11 years, 26 days ago

The psychology of measurement #openwork

I recently had the opportunity to work with a team who were trying to take a fresh look at the performance measured used by the team. My view on such a situation is that there are really only 2 questions you need to ask yourself:

1. What is the vision?

2. What measurements can I put in place to help me achieve the vision?

In reality, as our discussion progressed it became clear that these two questions were not at the forefront of the teams minds, instead the questions were:

1. What do we measure now that other people expect us to continue measuring?

2. Can we measure something if no one else in the org is measuring the same thing?

3. What if we measure something that gives someone else leverage over us?

4. What if we measure something that makes us look bad?

5. How can I use measurement to push my own agenda?

These are all useless and distracting questions but I think breaking down 4 and 5 provides some interesting insight.

Regarding 4. So what? Isn’t that a good thing? demonstrating poor performance in an era where you want to perform is the first step in improving that performance.

Regarding 5, I think this is an inherently selfish perspective about ‘how can I use measurement to support my individual goals’. Is it naive to think that if an org has a clear and coherent vision then there should be no need for personal agendas because personal agendas are overridden  by buy-in to and pull towards the organisations vision?

The fact that both of these questions exist in the minds of the team hints at a more fundamental set of problems.

What if we returned to the to initial questions I posed and did so from a perspective of openness? Measurement has context, and therefore a commentary, the context is your vision. Does it matter if a measure shows a lack of progress toward achieving the vision? If your vision is valid and aligns with the organisations goals then surely it’s a good thing for others to be aware of something that isn’t contributing as it should so remedial action can be taken?

A problem within a team that constrains the wider organisations ability to achieve its vision is a problem for the whole org, Not just within the team in which it was identified.

Concern over highlighting bad performance against a measurement is a symptom of problems within the culture of the organisation. Blame, lack of responsibility, accountability and ownership, manifest themselves in desire to reduce transparency and question the rationality of openness. 

I believe there is a better way based on radical openness and transparency that permeates organisations, silos and agendas. I’ll write more about this soon. If reading this has sparked some thoughts then i’d welcome any comments either on this blog or @ me on twitter or use the #openwork hashtag