19th Century Medicine, 19th Century Management
Something unexpected happened with a recent post I wrote, “If it can be measured, it can be manipulated” (link below). My intention with the post was to point out the pressure employees feel to game whatever system you throw at them, and the futility of managing by metrics. It’s a call for managers to work with their people, rather than their spreadsheets; for leaders to treat their people like mature, responsible adults rather than troublesome children.
To my readers’ credit, most got it, as you can see in the comments.
For every terrific comment, I received a dozen or more tweets remarking on the post. Most of these got it, too – but a solid minority said, basically, “Fire the cheaters and double down on the metrics!”
Let me be clear: I am not at all tolerant of unethical conduct, inside of business or out. Indeed, I’ve recently been called old fashioned and a Puritan by different friends who know me and who understand how serious I am about ethical – indeed, moral – behavior in business and beyond. If someone is cheating, harming your company in any way, even if just through a negative example, I say fire away, by all means!
But that’s not what my post was about. My post was about how many leaders trap their employees in no-win-besides-cheating situations with the detrimental hoops they demand their employees jump through. My post was about (mostly) good employees and the incompetent leaders who micromanage them.
We live in an era when it’s easier than ever to collect whatever micro-data we want on all sorts of things: all manner of employee and consumer behavior, as well as on markets and supply chains and commodities and voters block-by-block and… you name it!
The biggest problem I observe with all of these micro-measurements is, leaders are relying too heavily on all this unfiltered data and, in so doing, they’re abdicating their leadership duties.
Leaders, stop counting the leaves on one particular tree out there. Step back and discover the beauty of the whole forest! Think big picture, strategically; holistically. Start with these questions:
- What is your business trying to accomplish? Why?
- How can a given group of employees help achieve that goal?
- What can you, as a leader, do to clear a path to productivity? In other words, how can you serve them?
- What few metrics (seriously: one, or two, or at most three things) should you provide them to tell them how they’re doing?
- What else can you do to help them?
Leaders, your role is not to preside over a struggling, oppressed workforce. That’s what 19th Century leaders did at the dawn of the Industrial Era. In the 21st Century we can manage better than that. A comparison to medicine works here. Think of a trip to the doctor in 1870, 1950, and today. If you had a time machine, would you send your family back in time to fight disease? Then why would you manage with methods from a bygone era?
This is the part of the post where I invite you to weigh in through the comments section. Please, let me have it! The dialog is how I learn and grow as a leader and author.
Click here to read If It Can Be Measured, It Can Be Manipulated.
Graphic by Shawn Murphy