“Ignorance is the starting point for the bliss that leads to oblivion.”

Joan, a coffee shop manager, watched a customer get up and make his way to the pay phone beside the counter. “Hi. I am calling about the ad you had in the paper for a regional manager a few months ago,” Joan overheard her customer saying on the phone. “Oh, I see, the position’s been filled. Are you happy with the new manager?” the man asked. “You are? OK, thanks.”

As the customer went past the counter, Joan said sympathetically, “I couldn’t help but over hear your call. Sorry that job wasn’t available.” Somewhat puzzled, the customer replied in a different voice than he’d used on the phone, “What? Oh, that. Oh, I have the job now. I was just calling to see how I was doing.”

High performers actively seek feedback. They know that’s the only way to change their course and improve their performance. Good feedback and measurement identifies the “here” that goes with vision’s “there.” Getting from here to there depends on a solid understanding of where “here” is.

But in most organizations — if it’s given at all — feedback is a distorted jumble of mixed messages and past results. It’s almost impossible to draw connections between today’s results and yesterday’s behavior or today’s behavior and tomorrow’s results. It’s as if we’re archers being judged on our ability to hit the target with a few arrows each day. But the target is hidden in the mist. And the results of our daily shots are consolidated and given to us at the end of each month. Then we are rewarded or punished for the “accuracy” of our aim and exhorted to improve.

Feedback is central to learning. Faulty feedback is one of the biggest contributors to organization, team, and personal learning disabilities. If I don’t know how I am doing, I can’t improve.

The right measurements establish vital feedback loops that show whether the approaches being used are moving the organization toward its goals. They help separate the useful from the useless work. Effective measures show whether all the training, team activities, experimentation, and process management are producing results. They help managers see through the dust storms raised by so many furious flurries of enthusiastic “busywork” that can create the illusion of progress.

The quality movement and approaches like The Balanced Scorecard have played key roles in the development and refinement of measurements to provide leading indicators of potential problems before they become apparent to everyone. These balance the lagging indicators or backward-focused measures (usually financial) that managers have relied so heavily upon. But the quality and quantity of non-financial performance measures being used is still very low.

We find that there are two main reasons for the low levels of non-financial measures. First, many managers haven’t done their homework. They don’t realize just how disciplined this field has become. They don’t know that a vast array of very effective tools measuring customer/partner, process, organization improvement performance and the like are now readily available. Second, managers aren’t comfortable with feedback. They haven’t learned how to get it and how to give it, effectively. So measurements turn into “gotchas” to be avoided.