Measuring performance measures

May 12, 2015

Though harder to apply and evaluate, assessments of interpersonal skills can promote team performance and increase morale.

I have had a number of discussions lately about how to measure performance. The people I’ve spoken with, both employers and employees, all gravitate toward what I term “hard metrics,” such as billable hours. For project managers, it’s all about meeting the fee budget and schedule, profitability, number of change orders, and the like. For principals, it may be work brought in or deals closed. All of these things are important and, in most cases, fairly easy to measure. But they can also be “gamed,” for example by blaming deviation from targets on someone else or hiding time (i.e., principals or project managers asking team members to put in extraordinary hours without logging time on their timesheets in order to meet the fee available). This most often leads to finger pointing, blame, and resentment. The result is, invariably, bad morale (which I spoke about last month). Various circumstances can lead to poor hard metrics performance. “We just had to have that project, so we went after it with a fee that was too low,” the person who negotiated the deal says. “We knew going in that this was going to be a challenge; you all said you would work hard to tailor the services to meet the fee available, and now you’ve blown through it.” Or the building department goes off on a tangent about a conflict in the code, delaying the project and causing extensive modifications to the drawings to gain approval. The client says, “Your contract calls for a code compliant design. Why should I pay extra?” Somehow these things never quite seem to be appropriately accounted for at bonus and raise time, leading to more finger pointing and blame as to whose fault it was that we didn’t make the profit we’d hoped for. In other words, my poor performance is always someone else’s fault. It’s usually impossible to lay an economic performance failure at a single individual’s doorstep. Besides, our objective should be to recognize that success in our profession is a team effort where, together, we’re all looking at the issues that arise and working to address them. Hard metrics often seem to result in each person trying to move the blame onto someone else’s plate. So, what should we do? While I’m certainly a proponent of keeping hard metrics, I like to use them as a learning tool. What have we done right? What can we learn from our experience to improve our performance in the future? But, when it comes to evaluations that lead to bonuses or raises, I favor a series of soft metrics:
  • Has the person worked collaboratively, taking personal responsibility for helping the team to perform at its highest level?
  • Has an individual reached out to help another team by sharing an area of expertise that the team needed?
  • Has the person acted in such a way as to shine a positive light on the firm with the client, consultants, building officials, contractors, sub-contractors and suppliers? After all, that’s where future repeat and referral work comes from. We can’t just say: “That’s marketing’s responsibility.”
These are much harder characteristics to evaluate. They require that the evaluator has a close working relationship with the person being evaluated. He or she has to care about the individual’s success. That involves being a good coach and counselor along the way, offering advice on how to do the things that will help the person grow as a professional, making the firm stronger and better respected, and our teams more successful. In the end, hard metrics, while required, have the potential to bring about dysfunction, resentment, and blame if used as the only measure of success. They can be antithetical to strong team performance if used in isolation. Soft metrics, while harder to apply and always subject to judgment, are equally, if not more, important in promoting stronger team performance, better utilization of each person’s unique talents, and higher morale. Let me know what other soft metrics you think are important, contribute to the success of your organization, and should be used to evaluate performance. Edward Friedrichs, FAIA, FIIDA, is a Zweig Group consultant and former CEO and president of Gensler. Contact him at

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