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Why it’s important to motivation to keep score, every day

People love to compete.  It’s hard-wired into our DNA.  Look at the Olympics.  Not only is it inspiring to see athletes at the top of their game.  It’s also thrilling to watch their closely fought battles to win.  If we didn’t like competing, there’d be no organised sports.  Or games of Snap and Monopoly. From an early age, we want to succeed.  We want to be the winner.

This innate human characteristic comes from our distant ancestors and it’s about survival. Evolutionary anthropologists discovered that Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens coexisted quite happily together for a period. Although the Neanderthals had bigger brains, they preferred small family groups.  Homo Sapiens lived in bigger tribes and this gave them advantages over the Neanderthals.  Eventually, our direct ancestors ‘out-teamed’ them as they competed for the best resources. 

Predictability became important as we moved from hunter-gatherers to agricultural communities.  Growing, cultivating, harvesting, storing – they all require certain things at certain times.  Humans started to keep a tally and so began the need to keep a score.  And that need is still with us. 

We like to know where we are. Keeping score is part of that.  If you have an issue with productivity or motivation in your business, it could be because progress is unclear.  Work out what you’re going to measure and how you’re going to track it.  This is how to motivate your people to push the needle forwards.

Manages expectations

Are you using the Gallup Q12 measure of staff engagement?  If you’re not, can we suggest you do?  We often refer to the first, foundational question, ‘Do you know what’s expected of you at work?’.  This has big relevance here.  Without clarity on OKRs and keeping score against them, how can anyone know what’s expected of them?

You want all your staff to get to the end of their day and know they’ve done well. To do this, it needs to be clear what game they’re playing, what rules they’re following and where the white lines are on the field. Then they need the score in real-time. It’s amazing the difference this can make to their productivity and engagement.

Time and again we see the power of this. Whether it’s hours on the phone for salespeople or time recorded against tickets for engineers on the Support Desk, ensure all staff have real-time information on how well they’re doing. They need to know what a good day looks like. It’s so motivating. This can change behaviours overnight. People who are doing good work are recognised. Those who don’t have to either step up or get out.

Provides a comparison

Keeping score is relevant to other questions in the Q12 too. Take Question 4 – ‘In the last seven days, have you received recognition or praise for doing good work?’  It’s impossible to know if there’s no way to compare or see the impact.  Questions 11 and 12 ask whether someone has talked to you about your progress in the last six months and have you had opportunities to learn and grow.  Again, without a score, how would you or your manager know? 

If you don’t have any way of comparing performance or measuring progress, feedback becomes vague and subjective.  The conversation is based on your manager’s narrow opinion and isn’t anchored in anything factual.   I’ll never forget my first job at M&S.  When my probation was up, my manager told me I was rubbish.  It was harsh! And yet I’d had no warning this was on the cards.  There’d been no intervening conversations to tell me where I was going wrong or provide any measurement of my progress. 

Remember the Dunning Kruger effect that we explored in a previous blog ? These two social psychologists identified a cognitive bias where people with low ability tend to overestimate their ability.  They think they’re as good as the next person.  And people with high knowledge are just as unaware because they assume a task that’s easy to them will be easy for others. So having some form of objective measure or score is really useful here. Your people can objectively compare their abilities against others.

Motivates A-Players

So why does this matter?  Because you’re striving to hire and motivate A-Players.  Without a score, how do they know they’re As?  And how can you weed out the B and C-Players that are holding your business back? 

A-Players find it hard to work with Bs and Cs. It impacts them negatively.  I often refer to an excellent podcast episode by Sarah Tavel .  She suggests that if you had a 10 point scale for the people in your business, you can spot the 1 – 5s easily as they’re poor performers.  The top performers too – the 9s and 10s – will stand out a mile.  However, it’s the 7s you need to watch. They’re often invisible.  Hovering below the radar, they can kill performance in your business.  An odd redeeming glimmer of ability will keep them invisible.  But there’s an opportunity cost to them occupying a seat that could be taken by a 9 or 10.  And fundamentally, the execution of the team will be brought down by the weakest link.  This is what you need to avoid.

Promotes healthy competition

Healthy competition is something to be encouraged.  A-Players thrive on it.  It self-validates high performers and rewards the best teams.  Here’s a good example. At Rackspace, our sales numbers weren’t where we needed them to be and the sales team was bigger than ever.  When I crunched the data, I realised there just wasn’t enough activity. Out of an 8 hour day, the team were only spending 1.5 hours on the phone.  Not enough!  So I asked them – what did they think their activity should be?  After some discussion, they landed on 3 hours. 

Goal ownership is important here.  Research shows that people are more emotionally attached to goals they set themselves.  Remember this when you’re setting up a scoring system – involve the team from early on. 

Once our sales team had decided on their three-hour target, we shared all the call data with them in real-time.  Day by day, week by week and month by month we tracked and shared individual and team scores on monitors around the office.  Total transparency was the aim.  And the productivity of the team skyrocketed.

Encourages team pride

If you have multiple teams within your business, they can create their own identity and compete internally.  Ideally, you’re aiming for them to be self-managed so they set their own goals and drive towards them.   By scoring their progress, you’ll start to see team pride building.    

Being part of a team gives people a sense of belonging and purpose.  Think of any team sport.  People don’t play for themselves. They play for the team.  Make sure you plan celebrations when they hit their scores.  But try not to incentivise with money.  If you have A-Players in the right roles, there’s an intrinsic motivation to perform well as part of the team.  Once you put in places bonuses and commission, the opposite can happen.  80% of people will be demotivated. There’s no evidence that remuneration changes behaviour.  Hire people with the right traits from the start and allow them to flourish.   

Sets a rhythm

Any discussion about knowing the score has to mention rhythm.  This is our biggest piece of advice to clients – get into a regular, daily drumbeat.  Work out what you’re aiming for.  And then whether you’re moving the needle forwards every day on the key metrics for change. 

Sticking to a regular rhythm will keep everyone focused and minimise distractions.  When we do OKRs with clients, this is exactly what we’re doing.  We set objectives for the next 90 days, work out the key results, put in place daily huddles, weekly meetings, monthly All-Hands and quarterly reviews.  At all of these, we’re checking the score and progress. 

Businesses that work with us say they have a much clearer sense of doing a few things but doing them well.  There’s a palpable feeling of success and this is important psychologically.  Feeling like you’re making progress is one of the biggest boosts to self-confidence and belief. 

Allows for third party benchmarks

External benchmarks can be useful, particularly from industries different to your own.  If you’re trying to make a change, it’s likely that another organisation will have solved that problem already or know what the meaningful metric is to measure.  Rather than wasting time attempting a marginal change on the wrong number, you can learn from their experience and hone in on the metric that will make the most difference. 

At Rackspace, we were constantly vigilant, making regular benchmarking visits to other businesses.  A good example was when we decided to focus on customer churn. At that point, ours was 2% a month – the industry average. But we visited First Direct, which had an NPS of 80 and churn of 4% a year.  Suddenly, we had something to aim for.  We worked out what would have to be true in our business to get to the same low level of customer churn.   

As we discussed in last week’s blog, finding the right metrics is crucial.  Whatever you measure needs to have an impact and lead to change.  It should always take you towards your BHAG or mission – without fail.  There will be some things you need to do exceptionally well such as getting your NPS up to 70 or 80.  It’s pointless hovering around the 35 mark and focusing on getting it up to 40.  It needs far greater effort.  I was chatting recently to the guys at Firebrand Training and they’d worked out that if they rang a website visitor within 5 minutes of their visit, it had an impact. Leave it any later, and the response rate dropped off a cliff. So this was the activity they focused on and tracked.  

In the same way, work out the few metrics that will really make a difference to your business and bring fanatical focus to keeping score.  This is how you’ll grow your business.


Written by business growth coach Dominic Monkhouse. Find out more about his work here. Read his book, ‘F**k Plan B’ here

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