"Whistling Past The Graveyard" of Bad Performance Measures in Organisations.

caterpillar turning into butterfly

In Ireland, where I come from, we have a tradition of folklore, mystery, tall tales, "sayings" and proverbs that cover every possible life situation, one of which is "whistling past the graveyard". According to Google it seems to be generally interpreted as "keeping your spirits up when all is not going well" but in Ireland it has a very different meaning.

Here it means being afraid of the mysterious after-world which, it is believed, comes to life after darkness falls. Whistling as you pass the graveyard is therefore designed to create a "sense  of security" against the "spirits" that lurk in the darkness and quiet that surrounds a typical graveyard after dark.

Completely useless of course but for those bothered by the situation, it helps create a sense of security against the "threatening" surroundings. Which is exactly what bad performance measurements in organisations do. They are worse than useless because they create the illusion of security, of being in control, which I believe is worse than having no measurements at all. At least when we have no measurements we are worried (hopefully!).

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Very often, I find that elaborate spreadsheets of of "measurements" are being "collected for management", usually using data that front line staff can see no purpose in. As a general rule, if information/measurements has little or no value "locally" and are not being used to manage "locally", they will have even less value went shared upwards.

I once saw "monthly absenteeism" measures being aggregated up the line a couple of levels. When I pointed out that, on drilling down into the data, one function had been providing the same "monthly absenteeism" figures for over 12 months, a fact that I thought to be statistically unlikely, the manager concerned was irate at "being fooled". When I checked with the relevant manager, he pointed out that his team had understood it to mean  "a measure not to be exceeded" and as a consequence, they never updated it because they never exceeded it!     

Unless "management dashboards and scorecards" are built on  data and measurements that are used to "manage locally", they are generally worse than useless, they are misleading and dangerous as they create a false sense of security and "being in control". Not unlike "whistling past the graveyard".

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