Measuring up


Time for some more measurements?

I started writing this article one Monday morning at 7.21am.  I was at my desk and had finished going through my e-mails, and was just about to dive into one more urgent message when I glanced down and noticed that little fact.  I know I have several meetings in my diary and a full workload, and will probably not leave the office until 6.30pm at the earliest.

This is not unusual.  This is not good.

A while ago I posted here about when I was told that I no longer needed to complete timesheets.  At the time I took it as a good thing, believing that it freed me from a regular chore and one which meant little anyway; I was hardly likely to change my working hours to suit my total working week, was I?

Well, perhaps I should have been.  Since the need to record and track my hours was removed, I’ve slowly but surely found myself working longer and longer days.  I’ve taken far less time off in lieu, and have often gone without lunch as I simply didn’t have time spare.  Whilst some of this can be put down to an increase in responsibility and similar excuses, not all of it can be.

I know that it’s doing me no good in the long term, but the demands placed upon me personally are greater than ever before, and I can see no way of returning to my old routines without seriously addressing the expectations placed upon me and my team.  Some may call it the curse of competence; when people see that you are able to do something well they give you a lot more of it to do.  I, however, curse it differently.  You see, the problem with achieving results first time is that no-one appreciates how difficult it is.

In many respects I’m personally facing similar issues personally as my workplace is facing corporately.  Like me, the need to measure and report on progress and log outputs and outcomes as rigorously as in the past has meant we are finding it a little difficult to stay focussed on some things.  With the need to meet centrally decided targets we are refocusing on local needs, but are discovering that perhaps not all measurements are bad.

I’m coming across many who are still measuring things, but in the short time since the old National Indicator sets were removed the standards and methods used to measure our work seem to have become a little fractured and variable in quality.  Some services are faithfully and doggedly sticking to how things used to be done but not doing it quite so frequently.  Others appear only to be measuring positive outcomes, filing anything which doesn’t seem to be going as well in the ‘miscellaneous’ pile or removing some columns from reporting spreadsheets.

Also similar is the fact that the demands on our resources are not diminishing at all – if anything, they are growing bigger.  The level of need for the most deprived is going up whilst our ability to throw resources at things is going drastically down.  This scarcity of resource doesn’t seem to be acknowledged by the public however, and why should it?  If a resident is in need of help and support they don’t care that we are not well placed to provide it; their need doesn’t disappear just because we can remove it ourselves.

I fully accept that many of the reporting requirements previously placed upon services and teams were at best onerous.  That projects and programmes often spent weeks collecting, collating and analysing data rather than delivering results was a constant bone of contention for many.  That this happened at least every quarter, with standardised forms and processes understood by few and manipulated to paper over cracks was true; but maybe it wasn’t the best idea to get rid of everything entirely and leave it up to our discretion as to how and what we measure.

By not measuring ourselves as fully as in the past we are falling into a trap of overpromising and being unable to deliver.  The less we are able to step back and look at things with a ‘big-picture’ hat on, the less we will see where we are falling short and if we are over committing.

Fewer staff delivering services is stretching those officers remaining ever greater.  Perhaps a little checking up on the little things will nip problems in the bud before those staff snap.

Welovelocalgovernment is a blog written by UK local government officers. If you have a piece you’d like to submit or any comments you’d like to make please drop us a line at: welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com

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2 Comments on “Measuring up”

  1. Squiggler04 Says:

    I completely agree with this post. I have been a contracter, temporary member of staff, permenent member of staff, and timesheets have always reminded me that I’m not superwoman. Remove these, and that reminder disappears.

    What I have found in Local Authorities, is that staff are going, projects are not. Every project seems to be worthwhile and something to maintain. So what seems to be happening is that staff are being asked to do more, outcomes remaining the same, and then feeling less valued because the results are often not as good as before. Not suprising really. <>

    Back to the grindstone…

  2. Jeremiah Says:

    I sort of agree, but a lot depends on how you use measurements and targets. If it’s up to your discretion what you measure, you need to be smart about your choice, and about what you promise. OK, unrealistic targets may sometimes be imposed from on high, but you need the evidence to show (before it’s too late) that you aren’t going to meet them – that’s how you choose your measures. And you need to be prepared to use that evidence, not paper it over – whether that means fudging the figures, or overstretching the resources (that means you).


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