The minute you start to measure is the minute it starts to go wrong

OK – so before I go any further, I realise that I’m a lone voice in the wilderness. I fly in the face of accepted wisdom – that management is an activity based around control and measurement, and so if you can’t measure you can’t manage.

But there have been three separate news stories this week that have shown to me that there seems to be something inherent within the human societal psyche that means that the minute you start to measure something will be the minute that people start to rig the measures.

1 – Barclays and the LIBOR; without getting into all the details, the headline is simple: major bank misreports on its numbers to make itself look better than the reality.

2 – the UK government looking to mandate a single schools examination board for each academic subject to prevent competition between boards leading to easier exams

3 – Apple cracking down on people trying to rig their rankings on their app store

So, if you measure, you’ll be facing two things; firstly dispute about what exactly it is you are measuring (because no-one will agree), and secondly people then trying to “game” the measures to hit targets whilst ignoring the spirit of what was trying to be achieved.

So what’s the alternative? Well, in my humble opinion it’s about treating measures as one would treat a barometer and better understanding causality: if your barometer tells you it’s going to be low pressure, you’d be advised to take an umbrella. On the other hand, you’d be crazy to wear shorts and a sun hat in an attempt to raise the atmospheric pressure, and taking the barometer and placing it deep underwater to raise the recorded pressure is stupid too…

2 thoughts on “The minute you start to measure is the minute it starts to go wrong

  1. Spot on Matt – I live by the adage “You become what you measure!” It leads to irrational decisions with more focus on the metric than the spirit and soul of the task at hand…… “Do the right thing” and the metrics will follow.

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