To Measure Performance, Create a Data-Driven Culture

professional viewing data charts on a desktop March 7, 2017

Associations committed to effective performance measurement must build a culture of data-driven decision making. Recent ASAE research examines how associations are leveraging leaders and staff to implement systems that track progress toward their goals.

The interlocking elements of a performance measurement system rely on the individuals who execute them, from the board members who create the plan to the staff members who pursue its success. A forthcoming ASAE Foundation research report, Performance Measurement: Purpose, Process, and Practice, available in April 2017, examines the distinct elements of performance measurement systems, drawing from survey results and interviews with association leaders to discover how associations implement performance measurement systems. The results offer guidance for leaders looking to establish or improve the systems they use in their own organizations.

What Is Performance Measurement?

Performance measurement is the aggregation and analysis of data used to continuously improve the work of an organization. A performance measurement system typically includes

  • a planning document identifying priorities
  • a framework that identifies metrics and tracks progress
  • a process to collect and analyze data
  • a plan to implement changes

Successful performance measurement systems operate on a feedback loop: the underlying hypothesis of the strategies being used and the metrics being tracked are regularly assessed and adjusted, resulting in an ongoing refinement of strategy and metrics.

Boards and executives must ensure that proper resources are available to execute the plans, and they need to be prepared to implement changes based on the results.

Data-Driven Culture Starts at the Top

Effective performance measurement starts with commitment at the highest levels of the organization. The association's board and executives must fully embrace the concepts and practices of data-driven strategy. This is especially important in the association world, where the frequent turnover of board members can be a challenge to continuity. While a single champion can energize the formation of a data-driven culture, sustaining it is a group effort. A true data-driven culture persists past individual tenures.

In addition to creating a strategic plan and vision for the performance measurement system, boards and executives must ensure that proper resources are available to execute the plans. And they need to be prepared to implement changes based on the results, as well as improve on the initial plan to ensure that the system remains relevant.

Involve—and Value—Staff

No performance measurement system will work if managers and staff do not have a clear understanding of its elements. Executives need to make sure that everyone has the same understanding of what metrics are being tracked, how they are defined, how data collection will be integrated into staff workflows, and what data-related responsibilities are assigned to different departments.

57% Percentage of associations that tied participation in performance measurement activities to regular job responsibilities

Many associations' staff already store information (in membership databases, for example) that may be relevant to the success markers defined in the planning document. When workflow plans for the measurement system are being created, existing processes should be evaluated to ensure that staff are not asked to duplicate their efforts. Metrics to be gathered should be carefully selected, choosing only those that are likely to be used toward measuring progress, impact, and, ultimately, decision making.

Track and Reward Progress

Associations promote staff involvement in a variety of ways. In the foundation survey, 57 percent of associations said they tied participation in performance measurement activities to regular job responsibilities, and 45 percent used participation as criteria for advancement and compensation. The bottom line for success: Set clear expectations regarding performance measurement activities and recognize staff achievement in those areas.

A successful performance measurement system is an evolving process. The metrics you choose to track may change several times. For a system to be successful, leaders and staff members must maintain their commitment to collecting, analyzing, and using data in a continuous effort to best achieve the goals and mission of the organization.