Quantitative Measurements and Gaming the System

Written by lewsauder

January 5, 2018

Quantitative Measurements

I had a friend start a new job. Once he got acclimated with his surroundings, he developed a daily routine once he got to work. He would always be there by the required 8:30 am. He would hang up his coat, stop at the restroom, grab his coffee cup, and get some coffee in the breakroom.

If someone he knew was in the breakroom, he might spend a few minutes chatting.  He would then go to his desk and power up his laptop and get to work.  His routine was very similar to that of his coworkers. He even noticed that his peers usually spent more time chatting than he did.

After he had been there a couple of months, he was called to his boss’s office. She asked him why he was habitually late to work.

“I’m here by 8:30 every morning.” He replied.

His boss gave him a look of disbelief. “I have a report here that says you don’t log in until after 8:40 on a consistent basis.”

It occurred to him that they were measuring his attendance by the time that he logged in to the network each day. He explained his routine to his boss. She explained to him that he should get to work earlier to do all of the housekeeping tasks like restroom breaks and getting coffee. That way he could start on time like the rest of his coworkers

Confused, he simply agreed and went back to his desk. After talking to his coworkers about his experience, they explained to him that logging in is the first thing he should do when he gets in. Once logged in, he can take care of all of the other things he does. None of that is observed or measured.

What gets measured gets done

It’s a common belief that when employees are being evaluated, it is always better to have quantitative measurements than qualitative input such as anecdotal experiences.

As a result, managers try to create quantitative measures that they hope will create incentives for their employees to behave in a certain way. They often do not think through the alternative behaviors that they foster as a result.

In my friend’s situation, his managers wanted their employees to start being productive by 8:30. As a result, they measured when they logged in to motivate them to arrive to work on time. He and his coworkers did just that. They got to work on time. But once they logged in, they went on to perform unproductive tasks knowing that they had met their quantitative measurement.

Gaming the system

Managers need to develop quantitative measurements that will cause employees to behave in the way they are directing them. When developing these measurements, they should try to determine how the system could be gamed by employees. If there is some alternative way they can behave to meet that measurement, they often might. This defeats the purpose of the measurement.

Sales quotas, monitoring statistics, and other quantitative measures often aren’t worth the paper that they are printed on.

Here’s a Thought: Trust Your Employees

Companies put a lot of thought into who they hire. They interview, do background checks, and have them take personality tests. Once they hire them, they don’t trust them. Employees are often required to work on site to be overseen. Their work is often checked.

It’s as if managers don’t trust their own decision making. What if they trusted their employee until they couldn’t? They could make it clear: “I will trust you until you give me a reason not to.”

That puts the responsibility on the employee. Work hard. Work smart. Be honest. You will be trusted until you prove that you don’t do those things.

Does your employer trust you?

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Lew’s Books at Amazon:

Project Management 101
Consulting 101
The Reluctant Mentor

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  1. Be Wary of Your Quantitative Metrics - AITS Consulting - […] You can view Sauder’s post here: https://blog.consulting101book.com/quantitative-measurements-gaming-system/ […]
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