If you're a manager, how can you tell how good a job you're doing? Take a survey? Do a 360 assessment?
When you measure something, you influence it. For instance, investors value companies according to their profits. Knowing this, many executives make decisions that favor short-term profits over the company's long-term well being, and some actually fudge the figures.
Applied to organizations, this phenomenon is called the Hawthorne Effect — when people know you're measuring something, they try to make the measurement turn out "right." Most measurements of employee satisfaction run afoul of this phenomenon. How can you measure without Hawthorne distortion?
Begin by looking at what you're measuring. The good news: we measure way too much. We try to measure the immeasurable, and we use those measurements to try to control the uncontrollable. By reducing our overall measurement effort, and accounting for Hawthorne distortion, we can measure less and get a lot more value from the effort. Here are three keys to effective measurement:
- Measure only what is objectively measurable. Judgment isn't objectively measurable.
- Measure only what you hope to control. Have in mind actions you can take that directly influence trends in whatever you measure.
- Understand the Hawthorne Effect: if people know they're being measured, they alter their behavior to optimize the measurement.
Too often, we try
to measure the
uncontrollableThe name "Hawthorne Effect" comes from some early work (1927-1932) on organizational measurement done at the Western Electric plant in Hawthorne, Illinois, where management tried to determine optimum levels of factory-floor lighting. Because the employees knew about the study, they responded to each adjustment in light level by increasing productivity.
But the Hawthorne Effect can be much broader. In one approach to controlling software quality, we measure defects by severity category. Since software isn't releasable unless defect counts are below acceptable levels, there is pressure to downgrade the severity of any defects in categories that are over threshold.
Measuring with discretion is one route around Hawthorne. Here are some trends you can measure outside the awareness of most employees. Most must be measured per capita per month. Their interpretation depends on your particular situation, though some are obvious.
- Voluntary turnover
- Number of hits to corporate gripe sites
- Posted Dilbert cartoons
- Fraction of posted Dilbert cartoons that involve Ratbert the HR manager
- Percentage use of sick days and vacation days
- Average usage-hours of parking spaces
- Employer-funded education credits earned
- Number of complaints per month about peers
- Number of "Tweaking CC" emails (see "The Tweaking CC," Point Lookout for February 7, 2001)
- Number of known feuds
- Fraction of posted Dilbert cartoons that involve the pointy-haired manager
- Fraction of desks with Dilbert desk calendars
- Vending machine candy consumption
- Percentage of meetings rescheduled
- Project lateness, in dollar-days per capita
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- My Boss Is Driving Me Nuts
- When things go badly, many of us experience stress, and we might indulge various appetites in harmful
ways. Some of us say things like "My boss is driving me nuts," or "She made me so angry."
These explanations are rarely legitimate.
- Asking Clarifying Questions
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- Virtual Clutter: I
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See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 18: High Falutin' Goofy Talk: III
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- And on July 25: Exploiting Functional Fixedness: II
- A cognitive bias called functional fixedness causes difficulty in recognizing new uses for familiar things. It also makes for difficulty in recognizing devious uses of everyday behaviors. Here's Part II of a catalog of deviousness based on functional fixedness. Available here and by RSS on July 25.
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- On 14 December 1911, four men led by Roald
Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen
had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished.
As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough. Lessons abound. Among the more important
lessons are those that demonstrate the power of the agile approach to project management and product
development. Read more about this program. Here's
a date for this program:
- Ohio National Insurance, 1 Financial Way, Blue Ash, OH: July
Monthly Meeting, Cincinnati
chapter of the International Institute of Business Analysis. Register now.
- Ohio National Insurance, 1 Financial Way, Blue Ash, OH: July 17, Monthly Meeting, Cincinnati chapter of the International Institute of Business Analysis. Register now.
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