The things we measure are the things that actually matter.
This might seem to go in the “Duh, obvious!” category at first glance. But this phenomenon goes much deeper than we initially think.
Example: In our companies, we want our customer service folks to treat customers like gold, right? That kind of behavior is how we keep customers coming back and how we encourage them to spend more, etc.
However, this desire for excellent service is usually counteracted by the things we actually measure. Most companies don’t have “wowing customers” as a metric. Instead, we measure our customer service representatives on how little time they can spend with customers. When we do this, no amount of “The Customer Comes First” rhetoric will ever overcome that measurement. It can’t — because it’s not what we’re measuring. No matter how much we insist that’s what we want, it can only ever be lip service; our reps are forever confined to work within the limits of their metrics.
This is how it works in every walk of life, by the way.
In sports, players play to the metrics defined for them. (For more on this, read Andy Stefanovich’s fantastic book Look At More.) Companies adhere to environmental regulations set for them by the federal government. Doctors conform to the best practices as defined by the professional organizations in their field.
We are built (or at least heavily conditioned) to color inside the lines.
Now, if we think with a victim mentality, this reality is quite depressing. But if we believe that we create the future, it’s rather exciting.
As a leader, you’re the one drawing the lines.
(Lesson: draw your measurements carefully.)
UPDATE 11/15/11: This phenomenon also affects nations and technology. Kind of makes one wonder what’s more important than determining the things we are going to measure, doesn’t it?