Measurement is Not Management

“The employees respect what the boss inspects.” Since Frederick Winslow Taylor published The Principles of Scientific Management in 1911, breaking down tasks into measurable pieces had been the cornerstone for employee training and tracking performance.

Why then, do many large organizations with over 100 years of measuring work still  have problems with productivity? I once had a friend who supervised a plastic bottle production line. Every quarter, new productivity goals came down from “management.” He could always tell when they were too aggressive. A yellow hard hat, required wear in the plant, would accidently fall into the plastic mix.

MetropolisThat necessitated a work stoppage, and several days of lost production while the feed lines were cleaned out. Production goals went out the window. A rash of such accidents first generated threats of retaliation, but it was never the same employee twice. The next quarter, goals would be jiggered to emphasize a reduction in lost production, not the speed of the line.

Things would run pretty smoothly, until the word came down to speed up production again.

Employees like to excel. I’ve seen scores, and probably hundreds, far exceed their own wildest expectations in the proper circumstances. Everyone wants to be recognized for their effort, and measurable goals are a part of that.

I knew an owner who hated “motivational techniques.” He took pride in what he considered adult treatment. “You  know what you are supposed to do, and as long as you do it, I’ll leave you alone.”

One week he put a number on a piece of paper on the wall. Literally. Hand written, no explanation, no rewards even hinted at. Everyone recognized it as a sales number about 25% in excess of anything they had ever done. By midday on Friday the whole team was frenetically pounding the phones looking for new opportunities. They beat the number by a whisker, and threw themselves a party after work.

That’s a great story about the value of goals, but would putting a new number on the wall the following week have had the same effect? What about the week after that?

Of course not, but it’s what many business owners try to do. When simply setting goals isn’t sufficient, they try adding incentives. When some other factor such as product quality or customer satisfaction, declines, they set new goals in those areas. Their management style becomes a juggling act; an ongoing effort to balance objectives and rewards. Somehow, they never get to the Holy Grail of consistent and motivated employee effort.

Measurement is not management. It’s a tool for tracking performance, but it isn’t performance. It helps in motivating employees, but goals aren’t motivational by themselves. It can direct employees’ attention to important areas, but it doesn’t make them want to improve.

Management is not leadership. We all know owners who are lucky if they know what their revenue is, yet run effective operations that make enviable profits. You probably know others who “run by the numbers,” but seem to struggle when it comes to getting good results.

Simon Sinek has put his stamp on “Start with Why?” His big-picture approach, of a company that builds raving fans internally and externally is great, but not everyone can come up with (or buy into) the Big Why.

Your job as a business owner is to help employees understand why they want to do their jobs well. Some of that may be a Big Picture, but more often it’s because they have a good place to work, are recognized for their performance, and can go home at the end of the day feeling like they accomplished something.

Measurement is part of that, but it only deserves a supporting role.


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4 Responses to Measurement is Not Management

  1. David Basri says:

    Could not agree more!

  2. In French the word is Saboteur for throwing you wooden shoe into the mill to stop the work. before Mr. Taylor or you friend experienced in in the bottle factory. That is the real issue. why do we keep reinventing the wheel? people don’t change – the environment in which they work and are surrounded does. They are not guinea pigs to experiment on. The real issue is what knd of employee do you reruit and grow within your organization.

  3. Todd Marquardt says:

    I’m impressed by your awesome insight as usual. I’ll keep your article in mind as we manage by statistics.

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