Sometimes logic takes you places you’d rather not go.
Take, for example, the four fallacies of metrics described in the KJR Manifesto: Measuring the right things wrong, measuring the wrong things (right or wrong), failing to measure important things, and measuring employees.
I’ve been pondering the connection between fallacy #4 and the financial meltdown. It’s a pretty good connection. Fixing it, though, takes us into strange territory. Here goes:
Measuring employees is a bad idea because employees have a remarkable talent for gaming the system. They can: Work the system so the numbers look good; behave in ways that make the numbers look good while circumstances deteriorate; or just falsify the data outright.
I pointed this out once in an executive meeting, and one of the participants recommended firing any employee who would behave this way.
Interesting concept, as I was referring to a very large number of American CEOs.
Every time a CEO instructs managers to delay expenses just a bit so they fall into the next fiscal year, lay off employees to impress Wall Street, or indulge in full-blown Enron-style accounting they’re working the system to make themselves look good — metrics fallacy #4 at its finest, because by working the system the CEO gets to keep the corner office and get the big bonus.
Those lousy CEOs. We should fire them all!
And we should. Right along with the IT professionals who are supposed to fill out their timesheets accurately, including proper use of the entry “Doing nothing.”
When we measure employees, at any level from the CEO to the janitor and all points between, they’ll bend the data to their advantage. The only question is by how much.
We can try to tighten up the metrics so well that no loopholes remain. Or …
And it’s the “or” that has me worried, because I can’t escape a distressing conclusion: We should stop measuring employees on how well they achieve goals we set for them. The alternative? Measure them instead on whether they do their work properly … on their technique.
Up to and including the CEO.
It stands everything we think we know about assessing performance on its head. The standard model, after all, is to measure employees on goals and coach on technique.
It would be as if, in major league baseball, managers no longer assessed batters on their batting averages and RBI totals and instead assessed them on the quality of their swings and how often they correctly anticipated the pitches thrown at them.
If would be as if, in the practice of medicine, we no longer assessed physicians on the health of their patients … oh, wait, never mind. We stopped doing that years ago. Let me start over: It would be as if, in the practice of medicine, we no longer assessed physicians on their profitability and instead assessed them on how well they matched diagnosis to symptoms and treatment to diagnosis.
It would be as if, instead of assessing teachers on how well their students performed on standardized tests, we assessed them on their classroom technique, the nature of their homework assignments, and how appropriately they graded student results.
It’s a radical notion, especially in the winning-is-the-only-thing culture we’ve cultivated in the United States: Miss Congeniality is not what beauty pageant contestants aspire to.
Nor is it clear that it would be an improvement. Batters probably should be assessed on their batting averages and RBI totals, for example. One reason it works in the batter’s box: There’s no way a batter can fudge the data.
For “Management By Technique” to work, there’s a prerequisite, and in most organizations it’s something to aspire to, not an achieved competence: We need to understand How Things Work with a great deal of clarity.
That, in fact, is the heart of the concept: If you know how your organization works … the buttons you can push and the levers everyone else needs to pull in order to turn events into success … then you can assess employees on their technique, confident that if each one executes well then the organization will be successful.
If you don’t have this understanding, you’re best off setting goals and hoping for the best.
Hoping would be an apt description, too, because realistic goals are a result of knowing your business, not an alternative to it.