Perception is reality. If you are perceived to be something, you might as well be it because that’s the truth in people’s minds.
For those who believe that perception is reality, performance isn’t important, but perceived performance is everything.
There are three ways to improve perceived performance:
1. Distort the data
In his book, “Narconomics: How To Run a Drug Cartel“, Tom Wainwright tells the story of a $1.8bn drug bust carried out by the Department of Public Safety in Austin Texas. It was a huge coup against organised crime and all the more impressive as the police completed it without firing a single gunshot. The drug lords themselves didn’t even realise they had been busted.
Officials changed the value of the drugs they had seized from their wholesale to retail price. With a simple change of a spreadsheet the effectiveness of their enforcement activity jumped from $161 million to $1.8 billion.
This revaluation was less than legitimate. There is a world of difference between a sack full of cocaine sitting at the border crossing in El Paso and a line of coke sitting in a dealers pocket 2,000 miles away in Philadelphia.
This impressive increase in perceived performance happened a week before the department had to submit its annual appraisal.
2. Distort the system
The ambulance service exists to transport ill people to hospital. To improve performance the UK government instigated a national target. It stipulated that 75% of life-threatening emergencies should have an ambulance on the scene within eight minutes of the call.
In an attempt to hit the target, the East of England Ambulance Service invested in “Rapid Response Vehicles”. These are medically equipped cars and motorcycles. They are less expensive than full blown ambulances and don’t need to be staffed by two paramedics. Consequently they provide cheap capacity. This is very helpful if you are trying to respond to emergencies within 8 minutes.
Having a paramedic on the scene quickly is a good thing. But it is difficult to transport an 80 year old man having a heart attack to hospital on the back of a motorbike.
A system that takes medical care to patients is not the same as one that takes patients to medical care.
One senior paramedic claimed “The trust has become so fixated with hitting the target by sending out RRVs to “stop the clock”. Care, patient safety, and dignity are really being badly compromised”.
3. Improve the system
In 1974 James Dyson bought a Hoover Junior. He became frustrated with its performance and decided he could do better. He was right, by 2001 Dyson had captured 47% of the UK’s upright vacuum cleaner market with his cyclone cleaners. The cyclone vacuum improves performance over the historic “suck through a bag” system as the cyclone separates out the dust without effecting vacuum power.
To perfect the system Mr Dyson tried 5,173 prototypes and it took him 15 years to launch his first cleaner.
If you want to improve real performance…
There are two things you must do
First remove the reasons people worry about perception. Remove the incentives, take away the carrot and the stick. People don’t need to be motivated to perform. They need the opportunity.
Secondly improve the quality of your own perception. It is easy to pull the wool over the eyes of people who spend their lives looking at PowerPoint in board rooms. You can only accurately perceive performance by going and looking at it.
It isn’t easy
Things worth having rarely are. It is only worth the effort if you are more worried about performance than perception.
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