Measuring Performance is Passé

Measuring Performance is Passé

Food for thought article on why we need to move beyond vanity performance metrics and wake up the true leader in us to encourage, empower and enable performance.

What happens when two storytellers meet? Stories get created! Isn’t it simple? That’s exactly what happened when Sahil & I discussed how the rapid changes in the way we work are impacting performance at the workplace. Since time immemorial, performance and productivity have been looked at as processes for measurement and very little has been spoken about the role leaders have to play as enablers. What you will read beyond this point may be real and life-like to many but may even be euphemistic to few who can think with depth. We have come a long way from the cliched ‘work-life balance’ to the new ‘work-life boundaries blurring’.

It’s 4th October, Sunday evening at 5.41 pm an email notification beeps from Aditya’s handphone. Guessing by the urgency and impatience with which his phone jumped, Aditya was sure that it was an email from the operations team reporting the sales figures for September end and also for YTD H1. It has been six long months, a couple of dozen weekends locked at home and finally, Aditya had gathered the courage to step out of his house, take his elderly parents, wife and two-year-old daughter for a long drive.

So far it had been a perfect day, starting with some yummy pizzas, a drive into the hills, beautiful weather, playlists ranging from his parents’ choice, Kishore Kumar to his wife’s favourite Kumar Sanu. He intentionally kept away from his phone as he spent quality time with his family.

Since time immemorial, performance and productivity have been looked at as processes for measurement and very little has been spoken about the role leaders have to play as enablers.

On the return drive to Mumbai, on the outskirts, they hit a bad traffic jam and cars were moving at a snail’s pace, bumper to bumper. Temptation got the better of him and he opened the Pandora’s Box aka his work email! He knew that the lockdown was challenging and yet he had put in a lot of effort along with his team and this email being marked to the company’s leadership would have been the icing on the cake. But as he read the fonts on the screen, he changed suddenly. The calm Aditya became aggressive at the wheel. The hand that would occasionally feel his wife’s flowing tresses became a firm raised hand as though asking her to back off.

Obviously, she was hurt after receiving such treatment, especially after such a beautiful Sunday being spent together. She froze on her seat and watched helplessly as Aditya frantically started calling his teammate. The phone was connected to the car audio system. The phone kept ringing but no response. Aditya didn’t stop, he tried calling the second number and then again the first. This went on for a few minutes. It almost felt like Aditya’s fumes were hotter than the heat and emissions from the car. He tried manoeuvring the vehicle between every single possible gap whether or not he could move an inch forward, whether or not it served any purpose, the agitation was clearly visible on his face.

As a biker couple tried to make their way through the gaps, their mirror collided with Aditya’s car side mirror. This was the tipping point, and Aditya’s wife feared the worst. Fortunately, an incoming call diverted Aditya’s attention and road rage was aborted since his team member was calling back. Aditya chose to prioritise his call over picking a fight with the biker.

No pleasantries, no hello, no how are you, sorry to disturb you on a Sunday, nothing that sounded even remotely human! Aditya took off, 0-100 in six seconds. He howled, “Dude, why are the numbers not reflecting in the report? How can you be so irresponsible? If you can’t manage something as simple as this you don’t deserve to be here, why don’t you take a break and just go on the sidelines? I have had enough of you, listen are you even there! I have been yelling since then and you aren’t even responding!! How can you be so careless!!”.

The gentleman, Anupam at the other side in quite a fearful voice responded meekly, “My brother has been detected with Covid, my sister and her children have been tested and we are awaiting their reports. I was running from pillar to post to get my brother a bed in the hospital”.

Aditya took a pause as if he quite didn’t know what to say next. In a few seconds, he changed again and remarked, “Take care, tell me if you need any help, but tell me whose fault is this, I need to report back to the leadership”.

Anupam on the other hand admitted and said, “I take full responsibility for the error and the numbers not reflecting”.

Aditya cut the call, yes…he just cut the call and not the emotions and the stress that came with it. He continued to speed up and ferried his family home. All the happiness and joy seemed to have vanished. His father sitting on the back seat was tempted to offer some advice but he decided to keep quiet. His mother gathered some courage and started speaking to her husband, “One thing you have loved the most about me and also been equally critical of is my cooking. You have been so finicky from how much salt should be there in the food to how the chicken should be well done”. With one worried eye fixed on his son, the father silently nodded in agreement.

Measuring Performance is Passé-2As Aditya looked through the rear-view mirror, the professional in him wondered how insensitive his parents are to his situation. However, the human in him wanted to continue to listen to the rear seat conversation. The father went on to compliment his wife on how over the years, post her marriage she got a hang of how the food was made in this household and how well she adapted. She smiled. She returned the compliment by thanking him for the days when she came back tired from work and how her husband would help her in cutting the salads or giving the dal a tadka or even agree to take a break and have pav instead when she didn’t feel like making the roti. Aditya heard this conversation and reflected back on his own instance.

  1. Did he communicate the task enough and clearly to Anupam in the first place?
  1. Did Anupam know the importance and significance of this report?
  1. While he had empowered Anupam enough, did he display traits of a leader while having his back?
  1. Could he have been more understanding and empathetic about Anupam’s situation?
  1. Was the conversation he just had with Anupam a fruitful one or something that could have been avoided?
  1. Most importantly, what had he done to his parents, his wife and little daughter?

As he parked his car in the building and carried the empty pizza boxes to be thrown in the trash, he wondered how he would rate himself on performance metrics as a boss, a son, a husband and a father.

Some food for thought for all of us. As leaders, we assume that it is important for us to measure performance. Can we wake up the true leaders in us to encourage, empower and enable performance? 


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