What Gets Measured Gets Done


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You show me how I will be measured…

… And I will show you how I will behave

We all know it’s true. There is scientific evidence to prove it. If you set someone a goal they will try to hit it. It is so effective that measurement and target setting have become the number 1 management tool.

But applying the tape measure to your organisation is a subtle art, the way you do it can lead to remarkably different results:

Method 1: Micro Measurement

This is the common method, it worries about the component parts of an organisation and individual performance. The measurement system is:

  1. Task focused: measuring the internal tasks and how well staff do them.
  2. Controlling: telling employees what needs to be done and ensuring compliance.
  3. Detailed: measuring every input ensuring a full picture, leaving nothing to chance.
  4. Target driven: using SMART goals so that there is no debate about what good looks like.
  5. Incentivised: to be sure the measurement system drives results it includes financial incentives.

Method 2: Macro Measurement

The road less travelled, this method focuses on the interactions within a business and looks at the total system. The measurement approach is:

  1. Outcome focused: looking at what the customer wants and measuring how well the whole system delivers.
  2. Empowering: ascertaining employees needs and working to meet them.
  3. Holistic: focusing on the few key things that are important, showing the wood from the trees.
  4. Relative: using trend lines to make sure that everybody knows what better looks like.
  5. Capability building: to be sure the measurement drives results it results in coaching and development.

Which is the better method?

Both methods are guaranteed to give you the outcome you ask for. So which should you use? That depends on what you need to get done.

  • Do you want the components of your business to work better — your calls answered quickly?
  • Or the system to work better — your customers to have their problems resolved?

They are not the same thing.  Just remember:

What gets measured gets done

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what gets measured gets done

Image by: Stevie’s Snaps

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Republished with author's permission from original post.

James Lawther
James Lawther is a middle-aged middle manager. To reach this highly elevated position he has worked for many organisations, from supermarkets to tax collectors and has had multiple roles from running a night shift to doing operational research. He gets upset by operations that don't work and mildly apoplectic about poor customer service.


  1. This is also very much an issue of “be careful what you ask for”, and many organizations can fall into this trap. Want higher service scores? You may get them, but other elements of value may be compromised. Just ask Sprint. Want higher satisfaction or recommendation scores? You may get them, but they have been proven to have little impact on real customer behavior; so, the outcome doesn’t fit very well with the objective.

    Although my perspective on measurement is controversial to some of my colleagues – http://customerthink.com/is-there-a-single-most-actionable-contemporary-and-real-world-metric-for-managing-optimizing-and-leveraging-customer-experience-and-behavior/ – I’m strongly of the viewpoint that macro and micro measurement, for all emotional and rational elements of value delivery, can be accomplished with a straightforward framework. http://www.qualitydigest.com/inside/quality-insider-article/customer-advocacy-behavior-measurement-part-1.html

  2. I agree with Michael, it is how you ask, what you ask and whether you are using the right metrics for the area you are trying to measure.
    Sometimes the metric is entirely different. For example clients wanted metrics for a Customer Value intervention. Never having done this before, they could not use improvement in the Customer Value score, so they evaluated the work vs business excellence score improvements, sales increase, service calls per day for service persons. All of them improved significantly (sales went up by 30%), the company moved from the worst BE performer in the group to the best. Service calls per serviceman went up from 4 to 5 a day. Huge improvements. But the primary metrics of Customer Value Added could not be compared with past data.

  3. I’d like to add that it is more than just how you ask it also depends on the maturity of the organization and the culture, which talks to Gautam’s point. A combination of macro and micro works well in all cultures but the route to get there is different depending on the health of the organization.

    I spend a lot of time helping organization’s align and move forward. Using a participating planning methodology, the organizaiton aligns and defines macro goals and objectives…in the end everyone develops target contributions (SMART goals that are directly tied to the annual business plan). It works.

    However, one client had a top down command and control culture. The CEO decided he wanted that to change after 20 years. Getting the VPs, Directors, Managers, etc. to take on increased responsbility, transparency and accountability was a long and painful process. They had been richly rewarded in the past by doing what they were told. We got them there but it took a year where in most companies it takes 3 months.

    Measurement and management is fine but overlook the impact of culture and the informal organization.

  4. James, you raise many good points.
    An overarching concern regarding metrics is that so many companies are measuring the wrong behaviors.
    Companies serious about reengineering the Customer Experience have found that their traditional metrics are not compatible with measuring high levels of customer engagement.
    Most of the traditional metrics are manufacturing metrics which are measuring things like talk time or “first call resolution” which often focus on speed to get the rep off the phone versus effectiveness in solving the customer’s needs. This behavior often results in increased talk time due to reps not listening or engaging with empathy, with the result that customers are not satisfied and often have to call back to try to get to the problem resolved.

    The same rethinking of metrics to ensure alignment with customer engagement needs to take place for every point of interaction with customers.

  5. ‘What gets measured, gets done,’ yeah, I’ll buy that – kind of. But the aphorism is too reductive. It doesn’t take into consideration how (or whether) people are compensated for achieving targets, political infighting, and union rules. For example, there’s plenty of measurement going on in education today, and no shortage of questions about whether the right outcomes are produced.

    Implementing measurements to get things done sounds like a panacea, but as Michael points out, it doesn’t always work that way. Measuring graduation rates might increase the number of graduates, but it doesn’t necessarily produce better graduates.

    One thing that challenges the unique veracity of the statement is that the opposite can also be true: ‘what doesn’t get measured gets done.’ There are abundant examples: good judgement, personal responsibility, morals and ethics. (see Harvard Business Review article, What Can’t Be Measured https://hbr.org/2010/10/what-cant-be-measured). Even highly important task-level items such as punctuality, grooming and personal hygiene, cooperation. Where are the boundaries for what to measure? At some point, we have to rope in our zeal for all-things-metric, and recognize that the efficacy of taking measurements depends on the situation, and even things deemed “mission critical” don’t always improve, let alone get done, by virtue of having a measurement attached to them.

  6. So, we all need a contrarian’s view to shake things up a bit. So, here goes. Most enlightened leaders harbor the view that successful leaders treat their employees more like partners than like sub-ordinates–especially in a brain economy. So, let’s take a most important partnership–your marriage. If “what gets measured gets done” is a truism, what are the top ten measurements you use today in your marriage? Is it really the yardstick that is fueling high performance, or could it be something else?

    The famous Hawthorne studies done by Fred Herzberg at the Western Electric’ Hawthorne’s plant was a pioneering piece of research to learn, in a very scientific way, what motivated assembly line workers. A group of workers were isolated to do their assembly line work in a separate area where they could be carefully monitored and measured. All types of factors were introduced including lights being turned up, lights being turned down; music being played softly, music being played louder, etc. The effect that puzzled researchers was that fact that no matter in which direction a factor was manipulated, productivity went up! The final conclusion was that people responded to the attention they were given, not the factor itself. It lead to Herzberg’s ground breaking Motivation-Hygiene theory still taught in most Psychology 101 classes.

    Achievers love goals and tools that confirm their progress toward accomplishment. Affiliators enjoy getting affirmation for their contribution–praise for getting a good grade, so to speak. Metrics can be valuable tools for bringing discipline and accountability to the work world. Practically, every business enterprise on the planet keeps a close eye on EBITA, ROI, ROE, etc. But, before we bring out a better yardstick, it is important to understand its most fruitful application to performance.

    I have a renowned highly successful consultant friend who makes seven figures a year. He enjoys reminding me that he has not had a performance review in twenty-five years!! And, there are no metric charts hanging on the walls of his office! Yet, he “gets done” an enormous amount of high performance results!

  7. Good summary, James & useful points as others have said. I fear both approaches can fall into the trap of assuming that controls of some kind, with measurement & reward are the way to minimise risk & deliver improvement. It’s interesting to see some of the work coming out of behavioural psychology studies that suggest building a culture where people “get” why what they need to do matters & feel personally engaged in the end result outperforms those organisations that rely on rules & prescribed processes. But I guess that’s a wider issue.

    Thanks for the post & good to see you on here, James.

  8. Measurements and rewards are an accepted part of business. Of course, how it gets done is the tricky part.

    In my latest research on customer-centric business practices, I found that business performance “leaders” do a more complete job of measuring and rewarding the organization for adopting certain practices.

    But I found a *much* larger difference on whether executives were “setting a good example” — showing through their personal behavior what’s important.

    I think the cues that people get from managers are hugely important. for example, If you want people to listen to customer feedback, it might help to have something to measure whether that’s happening or not, and to recognize those doing a good job.

    But if senior leaders don’t listen to customers, it will undermine that system. Conversely, executives who are engaged with customers, listen to them and seem to genuinely care will see their behavior copied regardless of whether there is a formal measurement system.

    One other thought: if people are doing what they find intrinsically rewarding, they may not need external motivation. One customer service agent for a highly rated insurance company told me they had no formal measurement system to encourage great service. The company hired people that were “wired” that way, and trusted them to do a great job. And they did, because the culture made it the expected behavior.

  9. I agree with Bob Thompson “If people are doing what they find intrinsically rewarding, they may not need external motivation.”. Work then isn’t work. It becomes a hobby. Take someone who’s interested in photography as a passion, versus someone who’s assigned to take photographs for an assignment job he’s given. The former isn’t someone who’s going to complain about the pains when he has to undergo just to get a good photo, but the latter might.

    But… most work in the real world isn’t a hobby.

  10. One more point about metrics.
    Many metrics compare today’s score with yesterday’s, and not vs. competition.Some measure against competition but report absolute scores.
    How do you compare a respondent in Oklahoma with one in New York. the Okla person may be more forgiving than a NY one. So a score of 9 in Oklahoma may mean the same as a score of 8 from the NY person.
    In Customer Value Added studies, we do comparative ratings, so Oklahoma results are compared to the competition. Lets say your score is 9, and competition is 8.5, then your CVA score in Oklahoma is 9/8.5 or 1.06
    Lets say in NY your company’s score is 8, and competition is 7 so the CVA score is 1.14
    So you are better in NY than in Oklahoma

  11. Bob, you keep going back to basics, and rightly. We can have the best studies, best processes, best metrics, but if the attitude at the top is sh…y, you have nothing

  12. Thank you very much for all the comments, glad it was thought provoking.

    For what it is worth I agree with Christine, I think it is all about culture and how that drives behaviour.

    Maybe the fact that an organisation feels the need to incentivise and measure everything down to the last inch is telling enough.

  13. Agreed James, but then coaching executives to manage through emotional leadership & engagement rather than command (prescribed processes) & control (excessive measurement) is a challenge for many corporates.

    Interesting “File on Four” last night on Radio 4 in the UK, about how measurement demands from Ofsted (or how those are interpreted by Heads and other managers) has driven the counter-productive effect of more teachers than ever off ill due to stress. All leaders need to remember they are dealing with human beings not just “systems” and “resources”.

  14. I sometimes see huge satisfaction studies that no one works on. They have 60 questions or more! There are too many measurements.
    Often the people who use metrics do not truly understand what they are. Ask the average executive to describe NPS, NRS, or CVA or CSAT and how the studies were done, whether vs competition or vs yourself etc.
    I see this with call centre metrics. Often the wrong metrics, beautifully presented and not used!


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