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Business Creativity & Innovation

Is It Healthy To Measure Everything?

Measurement is it healthyI must admit that I do have an aversion to control and authority so when people ask ‘do we have to measure things?’ I like to say no without thinking. Common sense dictates the opposite. We are all familiar with the adage ‘you can only manage what you can measure’ so then one would think that we do need to measure things.

Is it that simple though? There has also been a huge outburst in the media about draconian monitoring of the productivity of warehouse workers.

We now have the ability (but more worryingly the desire) to see how fast our employees walk, how long their toilet breaks are and how many widgets they can carry per hour. This sort of measurement focuses only on actions that the employer has previously determined will help the business. It ignores actions that the employer has forgotten about (productivity failure there for the board) or on problem-solving and thinking.

Ought we to care about how far an employee walks as long as they fulfil their orders? What if they ran around the warehouse and so could take breaks that were double the norm? Are we actually measuring the wrong things? We tend to measure what we think that an employee should be doing in fulfilling a service or customer need. Why not just determine if the customer needs were met? Why go into that much detail.

What should happen if an employee takes the time to stop and think? What if they suggest moving racks of widgets so that employees do not have to walk so far? Potentially an employer is removing the likelihood of the business becoming more productive!

So productivity tools do not measure the usefulness of thinking!

There are many bad things about measuring productivity, enough perhaps to write a book about but here are a couple more to get you thinking.

In order to foster a culture of innovation we need to embrace ambiguity and we often have to perform non-standard activities – we need to take risks. Activities such as prototyping or research are often unplanned with uncertain outcomes. Our productivity measurement machine would not like this. Do you think this is helpful to our innovation efforts? Will most employees conform because it maximises their pay at the end of the month?

Core features of innovation are killed by productivity tools!

Innovation is a team or perhaps company-wide activity, but our monster measurement tools are usually looking at what individual employees are doing. This does not recognise the fact that individuals contribute in different ways or more importantly that when an employee has an off day his or her colleagues can rally round and help. No, we must let poorly performing individuals drown apparently.

Productivity tools are looking at the wrong things! 

These are just a few ideas on why such tools may not help. If you use any tools to help measure productivity or the performance of employees please take the time to think about what you want to achieve, and why. More importantly, think about what these tools could be stopping you from achieving (thinking, team working, less stress, innovation …).

Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle also has a ring of truth about these cases. If we try and measure something then the act of measuring will affect the system we are measuring. There is no such thing as non-intrusive measurement. Oh, and I forgot to say that simply introducing such a system introduces an overhead anyway (not good for productivity is it?).

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