Metrics drive behavior and culture

Whenever you find organizations behaving badly you can nearly always find a series of metrics driving that bad behavior.

The Irish Police (Garda) have been under intense scrutiny recently over the falsification of millions of breathalyzer tests. To achieve targets numbers were made up.

Saving lives on the road by ensuring drunk drivers are found and prosecuted is a worthy objective. That’s the desired outcome, but it’s not the key metric for the Irish police. The key metric that meets targets and ensure promotions is how many tests have been carried out. That’s the organizational output. It’s about volume.

Managers get excited by numbers, big numbers. That’s why, to this day, I hear senior managers talking about website HITS, because HITS are the biggest number you can find in digital. HITS stands for How Idiots Track Success, and have nothing remotely useful about them other than the fact that they are very big numbers and senior managers do love these very big numbers.

Organizational outputs are much easier to manipulate than customer outcomes. The Irish police just invented the number of tests (outputs) they did. However, they could not invent or manipulate the number of convictions for drunk driving (outcomes).

The Irish police are a classic example of organization-centric culture. When they write training manuals or policy directives, they write massive, massive ones. Because it’s all about the volume, the cult of volume. Look at all the work I’ve done. Look at how much I’ve written.

Then these incredible hulk documents are published somewhere and as far as those in charge are concerned, it’s job done, mission accomplished. So many trees fall in the forest to create these humongous documents that practically nobody sees, hears or reads. But that doesn’t matter because in an organization-centric culture, the metric of success is the organizational output (the document).

The guide for carrying out breath tests, for example, is hundreds of pages long, which no normal person would read even if they could find it, which most can’t. These monster documents, churned out with incredible speed and frequency, are shoveled into a ‘portal’. A portal, that doorway to another world (seven circles of hell)—that place where documents go to die.

It’s all digital now, which means that organizations can save lots of money on training, guidance, discussion, building competence and understanding. It’s all in the Portal now, where monster PDFs lurk deep down in the depths. (A portal is a website that costs you five-times more.)

The Irish police are just an extreme example of what happens on the vast majority of intranets I’ve seen over the years. Precious little investment, practically zero senior management interest. Small teams struggle with monstrous beasts of badly organized, poorly written, out-of-date content, and software tools more akin to torture instruments. Metrics based on how many more torture tools and how much more crap content has been launched. Never measuring what really matters.

Back before digital, it was so much easier to hide the manipulation of figures and targets. It was so much easier to have a management system based on organizational output metrics. But there is an unavoidable transparency about digital. Digital stuff is so much more difficult to hide. Digital stuff is so much easier to track. Digital stuff is so much easier to leak.

Organizational output metrics are not simply more open to manipulation. They generally encourage bad practices and corrupt cultures. In the digital world we can measures customer outcomes much more easily than in the physical world. This is the road to a better customer experience.

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