Doing the Wrong Things Right (part 2), or: Doing and Measuring the RIGHT things Right!

Photo: mrwilleeumm (Flickr)

Photo: mrwilleeumm (Flickr)

Recently I blogged on how organizations all too often “do the wrong things right” (see part 1) due to misguided, fundamentally flawed traditional management techniques of rule enforcement and incentives. I also noted that Business Intelligence/Business Performance Management (BI/BPM) software is often misused by supporting misguided rule enforcement and incentives. In other words, many companies are unwittingly “measuring the wrong things right” to help “do the wrong things right”!

I have repeatedly pointed to Barry Schwartz’ related TED talk in past postings (here and also here) for good reason: I think any successful deployment of BI/BPM solutions must begin with full awareness of Barry Schwartz’ warning that rule enforcement and incentives will often lead workers to “stop being wise” — that is, unwittingly discourage workers from independently “doing the right thing” in a given work situation. I also believe organizations can and do unwittingly misuse BI/BPM solutions to help “do the wrong things right” by “measuring the wrong things right.”

I cited a worker behavior example in my above-linked posts. Consider a much bigger, all too real example: CEOs have been compensated quite handsomely — even grotesquely — only to see the companies in their care later implode. Why? Because those CEOs were often heavily comped on one key measure, most notably increasing stock price. Unfortunately, many a CEO “earned” treasure troves of incentives for hitting that higher stock price, only to be found out later the CEO failed to do so in a sustainable, ethical or even legal manner. It’s as if the CEO stuck his or her hand over a glass thermometer, made the measured temperature go “up” and then proclaimed, “See? The room is warmer now! Where’s my bonus?!”

OK, so how can organizations “measure the right things right” and “do the right things right”? It all starts with the company’s mission statement.

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Doing the Wrong Things Right (part 1)

“[I know of] employees who plan ahead to sit next to their CEO on a five-hour flight to bend his or her ear, thinking it will boost their career.  Don’t do it! Again, it’s an example of doing the wrong things right, which will only harm your career.” — Jeffrey Fox

The phrase “doing the wrong things right” came up in in my phone interview with best selling business author Jeffrey Fox for an article available on this blog.  And if I recall our conversation correctly, someone really did do the ‘annoy the CEO for five hours on a plane’ tactic, thinking it would help their career. It didn’t.

Right or Wrong, Well or Poorly - by EffectiveCIO.comI googled “doing the wrong things right” awhile back and found a very relevant article Right or Wrong? Well or Poorly? by Chuck Musciano. (One quibble: for Chuck’s chart (see left) accompanying his blog post, it is the “doing the wrong things right” quadrant that should be red; doing the wrong things with relentless speed and efficiency is the worst of all possible worlds!)

From Chuck Musciano’s post:

Doing the wrong things right is often known as “paving cowpaths.”  Some awful business processes are so entrenched that they cannot be rooted out.  Discretion being the better part of valor, we choose to automate bad processes, throwing good technology at a bad system.

Agree!  But how do such awful business processes come into being in the first place?  I suggest those ‘cowpaths to hell’ were paved with good but badly misguided intentions, using misguided information.

I think the key cause to “doing the wrong things right” from both a leadership and business intelligence (BI perspective is clearly traceable back to “measuring the wrong things right.”

For example, consider an an article by business performance management expert Craig Schiff, advocating for employee incentive pay based on performance:

The holy grail of business performance management (BPM) is to compensate people based on their achievement of corporate, departmental, and individual goals and objectives. While BPM is good at measuring progress against objectives, it is of little value if it doesn’t change people’s behavior, which in turn should help improve the bottom line. Incentive compensation based on what is being measured by the BPM system is a way to do that.

It is true that setting incentives will change employee behavior, but unfortunately not as often for the better as one might imagine.  I have major concerns with the concept of widespread, heavily incentive-driven compensation based on the certain data measures tracked by a BPM/BI solution…

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Combine Business Intelligence with Business Wisdom

I very much want to share a live presentation that especially resonated with me, and no doubt for those who had the good fortune to be in attendance: a TED talk by Barry Schwartz appealing for wisdom in the workplace and beyond.

The good news is you don’t have to be brilliant to be wise. The bad news is that without wisdom, brilliance isn’t enough. It’s as likely to get you and other people into trouble as anything else. — Barry Schwartz

I reflected on Barry Schwartz’s fine presentation from a business intelligence perspective. Consider Barry Schwartz’s compelling example of janitors who modify or skip their usual tasks for the benefit of patients and their families. Now imagine a supervisor, relying only on the numbers from time and attendance reports, who might reprimand these janitors for not completing their work tasks in a timely manner (rule enforcement)! Similarly, consider a supervisor, again relying on reports, has the epiphany to offer a wage incentive for janitors to complete their tasks ahead of schedule.

In both cases, supposedly justified by business intelligence, rules or incentives might be enforced that unwittingly discourage janitors from performing their tasks with empathy and in the long run will have a detrimental impact on patient care…

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