associated with deciding what to measure in the association environment. Pick a goal you can measure well, and it's unlikely you're aiming high enough. Pick a goal that stretches you, and it's unlikely that you can find a metric that you can measure well or is actually representative of progress towards your goal.

Well, I recently stumbled upon an HBR blog post by Peter Bregman that gave me a new twist on the question. When your deciding what to measure, focus on behaviors not outcomes.

It seems counter-intuitive  I mean, if your goal is to grow membership, for example, then measuring the outcome--how many new members are being recruited, and perhaps offering incentives to the staff that recruits the most of them--seems like the most intuitive thing to do. 

But the Bregman post provides several examples of how such an approach can backfire. Too much emphasis on the outcome, and too little on the desired methods for achieving the outcome, can actually create incentives for behaviors you never imagined or intended. Like an "all recruits are equal" mentality, leading to new members that are less likely to engage and renew the following year. Or perhaps an enterprising staff member who creates phantom members--phony applications with the credit card numbers of existing members--in order to win the bonus you offered for recruiting the most members.

The solution? In this example, don't measure new members joining the organization. Measure the behaviors that lead to the best members joining the organization. Track and reward staff that:

  • Research the marketplace and educate other staff members about trends in the prospect environment.
  • Suggest recruitment strategies for responding positively to those trends.
  • Identify prospects that are best positioned to take advantage of the core programs and services the association offers.
  • Engage these prospects in a dialogue about their needs and how the association can help address them.

None of these behaviors are guaranteed to result in more members joining your organization--but it seems extremely likely that they will help contribute to that objective. And if not these, then try again with another set of behaviors that experience shows are better aligned with bringing high-quality members into the association.

The larger point is to measure the behaviors that lead to the intended outcome instead of the outcome itself. It forces an examination of the behaviors that are desired and effective, and creates a reward system that is more closely aligned with activities that are actually under the control of the association and its staff.

This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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