I believe every one of us needs to keep score of how we are doing. We need to know if we are achieving our stated goals.
But, be careful! What you measure becomes your master. I see leaders and entire organizations mastered by what they measure. Often this is not a good thing.
Many leaders and organizations measure the means of reaching admirable goals and lose site of the end — the goal itself. The result are teams characterized by bureaucracy, micro-management and mediocre results.
The Problem with Measuring Means
There are plenty of football teams in the NFL who wrack up a lot of yards on offense. Some have winning records and some do not. A prolific offense is a mark of a winning team, but it does not insure victory.
Two of the top offenses in the NFL so far this season belong to the New Orleans Saints and the Detroit Lions. Both lost this weekend and both have losing records.
Gaining yardage on offense is a means to scoring. But focusing on offensive yards alone ignores the ultimate measure of success – victories.
A coach of a football team with great stats and a losing percentage should be fired. The same should be said of a business leader or an individual who fails to deliver winning results.
Racking up impressive metrics in areas that are means (offensive yards) instead of ends (victories) leads to a false sense of accomplishment in many organizations.
Measurement is Important
When you measure something, people tend to pay attention to it. If I want my team to pay attention to a certain area of my business, I should start measuring it.
If I post a scoreboard for all to see, the team will strive to score in that area. The key then becomes what a leader measures not whether to measure or not.
Be Careful What You Measure
When something is measured, it becomes important. Too often, I have seen leaders begin to measure something as a response to an ugly result from the past. They measure the means and lose focus on the ends.
- Mean: Contacts End: Sales
- Mean: Sales Calls End: Sales
- Mean: Business Planning End: Plan Achievement
- Mean: Safety End: Production Goals
- Mean: Website Visits End: Revenues
None of the means listed above are bad things to track. In fact, without the means, the ends will rarely be achieved. The problem lies in placing equal priority on the means and the ends.
Frequency Equals Importance
The leaders at headquarters desire sales, plan achievement, production goals and revenues be the priority. But, if the means are measured weekly and the ends are measured quarterly the message from headquarters is unclear.
The people on the frontlines interpret importance based on the number of times something is communicated. The more frequently something is measured the higher priority it becomes.
No matter how many quarterly reports discuss the important bottom line results, those reports are trumped by the weekly reports on less important items. Those reports are often reinforced by messages from frontline managers to add to the confusion.
The Bottom Line:
Teams fail when they focus on the delivering processes versus delivering results. Means are useful to measure when the ultimate results fall short. They are also useful interim measurements as you move towards the ultimate goals.
Organizations and leaders fall into a trap when the means replace the ends as priorities. They begin to demand reports, organize meetings, and hire consultants to help them improve means focused metrics.
Over time, the people who are being measured lose sight of what the ultimate goal may be. Winning the game, selling a product, and achieving production goals should all be more important than the plays or processes designed to achieve them.
Organizations and leaders who lose sight of the ultimate goals that determine success are often measuring the wrong things. By carefully choosing what is measured and the frequency of those measurements, leaders enhance an organizations focus instead of diluting it.
What means are getting too much attention where you work?