Good metrics vs. worthless ones, part one

Maybe it’s just that time of year, but I am somehow getting into a lot of discussions about metrics.

Sales metrics.

Compliance metrics.

Safety metrics.

Evaluation metrics.

And on and on…

What is grabbing my attention is how I often I am seeing worthless metrics.

And by worthless, I mean devoid of worth/value/utility.

Sure they measure things, but they don’t actually tell anyone anything. And worse, they don’t actually drive the desired outcome.

Because that’s the whole point, right? Getting the right things done?

Let me give you a brief example that everyone should find familiar… Safety.

Anyone who has ever worked in a larger organization (even as the cashier for a fast food joint) has seen the safety posters and seen the safety numbers posted on a wall. My favorite safety metric is “days without an incident.”

Does it clearly measure something? Of course it does. But, by itself, it doesn’t really tell you anything.

By itself, knowing how many days we have gone without an incident does not necessarily mean we are safe. We could just be lucky. There could any number of bad/risky behaviors at play, but since we are only measuring incidents – and not the behaviors that lead to safety – people can easily fall into a false sense of security.

And the worst part of this particular dynamic is that the better the number, the lazier people can become.

This happens in Sales all of the time. People make plan (or even beat plan) for one period and suddenly start to coast.

It happens in Production, where Quality numbers look good for one month, then drop off the next. Then go back up, then drop off again. It becomes a consistently up-and-down pattern over the course of a year.

And here’s what is going on.

If the only thing that is being measured is the final result/outcome, you don’t have a metric any more. You have turned it into a goal. Instead of focusing on doing the right things, people are focused on whether or not the numbers look good.

But here is the kicker: Metrics are not goals. They are simply indicators of whether or not the goal is being achieved.

A great athlete will never just focus on the score. He/she will focus on doing the right/best things and let the score take care of itself. Does the score matter? Of course it does. But it’s just a metric. It’s not the game.

Ask the people on your team what their goals are. If you only hear metrics as the answer to your question, you have a real problem. Your metrics have hijacked your goals. And that is going to lead to a bunch of bad behaviors.

But then, you can probably already see that now.

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

(Originally posted 4/19/16 on timohai.com)

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