Is Measuring IT Performance Culture-Dependent?

By Donald Sears  |  Posted 2009-05-14 Print this article Print

It may be culture-dependent, especially if you are trying to be honest about how your IT shop and the leaders running it really operate. But is there room for a lot of honesty about culture in this kind of economic environment?

Harvard Business School's Robert S. Kaplan discusses the culture and metrics issues (but not the current recession) in a recent CIO Insight article.

Kaplan is most widely recognized for his work on the Balanced Scorecard--a "performance measurement framework that added strategic non-financial performance measures to traditional financial metrics to give managers and executives a more 'balanced' view of organizational performance," according to the Balanced Scorecard Institute.

From the CIOI article:

The starting point for any initiative is to understand the organization's identity and what exactly it needs to measure. Is your culture technologically savvy? Does the company take risks, or is the focus on merely keeping things running? Are innovation and continuous improvement pieces of the puzzle, or does the organization operate in a controlled or regulated environment?

Equally important, Kaplan says, is to understand what type of culture an organization strives to be. Not surprisingly, different cultures thrive under entirely different metrics. Ultimately, an enterprise must discern whether it is supporting the metrics it has selected. Are we hiring people appropriate for the culture? Are we putting the technology and work processes in place to support the culture?

Good questions to ask for certain, but I'm leaning toward the idea that many IT organizations are in "control and regulation mode," that capital costs in areas like new hardware and software are on hold, and that cultural matters, at present, are not at the forefront of management's concerns.

On the other hand, Kaplan makes a really good point later in the article that "[w]hen metrics are designed correctly--and clear markers exist along the way--workers understand what they need to accomplish."

I couldn't agree more. Where metrics are being used in a company--and they should be, since most are trying to lower costs and boost productivity-- it is incumbent on companies to be clear to employees about what the key metrics are that they will be evaluated on, and to understand the adversity many in IT are working with as they watch co-workers eliminated and more and more work land in their collective hands.

This isn't to say this is a new phenomenon in IT.

As another Harvard Business School blogger and former chief financial offer and CIO, Susan Cramm, pointed out in a March post about the financial crisis and IT:

Upon reflection, I realized that nothing has really changed for the average I.T. professional. They've been working in the do-more-with-less, your-job-is-at risk world since the dot com bust. According to Microsoft CIO Tony Scott, IT has "been dealing with trimmed IT budgets for years, which means they've had to focus on boosting productivity and cutting costs." Tight funding combined with outsourcing means that that the typical IT professional has been living in a "recession" (in dollars and/or jobs) for almost 10 years. |

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