In Practice: Lessons for and from Practitioners

Review, Compare, Strategize

Three Steps for Assessing Benchmarks in All-Hands Meetings

May 2022
Affiong Ibok

How does your organization keep track of its progress toward meeting key performance benchmarks? MDRC works with many types of programs that use benchmarks to keep day-to-day work on schedule and to meet funder requirements. In this post, we share a few tips on how to use staff meetings to make sure your team is staying on-target. The focus here is on enrollment, but the same process can be applied to other benchmarks as well.

All Hands on Deck

Depending on the size and structure of your program, there may be limited opportunities for staff members across the organization to come together to discuss progress toward meeting benchmarks. All-hands staff meetings are a good time for such discussions: They provide a dedicated time for people who may play different roles in the benchmark process to collaborate, ask questions, get feedback, and identify opportunities to coordinate their individual work plans with other colleagues. This is especially helpful for staff members who are working remotely and may not interact in person with others on a daily basis.

Here is an example of a group exercise that program managers can use with their staff on a monthly basis to assess program benchmarks. We’ll call our fictional organization School Rules.

School Rules is a month-long life skills program offered to high school students. New students are enrolled each month for the following month. At the beginning of the year, School Rules managers set an organizational goal of enrolling 250 students for the year and assign the recruitment team an individual goal of enrolling 21 students every month, as shown in this benchmark progress chart:

 

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

June

July

Goal

21

21

21

21

21

21

 

 

 

 

 

 

Actual

30
25
20
5
5
15

 

 

 

 

 

 

Midway through the year, School Rules managers summarize enrollment progress to date at an all-hands staff meeting. The meeting agenda has three steps: 

Review

Do the numbers accurately reflect recruitment activities? 

School Rules managers ask the staff:

  • Do any of these numbers surprise you? Why or why not?
  • What are some possible explanations for these numbers?

Falling short of a monthly enrollment benchmark is not always cause for alarm. Programs that target students, for example, have predictable slow periods. Slower enrollment often coincides with school holidays from late November through January.

Compare

Is the enrollment program on track to reach its annual goal?

School Rules managers ask the staff:

  • How does our progress compare with the original benchmark goal?
  • What would we need to do to meet that goal?

At this point, even if School Rules enrolled 21 students a month for the rest of the year, it would not meet its annual goal of 250. By subtracting the total number of students enrolled from the annual goal and dividing that number by the first six months, we can see that School Rules would need to enroll at least 25 students every month for the rest of the year to meet the annual goal.

Strategize

How does the team move forward?

School Rules managers ask the staff:

  • How can we adjust our benchmarks?  
  • What barriers might make achieving the annual goal difficult?
  • How do your individual roles relate to this benchmark?
  • What opportunities exist for increasing our numbers and how can we all adjust our activities to get us to where we want to be?

The meeting ends with a list of decisions and an action plan. School Rules managers will reset the monthly benchmarks to be higher than the minimum of 25 monthly enrollments needed to meet the annual goal. This will build in some flexibility in case the program misses some targets in the remaining months. The recruitment team is encouraged to open up about the kind of support they need from the organization so they can reach these goals and team members describe efforts they are planning to boost enrollment. Staff members brainstorm about how they can support their recruitment colleagues in meeting the monthly targets. For example: 

  • The recruitment team describes plans to advertise during club fairs that happen at the beginning of the new term.
  • The recruitment team describes plans to put flyers in high-traffic areas in the schools (counselors’ offices, homeroom classes, recreation areas).
  • Staff members suggest setting up a referral pathway with middle schools in the community to target incoming, first-year high school students.
  • Staff members suggest starting a “refer a friend” promotion, offering a modest gift card to students who refer friends to the program.
  • Staff members suggest an “enrollment raffle” where students who complete the program have their names entered into a raffle to win a cash prize.

The School Rules staff decides to review the organization’s monthly benchmarks and to discuss the challenges and successes of implementing their new outreach strategy at the next all-hands meeting.