Monday, April 23, 2018

How to Cure a Bad Case of Metric Fixation

strategy+business, April 23, 2018  

by Theodore Kinni

The Tyranny of Metrics is a pearl of a book. And like all pearls, it was born of an irritation. As chair of the history department at the Catholic University of America, Jerry Muller found himself — and his school — devoting more and more precious time and resources to performance measurement and reporting.

Some of this activity was useful, admits Muller. “But much of the information was of no real use, and indeed, was read by no one,” he writes. “Yet once the culture of performance documentation caught on, department heads found themselves in a sort of data arms race.” In one instance, Muller was urged to add more statistical appendixes to a yearlong department survey, because “the report would look less rigorous than that of other departments” without them. Moreover, the university found itself hiring more and more data specialists, up to and including a new vice president for assessment.

This experience, which Muller describes as an irritating pinprick, inspired him to look more closely at metrics. And that investigation resulted in a concise and clearly argued polemic, which, Muller writes, is “for anyone who wants to understand one of the big reasons why so many contemporary organizations function less well than they ought to, diminishing productivity while frustrating those who work in them.” Read the rest here.

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