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Measure for Measure

Measure for Measure

Many years ago, United Airlines told its reservations center (when human beings were still taking all reservations) that the primary strategic objective was superior customer service. Hence, agents were to carefully explain to all callers the options for fares, routing, use of frequent flyer miles, etc.

Sounds like a sane strategy being communicated to tactical levels, right? Wrong. United measured the effectiveness of the call center based on number of calls process per agent, per hour. See any cognitive dissonance there?

Police officers are often given quotas for tickets, especially in dry municipal revenue periods, which results in unfair and haphazard enforcement of everything from parking limits to speeding laws. No public school teacher I’ve ever encountered has been measured on the basis of student achievement, in the classroom or out of it. Usually, they are measured by how many days they live. Tenure is based on getting older, not getting better.

When you consult with organizations (large or small, complex or simple, for-profit or non-profit) there is a limited number of dynamics to examine in your analysis (this is heresy to those I call “convolutionists”). One of those is how people are measured.

I’ve consulted with consulting firms which evaluated themselves and their people by the number of proposals generated, NOT by the acceptance rate or business acquisition. Consequently, they developed a huge “back room” of drone-like employees chugging out proposals the was a factory outside of Shanghai chugs out black smoke. Ironically, and laughably, the boiler room proposal people found themselves “more successful” than the sales force because they were exceeding the proposal goals although sales weren’t closing!

When you enter a consulting engagement, determine whether the organization is failing to measure the important performance, and whether it is measuring unimportant performance. People respond to measures. Those police officers will find violations if they are behind quota. Those United Agents could have cared less about providing alternative routing data as they neared the two-minute standard to end the phone call.

Sometimes you can design a small change in the metrics of the organization which will startlingly and abruptly change the behavior you need changed. The “convolutionists” who want to launch their 14-step model and cite everyone from Likert to Lincoln won’t like this, but don’t worry about it.

Just call it “intelligent design.”

© Alan Weiss 2007. All rights reserved.

Written by

Alan Weiss is a consultant, speaker, and author of over 60 books. His consulting firm, Summit Consulting Group, Inc., has attracted clients from over 500 leading organizations around the world.

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