Measurement Category

Just Governance

Measurement, Meetings, Organisations, Teams No Comments

My colleague David Dowe and I were chatting recently.  We got onto thinking about what it takes for an enterprise to be ‘governed’ well and to avoid governing systems going wrong (or at least not work well enough).


There is a wide variety of ways organisations are established and led from owner run SMEs to the largest offices of State. ‘Governance’ is more likely to be explicitly discussed and not just assumed where there are formal structures such as Company Boards with non-executives, Charities with Trustees or campaign Steering Committees.


For many years now, there has been a bit of a fashion for ‘Good Governance’.  What does that mean – and how can it be assured?


In answering this question, we have drawn on our experience of working in all sorts of environments over the last couple of years: from technology accelerators to school systems; professional associations to conservation charities; improvement projects to academic institutions.


So, this is our governance ‘top ten’:

1)   The FRE framework for organisational success brings three fundamental roles for governing groups to mind.  The first part of FRE is thinking of Focus: is the purpose of the organisation shared? Is the strategy clear – is it understood? Has the governing group set out its intentions (and limitations) for the wider staff to work toward and within? Second in the FRE framework is taking Responsibility: do governing boards avoid overstepping the mark and resist micro-managing the executive? The third part of FRE is the Example of senior leaders, including board members or trustees, in setting the cultural tone for an enterprise.  This is a crucial, and often neglected, role of those involved in the governance of an organisation.  The remainder of this checklist probes further into this territory of direction, scope and culture.


2)   Governing groups are often expected to be many things: a sounding board giving advice; maybe providing a sort of litmus test before an idea is rolled out; and frequently a decision-making body too.  It is a heady mix trying to be a critical friend to the executives and part of checks and balances in securing the best decisions and way forward.  It is necessary to be clear on the scope of the governing roles – and to be sure that the governing group has the skills, and more important, the attention and awareness to do the job.  Is the group clear what its primary purposes are? Does it spend time giving an overall direction with an overall strategy?  Does it recruit and support a good CEO and then give them a clear sense of their autonomy and limitations, including how their performance will be reviewed?   How far is the governing group involved in assuring itself that overall goals are being achieved, the finances are secure and the best possible organisational culture is established?


3)   There are many cautionary tales of governing groups failing to take an interest, or get an accurate impression of, organisation culture (for example).  Many boards govern through dashboards and metrics – but organisation leaders can game the measures and Boards find them hard to discern.


4)   The mechanics of governing group meetings can be inefficient with an astonishing amount of managerial time spent preparing for board meetings, reporting, following up issues.  There can be a degree of gaming and a seeming disconnect from the actual business sometimes.


5)   Finding ways to keep in touch with both team delivery and organisation performance without overstepping the line into micro-management is a key balance and challenge for governing groups.  Boards tend to deal in papers and presentations.  It is very hard to really understand what staff are feeling and know whether the CEO is doing a great job or not. Their information often comes from others inside and outside of the organisation which introduces a time lag.  Finding ways for the Board to get early warnings of unrest, confusion and non-attainment are important. Useful indicators can be the experience of interacting with staff who are only occasionally and unexpectedly encountered further into the organisation, spending time out and about and being alert to ‘weak signals’ (e.g. through complaints).


6)   In doing its difficult work, is the governing group willing to have Critical conversations not just around issues of strategy and organisation process but also culture?  For true consensus to emerge important issues need to be named and given sufficient air time on frequently packed agendas.  In shaping the agenda and discussion it is important to recall previous discussions and reports – not just taking ‘matters arising’.  Finding ways to remember previous promises made by the executive and have time to explore and question that productively and collaboratively.


7)   Given these challenges, there are often choices about how to arrange (or, frequently, rearrange) governing systems.  In our experience, there tends to be an over focus on the structural options at the expense of the behavioural.  For example, a committee structure is more likely to be reviewed than the sort of decision making and scrutiny discussions to achieve a real improvement.  There is a sort of ‘Inverse Attention Law’: where the changes that are most needed are less likely to be considered. Using a biological metaphor, sometimes the ‘Anatomy’ (that is, the structure of a board or its sub groups) needs changing, but more often it is the ‘Physiology’ of how the existing parts work together that is crucial.  Getting the governing groups ways of working right is often more necessary than the overall wiring.


8)   The role of the Chair is crucial. There are many high-powered Boards where strong personalities are quite deliberately given a platform to speak as separate voices.  It is possible for the management team to take away different opinions on direction or performance. It is easy for chairs to either let all the voices speak (wishing to be seen as inclusive) or become too dictatorial.   Pulling together a wider ranging debate into a clear corporate line can be difficult to achieve.  This summing up is sometimes avoided to allow personal agendas to be pursued through the ‘smoke and mirrors’ after a meeting.  Chairs are often chosen for their sector knowledge.  However, the key role is to manage a good discussion and lead the development of a strong team (where you can disagree well en route to agreeing a collective line that all are publicly committed to, and where the group holds each other to using the best possible behaviours).


9)   It is possible to invest too much power in the board, council or steering committee.  Sometimes board members are very high powered and sit on lots of governing groups, possibly collecting too many appointments and not having sufficient time to give to their role.  So it can be useful to find other ways to improve the advisory architecture so that checks and balances are in place.  Setting up working groups and advisory groups can be used to show organisations are engaging more widely – but they can run into the many dozen, leading to a lack of consensus or good ideas get lost.


10)   Given all this, what is a useful way forward?  Well quite simply, take time to review how you are doing.  Be prepared to question the “Inverse Attention Law”: the structure might need rejigging and processes rewiring.  However, it is likely that securing the best behaviours will be a key task: achieving the physiology rather than the anatomy.  Do you meet well?  Do you have good conversations?  It might seem a bit prosaic, but reviewing how your meetings go can be a good place to start, using something like this assessment – which can be presented in a variety of ways including as a wheel, and can be tracked over time.  It is a simple first step: governing made easy.


So “Just Governance”?  It is not necessarily simple and straightforward.  And yet it needs to be thought through and fair.  It can then provide amazing value added oversight with a light touch.  Helping the right things to happen, and helping avoid things going wrong.



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To vote or not to vote…or, at least, HOW to vote: Heads, shoulders, knees and toes (well thumbs, fingers, movement and technology)

Measurement, Meetings No Comments

When was the last time you were in a meeting when something was put to the vote? If you work in Government you probably see a lot of voting. Or you might work somewhere where the leader ‘senses’ the group view. Maybe you lead a team where you decide, so don’t really look for a majority view. I have written about voting in a musical context even! In a ‘workshop’ or facilitated meeting voting has a particular usefulness – and can be fun too.

Helping explore the range of opinion in a group is a core facilitation skill. Voting methods help achieve an understanding of where other people are on a particular issue. And, importantly, only rarely is voting used for decision making. However, polling methods can be popular for the life they bring to a meeting – both in terms of the highlighting of certain ideas and the kinaesthetic action that most votes involve (you have to move something for all of them).

Voting is a useful tool to learn how to deploy – and is suitable for groups of any size, though especially for larger groups where the issue of helping individual ‘voice’ is particularly important and where the meaning of silence can’t be assumed (as assent, difference, reflection time etc).

There are three parts to good voting. You might imagine these as a 3 legged stool, that would topple over without all three parts:
1. The crafting of good questions,
2. The choice of an appropriate voting method and
3. Knowing how to get a useful discussion of the results.

This blog is focused mainly on the repertoire of methods (the second part). However, the first part ‘stool’ is important – posing a good questions requires incisive listening to get the topic right and clear communication so what you are checking is understood. Sometimes a group can get lost trying to agree the question to vote on. This might indicate something of the complexity and contentiousness of the issues – or the failure of the facilitator to ‘make it easy’ for the group!

[If you want to know more about crafting a good question have a look here.

The Opportunity of a good questions comes from
a. The right Orientation – as in Heron, are you supporting, challenging, opening up…
b. A clear Purpose – The famous Kipling poem gives some options for how to start a question from why to where, what to who, when to how, (as in ‘how do you do?’). However, sometimes the best first word in a question is ‘given’ or ‘in light of’ etc…such as “Thinking of the ideas presented so far in this blog, what do you rate as your degree of engagement in what you are reading (___/10).”
c. What Power words open up the mind and get the creative juices going: critical, simplest, significant, challenging, relevant…and any other adjectives can be used.
And remember to think through the response format: how far will any question be a few categories (eg in response to a proposal, such as “This day is going well – yes, no, bit of both, no idea”) or pick up a numeric score (“out of 10, 10 being high”).]

The third leg of the ‘stool’ remains important. Even if the question is powerful and useful, and the voting method is engaging and illuminating too, there might be a failure to sufficiently discuss the insights from the results. Alternatively the discussion can go on too long.

So, back to the second leg (or part) of good voting: choosing the right voting method…

Voting is often assumed to be useful in helping a group decide – but most organisations and events are not democracies. Some people’s views matter more than others when it comes to agreeing action (the far right of the decision making diamond). However, in a group session voting can help ‘divine’ the group view. The purpose here is to inform subsequent thinking and discussion. A bit like the Delphi Method, the opinions that are seen more clearly in a vote give members a chance to re-calibrate their opinion.

Voting helps in the exploring. It can be used on ‘process’ issues as well as the content of meeting – eg to test acceptance of any agenda change. For example, using SPOG  you might use a vote to check if some vocal members of the group are representative of the whole.

Voting is useful in helping keep plenary sessions lively, see this.

A number of low-tech methods include:

1. The Traditional: arm up and down (with the possible twist of using two hands or stretching if you REALLY agree).
2. The Bobbing: people standing up and down in response to the question.
3. The Caesar: thumbs up and down – or wavering in the middle.
4. The Goldilocks test: eg too warm, too cold, just right.
5. Giving the finger(s) – showing your score to a question (out of ten, five) with your fingers.
6. The Sticky Strip: dots, thumbs up stickers, arrows, gold stars (NB – you can allocate a fixed number of stickies per person, or allow colleagues to ‘use all they need’) .
7. The Anonymous: hand in a piece of paper on arrival or on the way to the break (to summarise and feedback later on). Other ways to collect these bits of can involve throwing in a screwed up ball to be caught in a bin – or making them into paper planes to come to the front.
8. Balls in buckets: place a ball (or other object, like a rolled up piece of paper or cork) in a receptacle labelled to indicate a particular view.
9. The Poster: getting a sub group to agree their score to a vote on poster – before feeding it back to the whole group.
10. The Human Likert Scale: standing on a line (eg from 1-10 or low to high or Fear to Hope etc).
11. The Run-around (or the Human Histogram) – With places for those giving a particular number to stand (see p24 here).  A version of this is to explore the number of ‘Ayes’ ‘Noes’ and ‘Abstentions’ as per the political division process.
12. The Clap-o-meter: based on the loudest clap (to explore degrees of support from ‘pitiful’ to ‘massively enthusiastic’)
13. The Voting Card: which can be used in a variety of formats and ways. Please let me know if you want some of the idenk cards  f.o.c, or want to know the sorts of ways they can be used – from RAG ( to supporting wonky tables : )

This is probably not a definitive list of lower tech options. I’d be interested in the methods you use and can imagine (such as sitting in certain sections of a room, depending on your opinion; signalling your view with your body language). Some methods favour certain sorts of questions (eg hands up and down for those questions with a few fixed categories, to scales from 1-10 when using fingers or standing on a line).
It is worth noting that most of these are not anonymous. In groups where trust is low, then the insight might be questionable. Also, and more importantly, any method that allows colleagues to see what others think before they declare their result runs the risks of contagion (or groupthink). Asking people to all vote at the same time (when using hands) – or think hard to clarify their thoughts before moving to stick dots or walking standing in a particular place – can help.

Some of the methods require no props, others require some investment and packing in advance (eg voting cards, pre-prepared voting sheets). All voting requires some attention to the necessary ‘kit’ to capture the results and insights – from a camera to pre-prepared slides and spreadsheets to swiftly bring up the results for discussion during the meeting – or to feed back in the record. Even a pen and paper summary of a vote can be interesting when photographed and projected up.

As well as these low tech methods, there are some electronic options too:
14. The e-survey: getting a vote in advance (or on arrival or by going online in breaks). Note it is possible to then repeat these scores in low tech votes (or repeat and capture on review cards too).
15. The xls: getting people to fill in a pre-questionnaire (often an assessment of some sort).
16. Electronic voting: the is a very common method, but regularly used very poorly – with unimaginative questions and insufficient discussion: hence, the stool falls over! Try coming up with provocative questions (such as word association: “I say leadership, you think dictator, where, brilliant, pants…”) with engaging, plain English categories (“I have absolutely no idea” or “I have lost the will to live”).
17. Tweet: counting tweets to specific hash tags – or text numbers
18. The Apps: the more fashionable end of e-voting, such as Poll Daddy.

Beware: these electronic ones can seem attractive (and regularly appeal to leaders who commission events), but tend to cost more and are harder to use ‘in the moment’. They are best used when they can pass the Heineken Test: achieving something no other method can (such as handing complexity, cross tabulation etc).

And note, the GrandDaddy of digital insight Hans Rosling has gone a bit analogue recently, with his plastic boxes. Don’t be afraid to keep it simple with methods that are easier to amend and busk.

So, overall, voting provides a way of engaging head, heart and hands – and doing it in a way that helps a group to move through the ‘Decision Diamond’.

And…which ideas did you find most useful here…vote now…



TripAdvisor…schools…and the NHS

Measurement No Comments

This week has seen lots of coverage on the first published results from the NHS’s ‘Friends and Family’ test.

Some love it and some are critical, and a few others are arguing for more use of free text responses online, like TripAdvisor.

They are in luck for there is already growing promotion and use of free text feedback and response sites online. These range from what feel like the more edited and impersonal contributions on NHS Choices (this, for example), to the less moderated (and moderate) ‘Rate my teachers’, complete with troll like behaviour and comments. Why not have a look at a school and teacher you know?

However, even these sort of resources, that do ape the well-known and industry leading TripAdvisor in some respects, can be hard to decipher. What are they telling us? Even TripAdvisor, with the summary statistics and vast numbers of contributions can be hard to interpret and I notice how I draw different conclusions to my ‘family and friends’ when reading about a hotel…

So, let’s test ourselves…

This is the summary review page from the top scoring hotel in Cambridge. Is the hotel any good?

Well it is top in Cambridge. And the recommendation score is 82%. But, in many places round the world the top ones in any city hit 95% or more. Have a look. Oxford has one at 93%. So, The Varsity isn’t looking that good.

And have a look at the graph….what do you look for? Well, for me, a top scoring hotel (at whatever star rating the hotel is operating at) has a ‘5’ (excellent) bar that accounts for over three quarters of all ratings – with the majority of those left in bar 4 (very good). Again, this top scoring hotel is looking a bit dodgy…

What else do you look for? Well I like the free text responses too, see them here for the Varsity. I expect that for any stay some people have a propensity to rate something well, to justify their choice. And some, when disappointed or upset, flip the other way and give a place a 1 or 2 (terrible and poor) for what appears to be a minor misdemeanour, probably due to buyer’s remorse or dashed high expectations (‘satisfaction is a function of expectation’ we know).

I tend to read the latest 10 or 20 reviews, is the average going up or down? And I also look at most of the mid ranking ones – do people score down a place for things that are not or no longer important to me (e.g the lack of a kids club, indoor pool). Actually, when reading the text there are things about the Varsity that sound good (roof terrace, spa overlooking the river, central location, bar and grill with river view) and frustrations that don’t bother me usually (e.g valet parking, pricey car park) and some that do (value for money, noise).

So if TripAdvisor on hotels can be hard to interpret, what about health care? We have written about this a bit last year and in 2008 toward the end of this Business Briefing. Taking some of the logic from my approach to Trip Advisor, I wrote this in 2008 explaining why I thought patient satisfaction with anything less than scores of 90% was misplaced. I repeat it here, what do you think?
“Our ‘five-fold discount’ hypothesis contends that for five reasons the average scores that many organisations are proud of (or even complacent about) probably need to be discounted downward. So what is the case for a ‘five-fold discount’ of satisfaction scores to a lower net level:
1. First, there is a natural patient predisposition to satisfaction. Emotionally, we need the experience to be good. We start with a positive pre-disposition to the experience of health care (unlike the expectation of car sales and estate agency). In some other sectors (eg home improvement, retail) there is a tendency to blame the supplier if it goes wrong — anxiety overwhelms and individuals project all their fears and regrets onto the supplier. We argue that in health care this is a less likely consumer response when completing an evaluation form, due to factors 2 and 3 below.
2. Second, users fear retribution when they next need the service, so are more likely to score high so as not to ‘alienate staff’ that they might depend on again.
3. Third, there is an inbuilt reluctance to blame frontline NHS staff and services: “it can’t be the staff’s fault” is a starting mindset. Poor NHS staff attitudes are often tolerated. There is a common patient perspective that discounts poor performance, almost as if staff are doing it for love and voluntarily. If the actual remuneration and cost of services was clear we wonder if this discount would lessen.
4. Fourth, the methods used (i.e. tick box forms) tend to mask discontent that would emerge with a more open approach (eg listening to patient stories). Take the case of older people. They are often noted to have positive scores, but listening to their anecdotes highlights the many hidden negative narratives. It might be argued that when a service is free at the point of use then consumers are more forgiving. Again, we believe that the right methods will still elicit the deeper views at the heart of any service experience, be it in the public or private sector
5. Fifth, the information available to most service users to make an informed judgement of satisfaction is limited and likely to over-estimate satisfaction due to limited awareness of what could be done or what great practice looks like. This asymmetry may explain the fact that when we have asked many groups of NHS managers and clinicians what their average rating of satisfaction — or compassion — is we get an average (both mean and mode) of 50%.
There is a need for much greater honesty about the level of poor performance. It is essential to break the addiction to excusing current scores. This is even more striking when we realise in the commercial sector that experts in customer service regard any score less than 7 out of 10 as a negative rating.”

And the idea that 7 is the new zero, brings us right back to the controversy about the Net Promoter Score in the NHS…and the insight from TripAdvisor (even before the five fold discount is applied) that what seems like a good score might not be so.


A brand is…

Measurement, Personal productivity No Comments

A brand is (at its core)…a promise. What is it you or your product commit to doing for, or adding to, someone’s life?

We like this actual stated ‘promise’ on the contact card for our local noodle bar:

“ to serve great tasting noodles, in generous portions, using high quality ingredients and outstandingly fresh produce, giving our customers outstanding value for money each and every time.”

And like the way the manager responds to even critical reviews…all part of the promise…

Makes me want to go back soon.

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KPIs made easy?

Improvement, Measurement No Comments

We like the idea of ‘stealing with pride’.

And know of the importance of measurement.

So, we like these lists of KPIs

that others have used.


Improving improvement: mindset, making it happen and measurement

Measurement No Comments

In many sectors we find some of the ideas of ‘continuous improvement’ ring true: and there is growing curiosity from quality, to Six Sigma to Lean.

We think this is the single best page (with a number of resources and videos) to get you into some of the simple concepts for an improvement mindset – thanks to IHI for posting this freely.

And also from health care, we like this video from the NHS Institute that helps health care workers think about the measurement to know if any attempt at change is an improvement.

Why so much from health care? Well leaders and improvement specialists in that sector have had to work very hard to ensure the attraction and acceptability of these ideas to colleagues who are not ‘scientific management’ geeks and experts. And we think they have done that pretty well.

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From conservation to conversation

Measurement No Comments

On conservation…

A recent story in the Cambridge papers got us interested. An ancient college was keen to put solar panels on its roof. Seems a good idea? A nice example of leadership by one of the most privileged institutions in the UK? English Heritage said no…in the name of ‘conservation’. The College replied they were focused on conservation –but of a form well beyond preserving local vistas. So we have a battle between fossilised buildings vs fossil fuels – involving two organisations who are keen to be modern, relevant and non-archaic.

In our work linked to CSR, we note there are different tools for different purposes. Which you favour relate to personal priorities which are frequently framed in opposition in this field: buildings or bio-diversity, people or the planet…

How we talk about the purposes that seem important to us is at the heart of our interest in noble purpose organisations. Transvestite potter Grayson Perry has a famous piece of art (embroidery actually) encouraging us all to ‘hold our beliefs lightly’. This might be especially useful in noble purpose environments – especially when conversations about conservation are involved!

[Post script: However, logically we think this postmodern mantra should probably extend to holding the importance of lightly held beliefs lightly too. So maybe, from this philosophical point of view, fundamentalism is ok after all?]

All very circular eh…

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Improving improvement

Measurement No Comments

We like the way that various organisations promoting improvement, keep finding ways to communicate things simply and helpfully…

For example, this video from IHI

And this compendium from closer to home.

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Information is power (well, presentation)

Measurement No Comments

We love the visual representation of information, from the time we first met the work for Tufte.

Infographics are now everywhere.

However, if you didn’t see this for the recent US Presidential election , enjoy!


Execution, a case study…

Measurement No Comments

Apple maps remain newsworthy – and a powerful case study in poor execution (despite the strength of the competitive strategy).

It is making me cautious of the iphone 5….a previous non-brainer switch from my old Sony Ericsson.

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