Data is critically important for organizational success. As IT professionals, you understand the benefits of establishing clear metrics to gain visibility into how your organization is driving value. The right metrics provide insights into what the organization needs to change and where it is winning.

But many companies overlook positive behavioral metrics.

I’ve already talked about the best metrics for data-driven software development, which include key performance indicators (KPIs), and objectives and key results (OKRs).

There are significant differences between comprehensive and positive behavioral metrics. Comprehensive behavioral metrics are an attempt to provide a complete evaluation of a person’s behavior through a metric or a set of metrics. This would include measuring both positive and negative behaviors, or measuring all behaviors on a pre-defined scale (for example, with 5 as exemplary and 1 as very bad behavior).

Compare this with a system that focuses on only the positive actions that people take while working. By tracking and measuring the positive you can reinforce those positive behaviors without injecting noise that is likely to cloud or detract from what you are trying to build up.

Here’s how to start implementing positive behavioral metrics, and why they may be more effective for your software team than comprehensive behavioral metrics.

Characteristics of positive behavioral metrics

You can create a system to do this, which could be software-based or not. An example of a low-tech solution to this required managers to write thank-you notes to employees and their spouses on a regular basis. These notes were handwritten and sent in the mail.

Regardless of how you do this, your tracking system needs to include these characteristics:

  • A means to create and track “wins,” or instances of people doing good for the business or others—For example, if someone gives a great presentation, wins significant new business, or contributes to the successful rollout of a new initiative, these wins should all be tracked. Really, anything, large or small, that is positive for individuals, teams, or the organization in general can be incorporated into the tracking system. Concrete behavioral information is preferred; a specific good thing is better than a vague good thing. However, for some organizations, starting with vague is better than nothing.
  • Notification—The person who accomplished the positive action should always be notified about any recognition.
  • Notification of others—The individual’s manager and someone on the leadership team (if applicable) should be notified about the positive action.
  • Visibility. Employees should be able to go into the tracker and see all the good things that they accomplished in a specific time period (last month, this year, a certain year) so it can be used in reviews.
  • A way to link positive behavior to company values—Anytime someone does something good and it is tracked, it should be tied back to some part of the company’s values.
  • A metric for people who consistently recognize other people—These are the organizational energy fountains—the people producing energy in an organization. It is another key metric, in addition to the people who get recognized the most.
  • Organization-level reporting—These reports will include those recognized for positive actions (the doers) as well as those who recognized their peers for good works (the recognize rs). For both the doers and the recognizers, the report should explain how much of it is happening, where it is happening, who is doing it, and who they work for.

While this list is certainly not all-inclusive, and every organization is different, these key components are a solid starting point for any organization beginning a positive behavioral metrics journey.

Why positive instead of comprehensive behavioral metrics

You might argue that your organization needs comprehensive behavioral metrics to fully reap the benefits of a behavior-focused metric. But that’s not the case.

When there is a down quarter or a struggling team, what gives people energy and lifts them up so they can deliver anyway? What makes them carry on? What makes them feel that it is worth it to do so? Each of these is much more likely to be driven by positive behavioral metrics.

There are many reasons why positive metrics are key, including:

  • You don’t have to look far to find negative behavioral information. Negative information tends to be gathered and stored, whether we like it or not, so the focus should instead be to gather the positive metrics to act as a counterbalance.
  • The three other pillarsKPIs, OKRs, and software metricsleave plenty of room for the realistic and pessimistic. If there are issues, these other metrics will show them.
  • If there is a true behavioral problem on the team, chances are leaders are aware and need to deal with it. In a robust organization, negative actions must be dealt with immediately. There is no room to wait for a review process.
  • An empty ledger says a lot. If someone has no achievements recorded in the positive behavioral tracking system, a manager can assume that person is not a force for inspiration and energy on a team. How this is dealt with should vary by organization, but if it is a reported and known issue, see the previous bullet.

Managers are better off linking positive behavior to the company vision and guiding principles whenever possible. A strong vision and mission serve as barometers and benchmarks. When success is linked back to parts of the mission or principles, it helps to reinforce why it was important, where and how the principles are being reinforced, and if there are any gaps worth thinking about.

When ‘comprehensive’ behavioral metrics fail

One metrics-focused organization I worked with measured behavioral traits. Behavioral traits were measured based on a twice-yearly subjective review by HR and the direct supervisor, with no requirement for detailed information on how the rating was achieved.

The system was not based exclusively on positive behaviors. The behavior ratings ranged from 1 (not good) to 5 (great), and managers handed out a lot of 3s and 4s. This was correct in terms of how the scale was designed, but it led to two problems:

  • Most people viewed themselves as 4s or 5s. People were often disappointed by realistic, generally positive reviews (say a 3.5). They were shocked that they weren’t a 5, but the system was set up so that it was very hard to get a 5. Only a few ever moved up from a 3 to a 5, and when they did, it had nothing to do with the review process or the behavioral traits metrics. Rather, it had to do with great managers and mentors making a difference in people’s careers so that they were excited to come to work. Getting a 3 (out of 5) on a performance review never does that.
  • By the time managers were ready to hand out a 2 or a 1, it was too late. They should have already let that person go. That person was a drain on the team and was decreasing its performance. Perhaps a 2.5 might indicate a workable problem that a coachable employee can work through. But usually these were classified as a 3. Because as soon as they see a 2 in a subjective category, most people will shut down.

This experience gave me a dim view of behavioral metrics. But I learned that focusing on the positive is a more valuable way to come at the problem. This is pretty straightforward, and you can build a tool or execute the program at low cost.

How to make positive behavioral metrics work

Outside of the metrics system, organizations need a recognition program around the raw numbers and reports to drive maximum effect. This could be a rewards program or it could be simply recognizing individuals.

Creating a program that communicates the positive message is what is key here. There is a lot of power in focusing the recognition on how this applies to individuals’ growth—to their careers and to their happiness.

This should generally include:

  • Personal recognition—A manager or business leader who receives emails about people doing positive stuff should talk to the doers or the recognizers to let them know that they are aware of the accomplishment. Taking the doers to lunch or dinner are great options, but any form of recognition where peers see the manager acknowledging the positive action is going to be highly beneficial. Group emails are very beneficial for this, as is recognition in a team meeting.
  • Thank-you notes—Sending handwritten thank-you notes to people can be very effective and provides a personal touch to acknowledge the positive action.
  • Use of reports—This encourages employees to evaluate their data, especially around review time, to be sure that they use this data when filling in their reviews or 360 evaluations.
  • Active encouragement for managers to recognize their employees—Use the recognizer score to ensure that recognition is happening and there is consistent coverage in the organization.

There are many other things your organization can do to focus on individual growth with positive behavioral metrics. But these are simple examples won’t cost much and can build a lot of energy.

Positive behavioral metrics tie in nicely with KPIs, OKRs, and other measurement techniques because they focus on the human element of the data-driven software organization. This holistic type of approach to metrics helps identify and track all progress and wins from every angle.


Originally published in TechBeacon.

Read more: 3 Key Characteristics of Good Business Metrics