The old adage says ‘what gets measured gets done.’

The question then is, ‘are we measuring the right things?’

Measurement can become a fetish. Some managers and boards feel more secure and in control if they have lots of data. Collecting and analysing data becomes a business function. We easily convince ourselves that measuring everything improves our control of process.

Last night I was at a Change Management Network event in Durham City, UK. One of the speakers, from a successful international company, described a change project around customer service in the call centre.

They discovered that one of their performance measurements actually created a barrier to better customer service. Call centre operatives were previously given optimum targets for the length of calls they dealt with. Once they ran ‘over time’ they naturally tried to get rid of the customer as quickly as possible – hardly conducive to good customer service.

The new regime scrapped the time measure and actually encouraged operatives to become more involved with customers – even to the extent of visiting them! Result: the culture moved quickly from indifference to engagement and customer service improved. Of course, there were other factors involved in the change process which contributed to its success, but I’m often struck by how often organisations employ mechanistic metrics to human relationships in the name of efficiency and how often it is counter productive.

My first encounter with perverse measurement was many years ago in the steel industry. The company made two broad types of product – one was characterised as simple and high volume; the other more complex and specialised and therefore low volume. Most of the company’s profits were generated from the specialised products but the workforce were incentivised to produce greater volume. Result: specialised products were seen as something to avoid. Production put pressure on Sales to keep specialised products to a minimum.

Have you any examples of bad measurement practice?



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