Performance measures and learning LO12095

JC Howell (
Tue, 21 Jan 1997 01:27:02 +0000

Replying to LO12083 --

This may seem a little incoherent at frst. Please bear with me. In
LO12083 Ethan Mings wrote:

> I think of indicators as an *objective pointers* to a desired level of
> performance. When the indicator points one to poor performance, one
> should know the underlying system which is generating the poor
> performance. Each underlying system should have the necessary performance
> measures to understand how the system is performaning at any given time.

In the surface this is a sound position. However, I have found that the
surface rarely reveals that which is underneath.

In my mind (and experience) indicators are not necessarily "objective,"
nor are they always "pointers to a desired level of performance." In
theory they COULD be. But what usually happens is that indicators simply
ARE. And that's okay.

What gets measured is what gets attention. Indicators and measures help
direct attention toward certain areas. It, therefore, follows that these
areas should improve, or at least show some significant change.
Indicators and measures rarely are drawn from underlying systems, though.

The underlying systems are most often revealed or determined based on the
data resulting from indicators. Often these systems are generally unknown
prior to this. Designing a measurement and indicator system based on a
number of underlying systems is a nice idea, but this presumes that those
systems are the ones which actually influence performance. Often this is
not the case.

If this is true, then intentionally designing a measurement system in this
manner is an arrogant approach that can lead to other unhealthy conditions
as peformance does not match expectations.

I firmly hold that poor management is poor management and no amount of
tools, tricks, fads, or whatever can help that. Only change on the part
of management (managers) can influence this. If bad managers put together
bad measurement systems that measure and reward the wrong things,
performance will go downhill. The indicators are not bad indicators. They
may be very good indicators ... of the wrong things.

What has proven to be a more useful approach is the development of a
measurement system after in-depth analysis of and reflection on the
organizational purpose, direction, and strategy. Once this system has
been developed, the most probable underlying systems are indentified and
interventions to influence these systems in desired directions are
formulated. How these systems are responding is the subject of


Clyde Howell

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