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Changing the goal posts

Last December the Royal Mail explained that, in the two weeks before Christmas, next day deliveries of first class mail usually drop to about 70%. According to the Royal Mail that's okay because Christmas is an unusual period so it would skew the figures. And because they don't include it in their Quality of Service figures the Royal Mail is able to show its performance as acceptable.

But ask someone whose post is late or unreliable what they think about the Royal Mail's measurements - they won't be happy. In fact, Royal Mail is under considerable pressure to drastically improve service reliability after slashing staff levels and scrapping its second daily delivery to return the group to profit after years of losses. Postal regulator Postcomm, says 92.5% of first class post should be delivered the next day. Royal Mail hasn't met this target for years.

Because it suited them, the Royal Mail changed the basis on which they measured their performance. It just goes to show what you can do when you decide what you want to measure. Even the Government does it in a variety of ways, setting a bad example and a dangerous precedent for those of us who are content to see what we want to see. But as recent popularity polls show - the public aren't fooled.

How many of us have at some time been tempted to change the goal posts in customer satisfaction or key performance indicators (KPIs)? There are results that make us feel good, or are easy to measure - and then there are the results our customers really want us to measure. In Network Veka, home-owners have to complete a feedback form before they get their guarantee. It's been fine-tuned down to five questions, covering the sales pitch, the installation itself and overall satisfaction. We don't pick and choose the points that come up with the best answers. Excluding unhappy customers from satisfaction surveys or asking the wrong questions will only mask problems. In the window business, where we have to fight against the public's perception of dodgy dealers and cowboy installers (a recent survey showed that window salesmen are seen as less trustworthy than estate agents and second hand car salesmen) it's particularly important to get this right. Changing the goal posts doesn't change bad news.

It doesn't matter whether you're the Royal Mail, a window company or anyone else in business. What counts is honesty: with your customers and yourself. No matter how good it makes you feel, self-delusion will eventually catch you out.

In management we're all familiar with the saying: what gets measured gets done. Make sure you measure the right things.

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