If there’s one quote that’s particularly popular in management circles, it’s “what gets measured gets managed”—often misattributed to famous management consultant Peter Drucker. First, Drucker never…
If there’s one quote that’s particularly popular in management circles, it’s “what gets measured gets managed”—often misattributed to famous management consultant Peter Drucker. First, Drucker never said this; second, he actually didn’t believe such a thing; third, the idea is flawed. A LONG GAME OF TELEPHONE The idea probably originated from a paper published in 1956 by V. F. Ridgway, in which he was making the case that we should be more careful when using quantitative measures: “Quantitative measures of performance are tools, and are undoubtedly useful. But research indicates that indiscriminate use and undue confidence and reliance in them result from insufficient knowledge of the full effects and consequences. Judicious use of a tool requires awareness of possible side effects and reactions. Otherwise, indiscriminate use may result in side effects and reactions outweighing the benefits (…) The cure is sometimes worse than the disease.” The title of the paper, Dysfunctional Consequences of Performance Measurements, makes Ridgway’s position pretty clear. As journalist Simon Caulkin put it: “What gets measured gets managed—even when it’s pointless to measure and manage it, and even if it harms the purpose of the organisation to do so.” Somehow, a long game of telephone resulted in a truncated version of the idea, where the most important part about being careful with measurement was forgotten. As for Drucker, this is what he really said in The Effective Executive: “Moreover, because knowledge work cannot be measured the way manual work can, one cannot tell a knowledge worker in a few simple words whether he is doing the right job and how well he is doing it.” Not quite the same as the popular quote, is it? MEASUREMENT MYOPIA The problem is not so much with measurement in general; it’s with blind measurement and the belief that measurement is intrinsically good. Measurement myopia can lead to several issues at the individual, corporate, and societal levels.