Many believe that "You get what you measure." The belief persists, in part, because of anecdotal evidence; because some experiments do appear to be consistent with the assertion; and because so many of us believe that the rest of us believe it.
Still, there are reasons to question its validity. What follows is a catalog of possible explanations for variances between the promise and the reality of metrics-based management. In this Part I, we examine three assumptions underlying the measurement process. See Part II and Part III for more.
- We assume that indirect measurements work
- Sometimes we try to measure attributes that aren't directly measurable. For instance, when we try to measure immeasurables like loyalty or initiative, we actually measure something else that we assume is highly correlated with what we're trying to measure. We usually do this using interviews or surveys.
- But too often, rigorous proof of the assumed correlation is unavailable. Sometimes, we comfort ourselves, saying, "it's so obvious," but this is risky — the history of management, psychology, and science is replete with assumptions that, though obvious, were nonetheless false.
- We assume that all attributes are measurable
- The word "measurement" evokes our experiences determining physical attributes like length, weight, or temperature. This leads us to assume that whatever we want to know can be determined by a suitable measurement, but that assumption can lead to trouble. Consider something as important as progress. Suppose a team has been working for three weeks, when, suddenly, someone realizes that their entire approach will never work. This is certainly progress — they've learned something important. But it probably won't register as progress in the organization's metrics. Most likely, it will be reported as a setback.
- Measuring non-physical We assume (wrongly)
that all organizational
attributes are measurableattributes, such as the advance of knowledge, is often possible when changes are incremental. But at times, our metrics fail, and they tend to fail precisely when we most want to know where we stand.
- We assume that objectivity implies precision
- Sometimes we use measures that are objective but imprecise. That is, we assume wrongly that multiple identical measurements would yield nearly identical results. For instance, when we measure attitudes using a survey "instrument," we assume that the results we obtain are relatively context-independent. We don't actually know that the results are independent of, say, the time of the month, or the price of the company's shares — we just assume it.
- Rarely do we test these assumptions. Indeed, we often assume that these factors do affect the results. We know this because we sometimes observe organizations gaming the measurement for favorable results, or trying to influence the results by releasing favorable news.
Are your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenDDSigvKzommIuIabner@ChackgwiawXKkNhnKOdVoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Dangerous Phrases
- I recently upgraded my email program to a new version that "monitors messages for offensive text."
It hasn't worked out well. But the whole affair got me to think about everyday phrases that do tend
to set people off. Here's a little catalog.
- Illusory Incentives
- Although the theory of incentives at work is changing rapidly, its goal generally remains helping employers
obtain more output at lower cost. Here are some neglected effects that tend to limit the chances of
achieving that goal.
- The Myth of Difficult People
- Many books and Web sites offer advice for dealing with difficult people. There are indeed some difficult
people, but are they as numerous as these books and Web sites would have us believe? I think not.
- Wacky Words of Wisdom: V
- Adages, aphorisms, and "words of wisdom" are true often enough that we accept them as universal.
They aren't. Here's Part V of some widely held beliefs that mislead us at work.
- Listening to Ramblers
- Ramblers are people who can't get to the point. They ramble, they get lost in detail, and listeners
can't follow their logic, if there is any. How can you deal with ramblers while maintaining civility
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming January 24: Understanding Delegation
- It's widely believed that managers delegate some of their own authority and responsibility to their subordinates, who then use that authority and responsibility to get their work done. That view is unfortunate. It breeds micromanagers. Available here and by RSS on January 24.
- And on January 31: Nine Brainstorming Demotivators: I
- The quality of the output of brainstorming sessions is notoriously variable. One source of variation is the enthusiasm of contributors. Here's Part I of a set of nine phenomena that can limit contributions to brainstorm sessions. Available here and by RSS on January 31.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenVBEgxAQJmnlLHFyZner@ChacnPWQrKdeHVpmewWaoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, USD 28.99)
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program: