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Tuesday, November 14, 2020

Measurement Versus Trust



Do people only do things when they are “measured” on what they have done? Can no one be trusted to do what they have been convinced is right, even if there is nobody checking up on them afterwards? The “audit mentality” that pervades business today is undermining any trust that might exist. Yet we have never needed people’s innate sense of values and honesty more, since constant supervision will eventually overload any manager, and people whom you don’t trust don’t trust you either.

I noticed this comment recently from someone who was writing about diversity in organizations. The writer claimed that it is essential to measure every behavior in detail because: “You only get change when you measure it.”

What a depressing viewpoint! It implies people will only do things if they are supervised and—at least potentially—criticized or punished for non-compliance. It this true? Will no one change their behavior because they believe it is right to do so? Or because they have been convinced by rational argument?

It used to be assumed that people of good will could be trusted to do what is right, once that had been made clear to them.
Such an attitude appears to be generally prevalent amongst many managers and leaders. Such is their distrust of others, and perhaps their cynicism after various past experiences, that they assume no one will comply with a reasonable request on a voluntary basis. Everything must be measured, supervised, and monitored—or people will simply ignore you.

Heaven save us from the audit mentality that measures everything and knows the value of nothing.
No wonder so many managers are grossly overburdened. It used to be assumed that people of good will could be trusted to do what is right, once that had been made clear to them. Now it seems no one is trusted to do anything on their own. What happens if the behavior cannot be measured? Or if whatever you wish people to pay attention to must be done when there is no one else to watch and take note of any backsliding? Does that means certain behaviors—like treating others kindly, doing the job you are paid for, and behaving ethically when no one else is there to see—must be abandoned as impractical?

Heaven save us from the audit mentality that measures everything and knows the value of nothing. And from those who no longer believe in the power of rational argument and proof to convince others to do what is in the best interests of all. If all that remains is measurement and enforced compliance, we are getting close to the “Mind Police” and the awful totalitarianism described by George Orwell in his book “1984.”

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17 Comments:

Aaron Kassover said...

Definitely true. We've been noticing a similar trend of replacing 'trust' in our leaders with 'accountability'. I mentioned it briefly in a post called "The Softer Side of Leadership" in our blog, Leader's Notebook.

4:38 PM  
Aaron Kassover said...

Definitely true. We've been noticing a similar trend of replacing 'trust' in our leaders with 'accountability'. I mentioned it briefly in a post called "The Softer Side of Leadership" in our blog, Leader's Notebook.

4:38 PM  
Charles H. Green said...

YOu touch on two points that are more and more evident in management tomes--the justification of actions solely by reference to one's own benefit, and the behaviorist obsession for measurement. As you imply, they do often go together.

I think a lot of this tendency has come from recent trends in business academia. The emphasis on competitive strategy has defined the business world as a zero-sum game--winning or losing. Worse yet, it's often winning or losing vis a vis one's own suppliers or customers (see, for example, the US auto industry's sorry history of beating up its supplier chain).

In addition, the emphasis on quantification has led theoreticians to seek one ultimate "dependent variable," for which all equations can be solved. Natch, that ends up being profit (or its more sophisticated brethren, return on capital or return on shareholder equity).

The academicization of business has led to a plethora of PhD candidates trying to turn business into an exercise in obscure research using linear programming techniques. The epitome of that is the phrase, "you can't manage it if you can't measure it."

Leaving aside what "it" might be, it's still absurd on the face of it. You can manage in many ways that don't require measurement: fear, love, intimidation, example, praise come to mind. Not only does management not require measurement, measurement doesn't guarantee management.

It's instructive to look at how little is taught in areas that every busisiness person would agree are critical: sales; self-knowledge; communications; negotiation; constructive confrontation.

Until business sees itself as consisting of a positive relationship with its customers--not a negative relationships with its competitors--we're likely to stay in this behavioral, quantitative mess. And to end up justifying actions in selfish ways that end up diminishing all of us.

7:39 PM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Thanks for your comment and link, Aaron. Trust is alive, unlike "accountability," which sounds like something people talk about, but no one ever felt. And trust is two way: those who don't trust others aren't trusted themselves. If you want others to trust you (and what leader doesn't need trust all the time?), you have to demonstrate trust in them first. It always starts with the leader.

Keep reading, my friend.

10:56 PM  
Carmine Coyote said...

You make some great points, Charles, and I'm very grateful for your time in writing so fully.

I agree that business is a human activity, based as much on relationships as it is on abstractions like financial profit and "shareholder value." It should also be a humane set of dealings, many of which, as you so rightly say, have little to do with anything that can—or should—be quantified.

People worship numbers in the mistaken belief that numerical processes are "scientific," happily ignoring the truly scientific process of basing choices and decisions on evidence and verifiable data. As I have written before on this blog, the depth of ignorance in business circles about numbers and statistics would be amusing, were it not so tragic.

A great many of the measurements so laboriously collected and carefully watched are, in truth, meaningless rubbish. Meanwhile, genuine (but non-numeric) sources of important information, like people's observations and understanding, are ignored, because they are considered "unscientific."

Keep reading (and commenting), my friend.

11:08 PM  
Tom Harris said...

Yes, trust is important. And there are certainly dangers in counting things.

But monitoring can be used positively to ensure that we're not just pretending progress, but rather, actually making progress.

4:06 AM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Of course, Tom. I'm not against measurement per se, merely trying to point out that it isn't a panacea for all ills; and that today it is more often used badly than well.

Keep reading, my friend.

7:26 AM  
gary said...

I find myself torn on this one. The Audit mentality might be rooted in the plethera of lawsuits relative to termination of employment. Without the metrics, the Company could be exposed to very costly litigation.

Further, it appears at times that we demonstrate our trust with third parties more than those in our employ or colleagues. Maybe it's similar to the way we "abuse" our relationships with our families because we expect them to understand.

Then there's accountability. We are all employed to meet "The Goal" as Goldratt noted, to make money. Perhaps that seems to be too Draconian a measurement of our value. But I think it is the real Audit metric.

7:15 AM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Thanks for your comment, Gary.

Yes, money is the ultimate audit metric, but it is far from the only element in "value." As I responded to Tom, I am not against measurement per se, only the way it becomes the sole arbiter—esepcialy when what is used to determine value is there simply because it is measurable.

Many important components of true value are ignored because they cannot easily be reduced to numbers on a spreadsheet.

Keep reading, my friend.

8:16 AM  
Diana said...

I remember an early job in the Air Force where my boss was trying to come up with some meaningful metrics. We were supposed to have SOMETHING to measure to show whether we were doing a good job or not. In the end, I recall it came down to finding something that was easy to measure, and you can guess it was probably not too meaningful.

On the other hand, I've noticed many times that knowing someone will check gives people the extra motivation to do things the right way. For example the ISO9000 type system of having internal and external audits helps people make it a priority to do the activities they know are right, but would sometimes remain undone in dealing with the normal day to day urgencies.

I also recall former NYC Mayor Guiliani speaking on the importance of what you measure. It used to be an effective NYC cop made the most arrests. Then they started to measure crime. With this change in measurement, there was a corresponding change in focus of the police. Now they started putting their efforts into preventative methods, and they were able to measure which methods were most effective.

Metrics for metrics sake are a waste of time. Metrics used by a leader to drive the right behavior and get feedback for continuous improvement is invaluable.

9:35 AM  
Carmine Coyote said...

This is a great comment, Diana, and you make a worthwhile point that measuring the right things (which may not be things you can measure numerically) can be wise, while simply doing measurement for its own sake (or choosing a metric that is "easy," or one selected because it can be turned into a number) is a waste of time.

My gripe with the current obsession with measurement is that it makes both of these errors: it focuses on what is easy to discover (whether it means anything or not); and it either only takes account of numerical items, or tries to turn non-numerical, qualitative items into quantities, however nonsensical that is.

Add to this the fact that many managers are poorly equipped to understand the true validity of numerical or statistical measures (and that includes many accountants, who are often amongst the most arithmetically-challenged of managers) and you have a recipe for more than wasting time. You have a situation that almost guarantees that silly decisions will be made—then justified by equally silly sets of figures.

Keep reading, my friend.

11:12 AM  
Kent S. said...

Hi, I found this mp3 at http://www.mccarthyshow.com and thought you might like it.

The McCarthy's have developed methods to help teams get aligned, where people work towards a shared vision, and in the process get more of what they individually want.

Episode 64: Trust... Trust is the magic elixir for getting things done
Trust is a key ingredient in a healthy team. When high levels of trust exist, magic happens.

Episode 68: Vulnerability... The currency of great leaders.
People follow leaders who exhibit vulnerability.

Here are links to the podcasts http://mccarthyshow.fast-serv.com/Podcasts/McShow64.mp3 and http://mccarthyshow.fast-serv.com/Podcasts/McShow68.mp3

1:23 PM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Thanks, Kent. Those are great links.

Keep reading.

2:08 PM  
gary said...

Carmine, you are absolutely correct. Show me a company that is run by Bean Counters and I'll show you a company to stay away from as an employee. Using money as the main metric is not a sustainable business model. It's about value as you say and how much wealth it creates. I probably should have ended my last comment by saying that measurement of wealth is the correct metric. In my opinion you cannot create wealth without creating value. I am defining wealth as the total amount of income over time. That is to say that an employee that contributes to the production of income for the company in any form is creating wealth and therefore adding value. So now I ask how would you measure the amount of wealth that an employee is contributing?

7:00 AM  
Carmine Coyote said...

That's a tough question, Gary.

I think my approach to an answer would start by asking how much the employee was contributing to three things:

1. The growing value of the business (by means of creative ideas, additional relationships, and enhanced reputation).

2. The ability of the business to deliver on its promises (by steady contribution, long-term commitment to the success of the business, and willingness to help create a civilized and effective workplace environment).

3. The absence of negative behaviors (not being a jerk, being kind and helpful to colleagues and customers, and going the extra mile when that mile is needed.)

That would do for a start, but I am sure I could think of other things, given time. I also notice that most of my "measures" are qualitative. I think that inputs almost have to measured in terms of qualities, whereas some outputs are suitable for quantitative measures.

Keep reading, my friend.

8:02 AM  
Austin Bob said...

Managing people as if they were mere multidimensional vectors of quantifiably measurable attributes is counterproductive. There seems to me to be a lot more to it.

7:08 PM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Thanks for your comment and your link, Austin Bob.

The world is far more complex than our numerical measurements can handle.

Keep reading, my friend.

9:19 PM  

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