“What gets measured, gets done.” Most of you have heard that old saying, haven’t you? This would seem to suggest that the more a company measures, the more it gets done, right? Wrong!
According to Frank Patrick, in his Focused Performance Weblog, measurements can actually get in the way of getting real work done — consuming time needed for training, knowledge development and innovation:
“Too many measures are not only distracting, but are also the root of debilitating dilemmas. Which measure is more important? How do I make this measure look good without making that one look bad? Measures are either operationally useful, providing guidance on the best use of your time and attention today, or are mere indicators of past performance, and even worse, past performance of local components of the organizational system. There are very few useful measures that fall into the latter category, because only the constraining component relates directly to organizational performance.”
Frank isn’t saying here that measurement is bad, in and of itself. But like so many work processes, it can become a self-perpetuating part of people’s jobs. They may be investing time collecting a large quantity of data, just because “that’s the way it’s always been done” — when in fact only a fraction of that data may actually be utilized by others. What’s more, Frank emphasizes that some performance indicators only measure past performance — and therefore don’t give us much useful feedback on where the organization needs to go from here (there are exceptions, of course, like customer feedback, but in many cases, useful or actionable data may get buried within a large quantity of undifferentiated information). Great food for thought!