Obsession with Quantifying Human Performance

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Obsession with Quantifying Human Performance
Gary Wong, Premium Member
In his book Tyranny of Metrics (2018), Jerry Muller describes the damage our obsession with metrics is causing. Today, a lot of organizations of all kinds are ruled by the belief that the path to success is quantifying the results, and dividing up the rewards based on the numbers.
But in our zeal to instill the evaluation process with scientific rigour, we’ve gone from measuring performance to fixating on measuring itself.
The result is a tyranny of metrics that threatens the quality of our lives and our institutions.

Pressure encourages “gaming the stats” or “teaching to the test.” Muller explains:
- Why paying for measured performance doesn't work,
- Why surgical scorecards may increase deaths, and
- When transparency can be the enemy of performance.

On the other hand, metrics can be beneficial when used to complement rather than replace judgment based on personal relationships and experiences.
⇒ What are your experiences with the usefulness of quantifying human performance?

How Human Performance Measurement Can Work
Dr. Alan Williams, Member
My long-term experience is that step 1 is taking the time to ensure the purpose, goals, strategies, individual job outputs are totally and clearly understood and perform a check that they are indeed understood.
Then, the outputs expected from each specific job are absolutely clear and well described: What will the outputs, if they are correct, actually look like, with some numbers. But be careful that staff members are not being confused by complex statistics that they don't understand or perhaps even find intimidating.
Then all managers / leaders should be monitoring the actual outputs continuously and carefully, regaining focus and fixing any operational problems / attitudes affecting the outcomes.
The rest is easy.
These strategies I installed into one major geographic region for a giant oil and gas company. 27-7-2018

Quantifying Works if You Know How
Norman Dragt, Member
Jerry Muller is completely right when he states that quantifying leads to unwanted effects. However I find it a pity that now the focus is on how quantifying does not work. The biggest problem with any instrument is that you need to teach people how to use them in their most efficient way and that takes two steps. The first step is to learn how to use the instrument, the second step is to learn when to use the instrument.
It is not what Maslow meant with his remark, but it covers this problem perfectly: If your only tool is a hammer, you will see all your problems as nails.
My personal experiences with performance quantification is getting a ticket for speeding. And using fines to punish people for speeding does just one thing, it creates avoidance. 27-7-2018

The Golden Spike
Christopher St. Cyr, Member
Years ago, the US government aspired to build a transcontinental railroad. They rewarded the contractors based on the number of miles of rail they laid. On started in the east, the other in the west.
After sometime the lines were in sight of each other. Instead of connecting they built past each other, accumulating more miles of rail line and getting paid.
This story illustrates two aspects of metrics, PERFORMANCE and EFFECTIVENESS. Each contractor was performing well. But neither was effective, because even though the lines extended past each other, a train could not travel coast to coast, the desired outcome.
Too often managers focus on performance metrics and fail to measure effectiveness. Both metrics need to be part of the planning process. 27-7-2018

Obsession with Metrics
Yes. An obsession with metrics is not useful. But it depends on the conditions.
If all are working sincely and trust (not doubting) each other, metrics are not needed.
But in an environment, where people are unknown to each other and not aware of their intentions, objective data (metrics) is the only option.
Subjective evaluation of any work or of employee performance needs maturity and mutual trust on both sides. 28-7-2018

Problem with Performance Metrics
Dr. Alan Williams, Member
Performance metrics can be way too complicated and sometimes take the focus away from what really matters.
One positive & valuable use of metrics is to compare items of performance progress, performance results etc., against various benchmarks, and hopefully that would mean comparisons against competitors who could steal your customers and market share. 28-7-2018

Transcontinental Railway Disconnect Due to Wrong Metrics
Jaap de Jonge, Editor
@Christopher St. Cyr: Nice anecdote. Could you or someone else please share a source to read more about this funny historic railway disconnect due to poorly designed metrics? (I could not find it...). 28-7-2018

Obsession with Metrics
Borje Vickberg, Member
The obsession with metrics forces teachers to produce irrelevant documentations instead of teaching, doctors to perform half-measure examinations rapidly, police-officers to check if drivers are sober on thursday morning instead of saturday nights.
A bully can easily construct ways to measure productivity. But it takes wisdom to measure effectiveness. 28-7-2018

Metrics is a Prerequisite for Success
Milan Grkovic, Member
Metrics is unavoidable because it is practically impossible to reach a goal if we do not use metrics.
There are two situations about metrics:
1. KPI's are set in an optimal way.
2. KPI's are not set in an optimal way (too many or not enough).
Metrics management is a skill which must be learned.
If there is not enough knowledge about metrics we shall improvise which will bring unnecessary problems during the process of control.
In every togetherness (groups, organisations or communities) we can validate 20-60-20 Principle:
- 20% of members are proactive (+),
- 60% of members are (relatively) active (0),
- 20% of members are inactive (-).
The last two groups (especially the last one) is the reason why we must have metrics and why metrics is mandatory. If we do not control them - necessary activities probably will not be done.
Of course, good metrics must exclude any improvisation - to have the whole picture of the control function. 28-7-2018

Labor Performance Assessment (Valoración de Desempeño Laboral)
Delfor Ibarra, Member
The samples on which Statistic science weighs the factors each evaluation method uses to measure the labor performance, are extracted in a fixed, determined period: this supposes a measuring instrument that is tied to that time and consequently, a certain indifference to the changes in the context and the particular demands of the moment that the activity of an organization is executed.
As time goes by, it is likely for other factors to ponder, or that they change their share in the total percentage of the mix.
On the other hand, the tendency to observe the most recent occurrences by managers and not that of the full valuation period, makes a well-founded judgment a complementary alternative to the metric. Moreover, statistical methods of measurement are usually contaminated with personal preferences. If they are complemented with expert and updated opinions, the tyranny of numbers decreases because the results become more democratic and better fitted to real merit.

Las muestras sobre las que la Estadística sopesa los factores que cada método de evaluación escoge para medir el desempeño laboral, se extraen en una fecha fija, determinada: esto supone un instrumento de medición atado a ese tiempo y en consecuencia, cierta indiferencia a los cambios de contexto y a las particulares exigencias del momento que atraviesa la actividad de una organización.
Mientras el tiempo pasa, es probable que sean otros los factores a ponderar, o que los mismos hayan cambiado sus participaciones en el porciento total de la mezcla.
Por otra parte, la tendencia a observar los tramos más recientes de la gestión y no la del período completo de valoración, hacen del juicio fundado, una alternativa complementaria de la métrica. Asimismo, los métodos estadísticos de medición suelen contaminarse con preferencias personales, tal que si se complementan con opiniones expertas y actualizadas, la tiranía de los números pasa a ser más democrática y mejor entallada al mérito real. 28-7-2018

Don’t forget the Management Responsibility when Measuring Employee Performance
Gabi Levin, Member
Of course metrics are essential, of course calibrating for effectiveness as well as numbers is important. But measuring employee performance is not the wholy grail.
Somehow, we tend to forget to measure the management itself by their effectiveness in PROVIDING THE OPTIMAL CONDITIONS for employees to achieve their metrics and effectiveness. Too often we see management failing to provide for the best overall conditions, but still expect the numbers all year round as if they are dealing with robots.
One example - I was managing a precision casting division in some small aircraft engine company. Achieving high metrics was critical - as manager I realized that providing the best possible tools for each operation is the key. We invested heavily in tools and the payback was enormous. So, management responsibility was key.
Note that tools needn’t be mechanical or physical; personal, just, fair, considerate and compassionate attitude is a key tool as well and is entirely management responsibility. 29-7-2018

Quantifying Employee Performance
Mallika T R, Member
Every single organisation with an HR department would insist on quantifying performance.
It is good if we hold people accountable for their work.
The problem starts when a goal you are assigned is not in your control but outside the purview of the department. For example:'Attrition'. If an HR manager is held accountable for any resignation across the organisation where employees report to other line managers and not to the HR manager, then how can this HR MANAGER be held accountable for this and performance assessed?
This is just one example. There are many such flaws in quantifying human performance. 29-7-2018

Formative or Normative Metrics
Norman Dragt, Member
@Milan Grkovic: What you are addressing here Milan are what educational scientists call normative or formative evaluations or tests.
- The normative form are used to determine and define the level at which someone is performing.
- The formative form of evaluating is used to determine what someone lacks in knowledge or experience to perform at the wanted level.
The normative form is easy; you just need to know what the outcome should be and you make a comparison between what someone does and what is expected.
Applying the formative from of evaluatiemethode is almost impossible in complex surroundings, as most results can be created in many ways and with many methods, so how do you determine if someone’s method is wrong or lacking.
Emotionally formative metrics are more effective, as it gives most employees the feeling that they are appreciated, and they fit in most modern labour laws in most countries world wide, that put the burden of development on the employer. 29-7-2018

Assessing OGSM's
Doug Marriner, Member
Now retired, my experience in several very large organisations is that come performance review time, it is often the reviewers skillful use of superlatives, along with "flexibly worded" OGSM's (Editor: Objectives, Goals, Strategies and Measures) that erases any value from such systems. 30-7-2018

Reference for Railroads Passing Each Other
DSTEHL, Member
@Jaap de Jonge: "One year into the Civil War, a Republican-controlled Congress passed the Pacific Railroad Act (1862), guaranteeing public land grants and loans to the two railroads it chose to build the transcontinental line, the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific. With these in hand, the railroads began work in 1866 from Omaha and Sacramento, forging a northern route across the country. In their eagerness for land, the two lines built right past each other, and the final meeting place had to be renegotiated."
Source: history.com.
Editor: Thank you. 30-7-2018

HR Dept., Insist on Quantifying Performance?
Dr. Alan Williams, Member
@Mallika T R: In what country is this the norm (HR insisting on quantifying the performance of the employees)? In my long-term experience as a regional director across half the world, 90% of HR managers have no sophisticated knowledge of appropriate and well accepted by all data / quantification of performance, and partly because they have very little to zero knowledge of creating value and turning that value into revenue & margin and zero knowledge of competition and zero knowledge of the critical factors of long-term sustainability.
In fact on 3 occasions I told local CEOs to immediately dismiss the HR managers of the regional companies they were leading. Why? Because they were totally innefective, adding no value and on interview were 'lost'. Much more effective to use a highly experienced consultant in a workshop with the CEO and senior team to discuss / agree KPIs for the CEO position well linked to purpose, goals and strategies, then cascaded down to create the KPIs for each senior job and cascade this down ensuring it has linkage all the way down the organization. 30-7-2018

All That Obsesses You is Becoming a Trouble
Performance metrics are needed to have a comparison tool between individuals who are doing the same activity and are competing in some way.
An organization performance metric as a sort of process flow might be a result of at least two sources of data:
- How well does the individual performs his/her task, and
- How satisfied are the users of his/her outcome/product.
I believe departments should introduce more complexity to evaluate individual’s performance. To reduce the quantity of performance metrics, organizations should create process flows. 30-7-2018

Performance Measurement of Managers is a Must
eduardo oliva, Member
Organizations grow and excel through the achievement of defined goals and objectives. Consequently, a manager's performance has to be assessed in terms of his/her contribution towards such goals and objectives, both on the short and long term. Note that goals and objectives DO have qualitative and quantitative components. 31-7-2018

Metrics are Essential for Managers as Well
Gabi Levin, Member
Hi Eduardo,
Your point about assessing managers is well taken, but let us examine what are the goals of a manufacturing guy on the floor, or a sales guy - they are easily quantified.
But what are now the goals of their managers? To make sure these guys achieve their metrics, can you quantify the manager's goals? Can you be very specific about what actions the manager should take? Here things aren't black and white, and the manager needs to develop the skill of balancing all the tools he can and has to achieve the goal of getting his guys to achieve their metrics. Since the manager's tasks aren't completely quantified in numbers, we need to help them develop their tools. One of the manager's most important tools - is to know what are the tools his employees need, and provide them.
In many instances managers use the wrong tools, even if many of them are highly recommended in hundreds of books. The key is to be flexible enough in your thinking to identify in every changing situation what is the right tool. 31-7-2018

Quantities versus Qualities in Human Performance
Maurice Hogarth, Member
I believe that quantities i.e. measurability, are important.
However in relation to PEOPLE, the quantitative approach is not the totality (for example asking on a selection interview: How many years… What exam rating… What salary… How many people managed) may result in not very useful information.
In my opinion, what is more informative in relation to people is the qualitative approach (What are your opinions…, beliefs…, values…, what did you bring to…, what did you learn…). 1-8-2018

Measuring or Quantifying the Efficiency of Knowledge Workers and/or Innovators
Jaap de Jonge, Editor
Of course it depends on the situation, but overall I am not a believer in using exact, quantitative metrics by managers to evaluate the "performance" of employees. In particular when we are talking about knowledge or innovation workers.
Trying to measure the contribution of a knowledge worker in a quantitative sense is based on a "control view" towards management. In my opinion, those days are over… Nowadays managers must be more like coaches, inspirators and helpers, hiring, stimulating, developing and helping their team members in a positive, even passionate way. Giving them a lot of freedom and responsibility, and creating the conditions for them to be successful, that works. Precisely monitoring their results doesn't.
Anyway, how could one measure the exact value of a great idea or of a creative expert solution for a client?
Is it possible to combine such employee empowerment with operational discipline? (Yes it is). 2-8-2018

Metrics in the Innovative Realm
Gabi Levin, Member
I agree that metrics in an innovative realm are more problematic, and as you suggest, the manager has a complex role of coaching, teaching, motivating, inspiring.
But also quietly evaluating. How can they evaluate when you can't put numbers to the performance? First, you evaluate the zeal at which the job is done, next, creative ideas - what is creative? Creative is an idea that besides being unusual, exceptional, has a potential to create value that is high and is supported by facts, data, science, and analysis. A creative idea that lacks the potential to create value isn't really useful.
The evaluation by the manager will be directed towards the performance of both ability to come up with ideas, but also the ability to substantiate and prove the potential to create value. That means the ability of the employee to generate ideas that create value. The task of proving the potential value isn't done by drinking daiquiri on the beach in the Bahamas, it's hard work, persistence and boring details. 2-8-2018

Working in the Cynefin Complex Domain
Gary Wong, Premium Member
@Gabi Levin: The innovation realm you described is the "Complex" domain of the Cynefin Framework. The focus here is less on measuring outcome and results, and more on monitoring process and impacts. Time in the Complex domain is invested in divergent, not convergent, thinking.
Using existing metrics means staying stuck in an old paradigm. In the innovation domain we must free ourselves of these constraints and enable new metrics to emerge that help us make sense of the evolving future. 5-8-2018

Managers Needed that are Creative with Benchmarks
Norman Dragt, Member
In essence as @Gary Wong and @Jaap de Jonge state, it takes a different kind of manager to get quality out of measuring things. One that can go beyond the simple stats of who differs positively or negatively from a generic benchmark, and can come up with the right metric for a specific job and person at hand.
That means a manager who can be creative with metrics and create his own benchmarks where needed. 5-8-2018

Cyclic Assessments Needed
eduardo oliva, Member
Some 20 years ago, when applying root-cause analysis in a set of industrial case studies, my postgraduate students found out that no-single cause could be blamed for the existence of an undesirable situation (problem), but, rather a network of mistaken actions and their adverse impacts which gradually led towards a set of interconnected deleterious cycles that eventually manifested their joint effect as a serious problem.
Likewise, it is my contention that successful managers achieve their goals and objectives through a network of adequate actions that yield the outcome sought through. Obviously a network of suitable actions including their interconnected positive impacts. Those of my colleagues that agree with me on this point, will surely realize that a satisfactory and just evaluation of a manager working in such interconnected environment does call for novel assessment methods that, as far as I know, do not exist yet. 7-8-2018

Distributed Ethnography as Cyclic Assessment
Gary Wong, Premium Member
@Eduardo oliva: Actually there is one approach that does exist. It’s called Distributed Ethnography. In a nutshell, workers enter stories about an experience with a manager. Stories may be added 24/7/365 so clearly better than an one-time survey snapshot. Stories can be converted to data points to generate traditional bar charts and graphs which are shared with the manager. If there are questions raised, the manager can click on a data point and the story pops up on the screen. No longer is the manager given a performance score (e.g., 6.5 out of 10 or Good) that s/he doesn't know what to do with to improve. Instead, the question asked is: What might I do in order to get fewer stories like these and more like those?
This approach goes way beyond annual 360º reviews since anyone can add a story immediately about the manager. More importantly, online analysis & reporting is near-real time so the manager can start making improvement adjustments quickly. 7-8-2018

A Growth Mindset to Fight Problems with Network Actions and Impacts
Norman Dragt, Member
@Eduardo oliva: In away what you state is that to prevent problems you need co-workers that are able to recognize their actions and the effects of their actions. Like a carpenter is able to notice that his hammer swing is too strong for the hammer, nail and wood he is using. But while in the nail and wood example it will clearly show that something is wrong, in complex organizations the effects of actions often appear two or three steps after the taken action. And often worse the persons who suffer the effects and report them are seen as snitches and organizational blackmouthers, who should be taught as soon as possible not to express their ingratitude about the bad work they received. So to solve this network problem you need co-workers with a growth mindset, who see feedback as a possibility to learn and become better. 7-8-2018

Progress Evaluation is Situational
eduardo oliva, Member
@Milan Grkovic: A good manager always has some means for evaluating most activities and, of course, their expected outcome. The scientific part of management may not show large variations from one corner of the world to another, however, the artistic part of it will most likely differ from a top firm in the first world to a top firm in the poorly developed one.
I invite you to consider that local culture, infrastructure and availability of resources do call for different ways and means in our search for successful performance. 7-8-2018

Traditional Structures Plays Against Managers
@Jaap de Jonge: I am pretty much agreeing with Jaap. Managers should become coaches rather than controllers, those day are gone.
There are a couple barriers to break through, once a manager tries to become a coach:
1. Departmental structure could be a source of noise in terms of business goals versus department goals.
2. Employee empowerment and operational discipline understood as Freedom and Control is capable to stress the relationship between manager and his team player.
There are a couple more things for sure, but these two will show up immediately once a manager is trying to become a coach.
Managers should be measured by his results. No doubts about it. Sometimes their goals are not so clear, just because the organization forgets to align its business goals with goals like sales goals, production goals, training and education goals, and so on. Then suddenly the manager is against the wall if goals are conflicting with each other. 9-8-2018

Traditional Structure Plays Against Managers
Dr. Alan Williams, Member
I agree managers (including HR managers) must get away from being controllers. Working as senior consultant I've counselled many HR managers on this point and in a couple of stubborn cases I asked: Is your title: policeman?
Yes managers must be coaches and there's a strong business imperative for this. All businesses need to be highly capable, to stay ahead of the clever competitors. 14-8-2018

Traditional Structure not Playing Against Managers
Gabi Levin, Member
This statement can easily be mistaken - I don't think it is the structure that plays against managers. The traditional structure doesn't inherently prevents managers from being coaches. In every organization, even managers that are coaches mostly need to manage, and some aspects of this function require a clear structure. At some point, choices and decisions need to be made and the manager is exposed to information that most of his workers don't know anything about. So what is playing against managers if not the structure?
It is the STATE OF MIND that traditional structure indoctrinates into many managers, not the structure itself. A manager can be a coach under any structure, it's his choice. In some respects, a coaching manager in a traditional structure creates more incentive among workers than a manager in a friendly / coaching environment. A coach style manager in a coach/friend environment is taken for granted, a coach in an old style situation is more inspiring. 14-8-2018

Questions when Quantifying or Measuring Human Performance
Gary Wong, Premium Member
Thanks everyone for sharing your experiences and insights. Metrics are not to reward nor punish, but to learn and improve. There certainly is a legitimate need for metrics of human performance in almost every organization. The problem arises when we go overboard and metrics become the goal rather than an indicator of success. Based on the hazards of metric fixation, it's conceivable in some situations the best use of metrics may be not to use it at all.

If you were tasked to design a human performance system, what key questions should you ask? I have paraphrased a checklist the author provides in the book.
  1. What kind of information are you thinking of measuring? Measuring inanimate (Ed: ~lifeless, about things rather than people) matters is usually accurate and reliable because direct cause & effect relationships exist. Measurement becomes much less reliable the more the object is human activity. It’s unfair to hold humans accountable for actions that are beyond their control or predicated on faulty causal relationships.
  2. How useful is the information? What you are measuring is often a proxy for what you really want to know. For example in safety management, we measure accidents. It is a proxy for what we really want to know which is how often accidents are prevented by humans working in inherently hazardous conditions. If the information can be gamed, manipulated, or is not a good proxy for what you're really aiming at, you're probably better off not measuring it.
  3. How and by whom are the measures of performance developed? Are people who have a stake in the outcomes invited to the design table? Accountability metrics are less likely to be effective when they are imposed from above, using standardized formulas developed by those far from active engagement with the activity being measured. Measurements are more likely to be meaningful when they are developed from the bottom up.
  4. To whom will the information be made transparent? Here a key distinction is between data to be used for purposes of internal performance monitoring versus data to be used by external parties for reward and punishment. For example, is crime data being used to determine where more police cars should be deployed or whether the precinct commander will get a promotion? Are standardized test results being used to inform teachers how well students are learning or which schools will be financially rewarded or punished?
  5. What are the costs of acquiring the metrics? Information is never free. Collecting, processing, analyzing, reporting all take time. Every moment devoted to the production of metrics is time not devoted to the activities being measured. If certain higher-ups are demanding performance metrics on humans, it may be due to a lack of trust, misunderstanding of how systems work, or shear ignorance if new to the organization.
  6. How useful are more metrics? More is not necessarily better. Eventually a tipping point will reached when the marginal costs of measuring will exceed the benefits. Trade off data about individual performance for more information about relationships and interactions.
  7. Are there better sources of information about performance other than counting metrics? Counting is easy to do but is limited since context is missing. Qualitative indicators based on the judgment and experience of workers, clients, patients, or parents of students may be more useful and insightful, especially if the prime purpose of the measuring human performance is not to reward nor punish, but to learn and improve.

Traditional Structures Plays Against Managers
@Gabi Levin: I love this part "So what is playing against managers if not the structure? It is the STATE OF MIND that traditional structure indoctrinates into many managers, not the structure itself."
Still I am stand still right on my point. Pyramidal plus departmental structures introduce a subordination living hood model into organizations. A coach will act more freely into a cooperation livinghood model and this sort of structure, flat maps plus process interacting each other, give them more opportunities to act as well. I would like to invite you to read more about it along in my recent article "From Pyramids to Maps". 15-8-2018

Start with Question #7 when Considering Using Metrics
Norman Dragt, Member
@Gary Wong: I recommend every time you come up with the idea to use metrics, start with asking question number 7. Only when that question is answered no or if it is really a lot cheaper to use metrics then using other sources of information, then I would say go with metrics.
As said under #1: Only the physical inanimate world knows clear cause and effect relations. And even in that inanimate world you have to be really careful to conclude that the effect is caused directly by what you think is the cause. 15-8-2018

Distributed Ethnofraphy
eduardo oliva, Member
I would very much appreciate one of your recent papers on this topic. So far, my search on management realted journals has not been successful. Thanks a lot Eduardo. 17-8-2018

Distributed Ethnography Projects
Gary Wong, Premium Member
@Eduardo oliva: “Ethnography” seeks to systematically study and describe an organization from the perspective of that organization. It is much more than simply spending some weeks interviewing people and observing their practices.“Distributed” means we use people in the organization as ethnographers to continuously collect stories.
In 2010, I co-authored a paper “Making Sense of Safety”. We didn’t call it Distributed Ethnography at that time. The term didn’t arise until later in a UK Government project.
A paper on Employee Engagement at the City of Singapore explained how stories were signified and the metadata used to generate visual graphics.
You can see how the process works to collect “In the Workplace” stories and signify them.
For a currently live project with continuous capture, have a look at Stories from the Valley.
It doesn’t take much of a leap to see how Distributed Ethnography could be applied to measure human performance, a valid solution for Question #7. 17-8-2018


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