You may have heard the phrase “what gets measured gets managed.” So when we want to get something done, we type a metric about it and manage by that metric. Seems reasonable enough, doesn’t it? However, it is not. It might actually be one of the worst strategies ever. Let me illustrate with a story a colleague shared with me.
An executive at a software company was worried because development was several weeks behind schedule. Then he did what any ungrateful brute would do: he instituted mandatory Saturdays.
For developers, that is. Not for him.
He would drive by the office on Saturdays to check the parking lot, and when he saw his developers’ cars there, he would roll away with satisfaction. Naturally, his team was a bit frustrated. So, instead of actually going to work on Saturday, they started asking friends to pick them up from the office on Friday afternoon and take a taxi on Monday.
Lesson: if the car in the parking lot is what the big boss measures, then the car in the parking lot he will get!
I probably don’t need to tell you that when the product finally shipped, it was months late.
We ran into the same measurement/management problem when using productivity as a measure of team and individual performance. See, productivity is just a mathematical equation: output divided by time. This has two implications:
When we talk about productivity, we are inherently and inevitably talking about output – not coming. When we talk about increasing productivity, we are really talking about increasing production.
The point is, more output doesn’t necessarily mean better results. As best-selling author Dan Pink told me recently, he can write two mediocre books in the same time to write a really good one. Two books have double the output! Double productivity! Hallelujah! But his publisher will have some good word choices for him because mediocre books don’t sell. So even though he was twice as productive, the results would be crap.
And yet, as a society of knowledge workers, we are obsessed with productivity. We’ll click on any article that has that word in the title. We “ooh” and “ahh” over reports that productivity increases during the pandemic as everyone works from home (I object, by the way – more on that later).
So how did this happen? Does it harm us? (Spoiler alert: yes.) And if we want to make a great service ourselves by using productivity as a measure of performance, what the hell do we replace it with?
How do we get here?
The way we think about productivity is based on a 250-year-old structure. It is good in its time, especially in the context of agriculture or manufacturing. Technological advancements such as threshers and motorized looms have increased the daily output of our farms and factories to a great extent. And because we didn’t shrink our hours, productivity increased.
As the industrial revolution progressed, productivity as an obsessive metric became more and more common. Further advances in agricultural equipment mean that less human labor is needed to feed us all, freeing up more people to work in factories that take away the human toil from making things like clothes and furniture. The logging and logging is fed into high end equipment that produces the raw materials to fuel all. Product…
Continue read this article here