"You Get What You Measure"
Updated: Nov 28, 2022
The reality is more like, "What you measure is all you'll get. What you don't (or can't) measure is lost." – H. Thomas Johnson.
In business improvement circles, we often hear the phrase, "You get what you measure." This phrase is commonly used when discussing Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) centered around business improvement initiatives. Similarly, "You can't manage what you don't measure" is another excellent adage. Unless you measure something, you don't know whether it is getting better or worse. You can't manage business improvements if you don't measure to see what is getting better and what isn't.
For example, when attending Tuesday evening accounting class at a local community college decades ago, there were limited dinner options as the course was dismissed at 8:50 PM. There was a sizeable fast-food franchise on the route home famous for letting you Have it Your Way. Starving, and with few other options available in the area, I would make it a point to visit the drive-thru every Tuesday evening at about 9:30 PM.
As you probably know, the typical flow is to drive up to the menu stand, place your order, move around the corner, and stop at the window, where you pay and receive your order. For a few weeks in a row, the server at the window took my money and asked if I minded pulling up into the waiting area and having someone bring my order right out. Falsely thinking I was getting freshly prepared food, I was certainly willing to oblige. In about a minute or so, another worker brought the food to my car, thanked me, and wished me a good night.
Finally, after a few weeks of this, I replied, "No, there is no one behind me, and I will not pull up into the waiting area." The young server was taken aback and replied that she would get the manager, and I agreed that that would be a good idea.
After the manager arrived at the window and asked me what the problem was, I told him that having me pull up into the waiting area when no one was behind me and then having an employee immediately run out to my car with my order was ridiculous. The manager laughed and said, "That's all right, bonuses are calculated on how long it takes to get your order, so they ask you to pull up to get off the sensors to trick the system." I told the manager that it was not a very effective measurement operation, and he agreed.
You get what you measure. The person who designed this measurement did not think of how it could be abused, as in my experience. The original purpose of the metric was to measure meeting or exceeding customers' expectations for fast service. It was then converted into a bonus-generating mechanism with the opposite effect, and the manager was complicit in the scheme. Sometimes, what you measure is all you will get.
Roger Pujol is a business improvement consultant and founder of Champion Business Solutions, LLC. He speaks and writes about encounters helping small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) improve their business operations.
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