Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler — Albert Einstein
One of the most insidious tendencies we managers and leaders have is to make things more complicated than they absolutely need to be. We tend to forget that giving simple, clear direction gives rise to intelligent behaviour. Complex rules and regulations, however, gives rise to simple and stupid behaviour.*
This tendency can really get out of control when we try to come up with measures that we can use to keep the pulse of our businesses and projects. Either we come up with many measures (trying to make sure we’re not missing something I suppose, which means we’re spending all our time analyzing measure and end up missing the part where we actually run the business). Or we come up with measures that don’t mean anything to anybody but a select few in an ivory tower (“$x net booked earning before interest and taxes this fiscal quarter”)
The best metrics are simple, few and understandable by everybody. Everybody in the company or project understands what it means and how they contribute to it. They give focus and energy to the organization’s execution, because people love seeing their progress measured.
This story illustrates my point:
Charles Schwab had a mill manager whose people weren’t producing their quota of work. “How is it,” Schwab asked him, “that a manager as capable as you can’t make this mill turn out what it should?”
“I don’t know,” the manager replied. “I’ve coaxed the men, I’ve pushed them, I’ve sworn and cussed, I’ve threatened them with damnation and being fired. But nothing works. They just won’t produce.”
This conversation took place at the end of the day, just before the night shift came on. Schwab asked the manager for a piece of chalk, then, turning to the nearest man, asked: “How many heats did your shift make today?”
Without another word, Schwab chalked a big figure six on the floor, and walked away.
When the night shift came in, they saw the “6” and asked what it meant.
“The big boss was in here today,” the day people said. “He asked us how many heats we made, and we told him six. He chalked it down on the floor.”
The next morning Schwab walked through the mill again. The night shift had rubbed out “6” and replaced it with a big “7.”
When the day shift reported for work the next morning, they saw a big “7” chalked on the floor. So the night shift thought they were better than the day shift did they? Well, they would show the night shift a thing or two. The crew pitched in with enthusiasm, and when they quit that night, they left behind them an enormous, swaggering “10.” Things were stepping up.
Shortly, this mill, which had been lagging way behind in production, was turning out more work than any other mill in the plant.**
Next time you need to come up with a way to motivate a team, project, division, or company, find the metric that everybody can understand and get behind. Being clear on the values and purpose of that team, big or small. will make it easier to find that number. Then let that be progress visible to everybody, and keep it up-to-date.
What gets measured gets done – just be careful what you measure.
* “Simple, clear purpose and principles give rise to complex and intelligent behaviour. Complex rules and regulations give rise to simple and stupid behaviour.” — Dee Hock
** From HBR’s “Why Keeping Score is the Best Way to Get Ahead“*