You often hear: “What gets measured gets managed”. I want to put a different perspective on this because our experience is that it is far too simplistic. Management is a far richer than simply measurement, isn’t it?
A better phrase might be: “Don’t manage what you can measure, Measure what you want to manage.”
Let us explore the problem with what gets measured gets managed.
The implications of what gets measured gets managed
What are the implications of measuring what you want to manage (as opposed to thinking “what gets measured gets managed”?
It means having the 15-20 measures that really make the difference, not the 70 to 100 that you are currently measuring.
It is really easy to generate measures – but that is not the problem
Let us see how easy it is to generate measures. Let us take the example of project management. Put 10 or 20 project managers in a room (as I did) and ask them, “How can we measure successful projects?” (This actually works just as well with one project manager).
Within 10 minutes you will have at least three flipcharts completely full of really good project management measures. You probably have around 50-60 different ones. All are valid. All are potential measures of a project’s success. People are very creative.
But which measures and most useful and important?
The next question is, Which measures are most important? Which measures should we use?
At this point the arguments start. I prefer this…, we need this as well…, This measure is better that that measure…, etc etc…
You can leave them for the whole day arguing about this. No one will win. They won’t agree. They will probably, like most organisations, end up justifying having all of them. They want to measure and manage everything.
This is a classic measurement trap
The problem is that they are falling into the classic trap. They know they need to measure, so they are listing all the things that they can measure. And they probably are measuring them. Like
me, you probably see management reports with 100-200 measures in them. (For more details see our case studies)
So, do they communicate them all to the staff? Which are actually important? Not all 50, 75, 100, I am sure. What about the “So what?” test? So. what am I looking for and what will I do about it, if it changes?
Please, please, please, Never use a measure without explaining why!
Importantly, NEVER start with measures and always communicate your objective as well.
We all know about dysfunctional measures. Ones that distort behaviour, cause information to be hidden, ambulance drivers to park outside Accident and emergency,
Why. Simply, because measures on their own do not communicate what is required. This is one of our favourite rants.
An example of dysfunctional measures
Lets take a simple example. Central government used to send out over 100 measures of Best value for councils. When originally sent out, not one actually said why it was being measured. You had to guess and interpret what was the intention.
What is going on? Someone in Whitehall (or corporate headquarters) is deciding that a particular issue is important. Rather than explaining what they want to achieve they decide to present it as a measure. So they spent ages thinking up suitable measures to represent what they are thinking.
Now, rather than explaining the thinking and why the measure was chosen, they just communicate the measure. But, the measure is actually merely a surrogate for what they are thinking: What they want to achieve.
If you only have a measure, you have to mind-read why you have been given it
You receive the measure. Now you have to reverse the logic. Here is the measure. What did they mean by that? What was their underlying thinking? You have to guess the underlying logic. To work backwards to the original objective.
Ever played the children’s game Chinese whispers, where the message gets passed along the line and becomes distorted as it goes. Of course by the time these steps have been taken (think of the objective, create the measure, communicate it, guess what it means or rather what they intended, communicate it to others, and then act to satisfy it) you can be a long way from the original intention.
It gets worse when the first measure does not work so another, and another is added. Its like a series of ranging shots from a gun, this one fell short, so try something a but longer next time.
This is compounded when the measure, without the explanation is used to rank or penalise people. How will I be penalised.
What is the cause of the problem?
They have started in the wrong place. They are also pre-judging what they can measure.
Now imagine you banned discussion of measures. Now you simply ask, “What is it you are trying to achieve?” “What is important ?” Do this without prejudging whether you can measure it or not.
Often, at this point there is usually a discussion about not trying to achieve things you cannot measure. Fine, but again that pre-judges things. You have to decide whether you can measure something before you suggest it.
Now, my experience is that when I work with clients, between 40-60% of the measures we come up with were not even on the list at the start. They are useful measures and tell whether the strategy
is happening, but not standard measures.
I did this once with a City Council. Despite having 140 customer survey measures, only half the 8 objectives in the customer perspective that they wanted to measure were actually being collected. As a result, they re-cast their customer survey.
In a large retailer, of the 25 measures on the top level scorecard, only 10 came from existing measures. In an insurance company, the figures were similar.
Now, they were measuring what they needed to manage and not measuring all those things that were easy to measure, just because they could.
So my message to everyone is this:
Never, ever, ever….use or communicate a measure
without explaining why you are using it:
What you are actually trying to achieve.
And if you are given measure, always ask,
“What are you trying to achieve by measuring this?”
It’s the least you deserve.
“What gets measured gets managed can be dangerous. The secret is to develop your objectives in each perspective, BEFORE you do any measure design or choice. Then, you will not simply manage what you can measure. You will be measure what you want to manage, as long as you are explaining why you are measuring it and wanting to manage it.
Want to cut your measures down to size, then call us