A Facebook post by dear friend & mentor, Becky Robinson, caught my eye this week. Her post said: “My girls haven’t colored much this summer. Yesterday, I bought a new box of crayons. They’ve been coloring nonstop. If I had known that was all it would take, I would have bought them a new box of crayons sooner.”

What a fabulous picture Becky paints! I can just see her girls, at the kitchen table, coloring up a storm – some inside the lines (and some not)! AND the vital idea Becky raises is a critical one for leaders to consider. Her girls didn’t miss coloring this summer until the crayons were RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM. Leaders, you pay attention to what’s RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU. Lesson: Always put the right stuff in front of you.

What Do You Pay Attention To?

In my work with senior leaders and executive teams across a wide variety of industries, one of the most important questions I ask is to learn what those leaders pay attention to. Most of them tell me that they spend most of their time looking at performance indicators – usually in the form of summaries of key metrics, sometimes from spreadsheets, sometimes from other dashboard tools.

Monitoring performance metrics is a GOOD THING. Yet sometimes internal systems present metrics that are EASY for us to monitor but aren’t the RIGHT things for us to monitor.

Here’s an example. A few years ago a printing plant client installed a new $20M high-technology press which could deliver speeds of 50,000 impressions an hour. The dashboard built into the press software kept careful track of impressions per hour.

However, if the color scheme was off by just 2%, the printed matter would not meet their customer’s standards. The press’ dashboard did not monitor color requirements perfectly – only a human could do that.

A run of one million pages/impressions wasn’t uncommon. Every job was easy to monitor with the dashboard metrics. Systems and incentives were created to meet a certain target of  average impressions per hour. Yet if the color balance was off, the job would have to be run again (creating waste and higher costs for the job)! It was vital to monitor – and incent – both impressions per hour AND adherence to the customer’s color palette.

You can see that what is EASY to measure might not give you an accurate full picture of reality.

Here’s What Leaders Must Pay Attention To

  • Strategic Clarity – leaders must constantly assess how well their organization’s strategy is understood across operations staff. Communication and reinforcement of the declared strategy will lead to clear understanding by all staff.
  • Goal Alignment – Once strategic clarity is reached, leaders must constantly assess the degree to which projects, goals, tasks are aligned to your organization’s declared strategy.
  • Expectations Clarity – Next, leaders must ensure that everyone in the organization has formalized ends goals (performance standards) and means goals (values defined in behavioral terms). In addition, leaders must ensure that all staff proactively commit to their performance and values goals.
  • Consistent Accountability – leaders must hold all staff accountable, day in and day out, for meeting performance expectations and values expectations. Accountability means the prompt application of POSITIVE consequences (when folks do the right things the right way) and NEGATIVE consequences (when they don’t).

Change Your Habits

Every leader can improve their team’s performance and their values-alignment by changing what they pay attention to. Leaders, please let us know how your team responds to your new focus in the comments section below.

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S. Chris Edmonds

S. Chris Edmonds

Chris helps leaders create purposeful, positive, productive work cultures. He's a speaker, author, and executive consultant. He blogs, podcasts, and video casts. He is the author of The Culture Engine and six other books.
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Reader Interactions


  1. AvatarJohn Spence says

    Wow, you absolutely nailed it here Chris – superb article. Over the past year, working with dozens of clients around the country, the two biggest issues I’ve seen are organizations that do a very poor job of setting clear expectations – both with their customers and with their staff. And an incredible level of difficulty in creating an atmosphere of accountability. I am in complete agreement with you that one of the key factors in being able to hold people accountable – is setting clear expectations – with metrics and measurements that show in a totally unbiased way whether someone is achieving their goals are not. It is only when you do this, set clear binary metrics, that you take personality out of the equation and can hold someone rigorously accountable for their performance – without them feeling like you’re ruthless towards them. You have expressed it much better than I could – really great blog – I will send it out to my entire network. Thanks so much – John Spence

    • Chris EdmondsChris Edmonds says

      John, thanks so much for your insights. You’re right on with your assessment that accountability cannot occur without first setting clear expectations! So glad this is helpful to you and your team!