The hidden risk of performance measures

As we get better at focus, we learn that stopping people (including ourselves) from working on the wrong stuff is probably more important than trying to convince people to work on the right stuff. Im beginning to realize that reporting a measurement on something that doesnt need attention right now, is one of the butterfly-effect triggers that will absorb vast amounts of activity in return for no bottom line improvements.

“Actionable information only” – more important than I thought

Last week I wrote about the importance of only sending out Actionable Information, and from the replies I received it seems I might have touched on something that many people identified with.

From the comments and thinking about this concept further, it became clear to me that there is more to this than meets the eye.

In summary last week’s article said that the time and effort spent on creating non-actionable information is wasted. However, it’s becoming clear to me that the problem is bigger than that. The time wasted in producing the non-actionable information is only the tip of the iceberg. It is the first domino in a butterfly effect of work that gets created once that report hits the mailboxes of the people who are supposed to take note, and take action, on this information.

Most of us don’t instinctively focus – we instinctively get busier

Just randomly ask around you how many people still believe that “being able to multitask” is a good skill, and you will realize that most people are not going to read that report and ask “where should I focus?” but rather they are going to read that report and ask, “what are all the place where I should improve?”

They’re not going to ask “what should I stop doing to make time for the most important?” but are going to ask, “What else should I start doing?”

The hours of work in creating unactionable information suddenly explodes exponentially as people begin to respond to this information, discussing it, and thinking about ways to improve the various performance measures, without necessarily taking the time to ask themselves whether this is really the most important thing to be improving right now.

Managers delegate lack of focus

Managers look at these measures and begin to ask their subordinates to answer and explain some of the trends. Subordinates begin to spend time trying to understand what exactly was measured, how it was measured, why it was measured, and because they know they must appear pro-active, they also spend some time figuring out what they can promise to do in order to improve this before the next time it gets reported.

It’s really difficult to ignore a pretty graph

You see, it may be true that we most often cannot manage what we do not measure – but it is equally true that most of us cannot ignore what does get measured. The moment something is reported in a management report and put up on a wall, or distributed in an email list, or printed and put on your desk – that moment that you see it, something in your brain tells you that this must be important. Not only must it be important, but it must improve.

The point is still the same as last week.

“Actionable information only, please.”

However, the importance of this has just increased exponentially.

To your success

Ashton

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