You don’t get what you don’t measure

You get what you measure has become a truism across businesses, the NHS and other parts of the public sector and even in much ‘self-improvement literature. However, what they don’t tell you, is that you will then inadvertently not get what you don’t measure. Unless somebody was doing nothing then the act of focusing on the thing that is now measured is that this activity will then ‘elbow out’ something that was done but is now no longer measured, often that activity was ‘using your brain’.

Too much literature encourages people to be ‘target driven’ but the problem with many targets is that the system can be gamed and the law of unintended consequences will come into play. For example, one popular performance measure for Credit Control functions is ’percentage of bad debts’, sounds sensible. However, the easiest way to be sure of not having bad debts is not to do any business. Job done! Alternatively, a Credit Control function may have a target bad debt level not too exceed. However again this has the function of people taking more risky decisions early on when they have plenty of room between them and the performance measure and then too conservative decisions later, The actual decision is taking second place to the measure, when someone should be just using their brain.

I have seen it happen a lot that people focus too much on measures and not enough on the total experience of the customer or the end result. In smaller, less bureaucratic settings, less driven by KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators), SLA (Service Level Agreements or OIA (Other Irritating Acronyms..OK I admit I made this last one up) people are encouraged to just use their judgement. We should accept that some things just can’t be measured and that making subjective decisions is OK.

Most entrepreneurs ‘shoot from the hip’ and almost all decisions are based on inadequate information. The key to performance is not necessarily to measure more but to balance this by giving people the tools to make better qualitative decisions, such as explaining the full business context or value system of the setting and the ideal outcome. Too many measures tends to mean people are not trusted or trained and the result of these cannot be corrected by yet another target.

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