Are You a “Check the Box” Organization?

Are you a “check-the-box” organization?  The definition of a “check-the-box” organization is one that focuses on completing tasks/activities versus the results that are achieved when the tasks/activities are completed.  You have heard it’s not what you do but how you do it.  I’ve been working with organizations both for-profit and not-for-profit and I’ve seen a push for activity-based measures.  I first noticed this trend in the 90’s when organization started focusing on accountability.  A noble cause but why was it getting limited long-term results.  My initial hypothesis was that management was not inspecting the process but for the most part that was not true.  I found most organizations were doing a good job of inspecting whether the activities were occurring such as “the Monday morning huddles, the end of week wrap-ups, and the conference calls to report the numbers.  The activities were taking place because they were being inspected and measured.  But very little focus was placed on how employees were doing what they were reporting. 

Why has so much emphasis been placed on what was being done versus how it was being done?  The answer is it is easier to measure and inspect activity (what’s) versus the how’s or quality of the activities and the corresponding performance achieved.  The focus many times has been on the number of activities “how many customer profiles did you complete” not on how successful employees were in executing those activities and what resulted “asking the right questions to obtain the right information that will lead to future opportunities to engage the customer in valuable conversations that result in additional sales”.  Often this focus on activities over shadowed if what reps were developing skills that would generate the desired performance results.  Lots of attention on did you do it rather than how did you do it and what were the results. 

In “check-the-box” organizations activity reporting has lead to superficial progress rather than sustainable performance improvement – the old Hawthorn Effect at work.  For a while performance will go up based on the environmental change or the attention people are getting but there is little behavioral change or skill development therefore a lack of long-term performance improvement.  In some of these organizations where activities are measured a phenomenon, named by the employees as the liars’ club, has materialized.  What is meant by this?  Well employees are very quick to understand and provide management with what is measured and inspected; therefore, they report what they think management wants to hear.  So, if you don’t want to be a “check-the-box” organization, get beyond the numbers and activities.  Look for how they are executing and what they are learning and how they are improving rather than only what they are reporting. 

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Check the box