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Show Me the Metrics! 5 Ways to Keep Employees On Target

How Rowmark created a company culture in which hard data unites everyone around common goals.
COLLABORATORS Duane E. Jebbet
Drive employee performance through clear metrics
photo by Steven Harris

Sales are dropping, and you know you need to change your approach. That was the situation facing Duane Jebbett, CEO of Rowmark, a Findlay, Ohio-based manufacturer of sheet plastic. His answer: Create a metrics-driven culture, one where employees would be united around the same goal. “How do you achieve a future goal if you don’t have the metrics to get you there?” he asks.

In an interview, Jebbett offered tips on how to keep people focused on the numbers-based approach.

Adopt a simple slogan. Walk into Rowmark’s offices, and you’ll see William Edward Deming’s famous saying, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure,” stenciled on the walls.

Reinforce metrics in every meeting. “Every morning at 8:00 we have a 10-minute stand up meeting, for every department in the company, to find out where we were from the day before, and what’s happening today. What’s running on our lines, and what customers do we need to give special attention to?” At weekly meetings, Jebbett says, the leadership team reviews key performance indicators to ask themselves, ‘Where are we falling down? What should we celebrate?”

Use lots and lots of visuals. “We do crazy things like have plasma screens throughout our business — they show financials and constantly repeat what the goals are and how we measure up against those goals.”

Solicit employees’ ideas. “As we brought new folks in, we tried to engage them on that, and they brought in great ideas on how to help us improve our metrics and use them for managing. It’s continuous improvement.”

Offer rewards. Rowmark doesn’t just talk about the value of metrics. It pays profit-sharing based on metrics. So management and employees are equally committed to transparency.

Understand the limits to metrics. “People are what makes the difference in a business,” he says. “They’re the most important asset you can have, and yet they’re not on the balance sheet, so the accountants don’t pick them up.” Jebbett’s recruiting reflects this mentality. “We hire first for attitude, and then we teach the skill. There’s a lot of successful people out there with wonderful degrees, but I’d rather have a person with a great attitude, because we can teach them what they need to know for our business.”

How would a metrics-driven culture work for your business? What strategies would you use to create that kind of culture?

#buildmetrics

THE PLUS

If you appreciate Jebbett’s thinking, you’ll also enjoy Hire for Attitude, Train for Skill by Fast Company founder William C. Taylor on the Harvard Business Review blog.

Taylor details how Southwest Airlines, ING Direct USA and a physicians practice in Atlantic City have all benefited from an “attitude over skill” approach.

Rounding out the post is a contrarian comment from a reader named Trudy: “Hiring for personality sometimes = target extroverts who want to hang out after work, versus skilled introverts who get the job done. This is my only problem with personality based hiring is when the aforementioned occurs. This may work in extroverted fields in sales and marketing, but for much of technology and analytical positions, this does not work. The key is the employer needs to know the difference.”

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