Why is your school measuring performance?

Why is your school measuring performance?

6 min read

By Stuart Robinson

Don't be afraid or tear out your hair; this might improve your engagement and staff commitment.

It’s the start of a brand-new school year, and having had the opportunity to relax and recharge – a couple of inspirational books from trending thought-leaders under your belt – leaders can now focus on their success or areas of improvement, realised over the past year.

While we know schools have metrics for all sorts of things, the most pertinent question is, “Why is your school measuring performance?”

What if your school didn’t measure performance?

We understand that student’s performance needs to be measured. Schools have been doing this since time immemorial. As such, there will be no significant modifications to the educational landscape anytime soon.

We gauge student progress via assessment tools and then communicate results to them and their parents. So, we’re not querying the practice of measuring student performance. Heaven forbid!

We’re more interested in why we score our organisational achievements.

Is it because our stakeholders hold us to account? Or are we just fascinated with progress and growth, or are we moving from A to B?

How do we measure performance within schools?

The standard measuring performance principles we encourage schools to adopt are:

  1. to identify a goal worthy of achievement,
  2. to set a timeframe for that goal,
  3. to find a metric to keep score and
  4. to be accountable for its achievement.

It sounds great in theory, but how does this work in practice?

We measure performance against a strategic plan.

Most schools insist they have a strategic plan, but at best, it’s most likely an action plan, a school improvement plan (SIP), or a list of desirable outcomes. These are statements of intent with a sub-list of other intentions.

Why are they not strategic plans?

Invariably, they are borne out of the “see problem – fix problem” mantra rather than being birthed from a strategy that seeks to set the school apart.

Given time, we can all cultivate a list of problems we identify in our schools. And, given more time, we can usually expand that list to accommodate workable solutions.

This maintains the school’s modus operandi but does not propel it forward.

Can we use our Action Plan to measure our school’s performance?

The simple answer is, why not?

While it’s not ideal, schools that struggle with good leadership direction can still move mountains within their sphere of influence. Their success may even positively affect leading upwards.

Let’s look at the Enrolments/Admissions department, for example.

Action Plan for School Admissions Example table

This is often the starting point for many planning goals: an objective statement followed by an action that needs to be achieved. This adheres to our first performance measurement principle but ignores the rest.

So, let’s add principles 2,3 and 4.

Adding Performing Measurement Principles table

The additional data identifies this objective’s starting point (Current State). It also pinpoints where the department wants to be (Desired State), and it provides a deadline for when the desired state should be achieved. Finally, it recognises the person responsible for making this happen.

Lag and Lead Performance Measures

What are Lag and Lead performance measures?

A Lag metric is a S.M.A.R.T. goal you desire to achieve. A Lead metric is the driver of actions to achieve the lag metric.

The addition of this data determines a lag performance measurement. That is, it identifies when the action will be complete. A lag measurement does not compel action; it only signals its achievement.

On 01-Dec-X3, we will know if we’ve succeeded, but we have no other metric to quantify whether we’re moving in the right direction.

Our actions can’t directly influence lag metrics. For example, when we diet, we use the bathroom scale as a lag measure. It indicates when we’ve achieved our desired result. We need Lead metrics to affect our actions. To lose weight, our lead performance measures might be limiting our calorie intake, the number of steps achieved in the day, or the hours of restful sleep we’ve gained.

So, with our action plan, we need to implement some lead metrics that can directly influence our lag metric.

Lead metrics table to achieve Lag metric table

Identifying your lead measures

Table 3 is an example of lead metrics.

In this example school, the admissions team identified vital actions that directly influenced whether they could improve their desired outcome of converting more enquiries to enrolments.

They realised that keeping contact with enquiring families made them more likely to be engaged with the school. So, they developed several lead measures that they believed would significantly impact.

First, they set a lead metric of verbally contacting parents more often. They also wanted to increase the attendance of enquirers at the Open Day because their data showed that physically walking through the school increased enrolments.

Finally, they wanted to encourage enquiring families to subscribe to the school newsletter. This increased the engagement of possible enrolments and expanded their knowledge and experience.

Each lead metric was achievable and influenced by the team’s actions.

Another important aspect of innovation strategy is creating a culture of innovation within the organisation. Porter stresses the importance of creating an environment where employees are encouraged to think creatively and to experiment with new ideas. By fostering a culture of innovation, companies can tap into the full potential of their employees and create a pipeline of new ideas.

Ongoing performance measurement

Putting it all together is the next challenge.

For most, engaging in the day-to-day maelstrom can suck the life out of the most enthusiastic employee. So, making inroads into achieving your goals can often feel debilitating or overwhelming.

How do you keep your lead and lag performance metrics front and centre?

By keeping score.

In schools, we keep the score at sporting carnivals through NAPLAN results, and some keep an eye on league tables. They indicate our students and our achievements. At a sports carnival, we need to see the results as they occur. NAPLAN results give us a longitudinal understanding of student growth. League tables give us a once-per-year snapshot of our students’ achievements.

Keeping score of your lag and lead measures is no different.

They need to remain the focus of our activity. Ignoring the scoreboard limits our momentum and our urgency.

Pisano also highlights the importance of having a clear innovation process in place. Innovation requires a systematic and structured process that helps schools move from idea generation to commercialisation. This process should include stages such as ideation, prototyping, testing, and commercialisation. By having a clear innovation process in place, schools can ensure that their ideas are thoroughly evaluated and that only the best ideas are taken to market.

Why should we have performance measures for employees?

Schools often wonder why they can’t get traction on their goals and make significant inroads to their desired outcomes.

It’s likely this – as school employees, they are contractually obligated to perform the duties of their position description. And, not surprisingly, staff expect those tasks to be measured by their employers.

However, what most staff discover – some Principals and school executives included – is that their performance isn’t measured. Or, if it is, the assessment is undertaken ad hoc, with outcomes that are less than objective or ideal.

It must frustrate staff considerably, or at least dull them in bewilderment regarding their organisational value.

This is the starting point for measuring a school’s performance.

If the school has other organisational metrics without employee performance measures, it’s fighting a losing battle.


Schools rarely measure performance other than student results and financial indicators.

Why is this?

The reason is that both these areas offer quantitative results. It’s much more complex to decipher a measurement tool for employee well-being, the reputation of the school, or the impact the school is making in the marketplace.

For some unknown reason, only a few have grasped how performance measurements in these areas might propel a school forward and provide a competitive advantage in a competitive industry.

If your school isn’t measuring its performance, it should be. Schools that think deeply about their performance measurement processes are more likely to succeed for their students, community, and staff.

Stuart Robinson

Stuart Robinson

Stuart Robinson: MBA, 25+ years in school management. Business degree, AICD graduate. Founder and author sharing expertise in educational leadership, strategy, and financial management.

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