A client organization of mine has a culture that values measuring everything. This makes good business sense. It enables you to monitor, recalibrate and optimize your processes and results.
The downside is that too great an emphasis on numbers at every level breeds compliance,especially at the front line. People complete the required audits and checklists to get management off their back. They push, without enthusiasm, to achieve the prescribed metrics around quality, production, safety, customer response, etc. so no one from up above will hassle them.
An employee in the organization was given a goal that he believed was impossible to achieve, given some current limits on available resources. He was told to build a work plan to achieve it anyway and at least carry out as many of the of the plan’s steps as he can. Why? Because “we are required to document plans in order to get “fully satisfactory” on your performance review. Don’t worry if you don’t succeed with the objective. This way, you will be covered.”
So he did. Hey, man, now we’re into self-preservation here.
The problem is that when we try to get everyone so focused on the “numbers” they forget what the numbers represent. An employee can feel some enthusiasm for giving a customer a great product or service experience. He/she can even get on board with a stretch goal to reduce run time by 2.5% by coming up with new ideas for a leaner process. People will give discretionary effort for the idea of happy customers. They will give it for the joy of a challenge like squeezing minutes out of your production time.
If carefully used as benchmarks of excellence and an indication of achievement, metrics can generate commitment. When they are presented as the final goal–not as what they reflect–metrics foster a compliance mentality.