Insight #6: What is Measured Matters


Why argue with the referees when you can change the rules of the game?

This guidance points to the existence of an environment designed to support performing in a very particular set of ways.

In the same way performance has consequence, environments are, in and of themselves, consequential.

By consequential, we mean to underline the way in which environments are decisive to both the kinds of performance and the levels of performance possible.

We have frequently used the metaphor of a penguin to illustrate this. A penguin on land is at a decided disadvantage when it comes to moving - any movement is characterized by a side to side waddle, which by comparison to nearly any other form of movement seems slow and laborious. Whereas in water, movement is swift and elegant and brings with it a staggering level of efficiency - a penguin can travel the distance of 4000 nautical miles on the energy equivalent to a gallon of gasoline. In using this metaphor we seek to show that environment is both constraining to and enabling of performance. 

This is why we hold environments as consequential.

This raises the question of how might we intentionally construct a consequential environment? (once again we are indebted to and wish to acknowledge our colleagues John Patterson and Kirkland Tibbels for their work in distinguishing what it takes to occupy, build and maintain Consequential Environments.)

Engaging with this question is a study much larger than there is time or space to cover in this section - it involves among other things the construction of frameworks, narratives, processes and standards - each of which is an aspect of an environment intentionally designed to both constrain and enable performance.

For the purposes of this insight - the insight What is measured matters - the connection to make is a simple one - what is measured ought to be regarded as an aspect of an environment intentionally constructed to constrain and enable particular types of performance. Great care must be taken when selecting measures - there is a long and rich history of selecting measures that produce the exact opposite of the desired outcomes.

An analogy

Sometimes I find it helpful to use the analogy of game play to identify constraining and enabling aspects of the environment.

Referees enforce the rules - they constrain play in accordance with the rules and in accordance with the aim/spirit of the game. Importantly they are all about stopping the action. They stop the action when players make an illegal move, or when play moves out of bounds or out of time. They are clearly an aspect of the environment and their calls are decisive.

Importantly they do not call the plays or figure out the tactics moment to moment when play is happening. In a game the aspect of an environment that is enabling can be found in the calls of the coach in the plays and the calls of the team captain in the huddles and timeouts.

We could say Referees and Coaches are at work on the game and players are at work in the game.