“What gets measured gets done”? The problem is that the wrong things get done!

April 28, 2016 2 comments

From the first day I heard this pundit of management “What gets measured gets done”, I intuitively knew there was something wrong with it but found difficult to explain why. The clip of Yves Morieux, a BCG partner, made it much clearer and tangible.

I love Yves Morieux. He may be one of those people who instantaneously removes any complex you may have in speaking English, being from French native language. After 30 seconds you won’t even notice as the perfect sense of what he advocates is so captivating.

Clarity, measurement and accountability are killers of performance

If, in the simple or complicated leadership contexts (see our post relating to Dave Snowden simple, complicated, complex and chaotic leadership contexts), clarity, measurement and subsequent accountability, are needed, the challenges of complexity, chaos and the Disruption Economy make those become lethal.

To help us understand why clarity, measurement and accountability became counterproductive in today’s business environment, Morieux uses the example of the 2003 World Championship 4x100m race: “The fastest team did not win!” claims the BCG partner, proving through his research that, on paper, the intrinsic value of the French individualities was way below the performance of their US counterparts. Pushing the metaphor, he explains:

  • Clarity: Clarity is of course needed for people to be truly autonomous and independent. But, in Morieux’s mind, the lack of clarity has also become an excuse for non-performance, a justification for not taking any initiative, a sort of mental laziness. People will hide behind the lack of clarity, as they will use the lack of empowerment (and do their best to avoid being empowered) or communication (ensuring that they do not go and get the info they need)to justify underperformance. In his parable of the 4x100m, he explains that, in a complex or unpredictable world, such as this Final, perfect clarity will never be reached, will disable the people and will focus them on compliance rather than autonomy and entrepreneurship. “Do I run just for 100meters? Or more? But how much more? When do I exactly need to drop the baton?” are questions that the coach cannot answer before the race and that the athlete, together with her peer, will have to respond to, under the fire of competition.
  • Measurement: “There is no metrics on Earth which will give us the answer!” claims Yves… And he is right. In something as simple (compared to your responsibilities of leaders in the Disruption Economy days) as a 4x100m race, what will you try to measure? Should we focus on the legs, the arms, the passing of the baton? Morieux implicitly suggests that what will really make a difference is non measurable. It is the passion, the generosity, the willingness to take a personal risk to support a colleague and attempting to measure this, will destroy it. It reminded me of an excellent article by Dan Ariely, “in praise of handshake“, where he suggests that contracts lead to the end of a great relationship whereas trust and relationships (symbolized by the handshake) maintain extraordinary performance.
  • Accountability: “We pay more attention on knowing who to blame, in case we fail, than in creating the conditions to succeed!” For Morieux, if not well intended, accountability is a sure precursor of the “blame game” that will take place when things go wrong. And as we all know, there is a deeply philosophical say in business: “Shits happens”.

So what does Morieux recommend instead of clarity, measurement and accountability? He is a bit vague or at least implicit, in his speech. In our views, disruptive leaders will evolve:

  • From clear and detailed objectives to a shared and vibrant purpose: What makes those athletes succeed in their job is not because their coach created a dependency on him, the leader, or thanks to detailed objectives. Coaches of underdogs who, against all odds won the race or else, usually have created a strong, emotionally compelling Purpose, in which every member of the team is invited to connect her/his own, personal Deep Intent. A purpose builds on Passion AND intellectual clarity. It empowers people to do what they think circumstances will demand, to reach it. Objectives may create dependency and disable people.
  • From Measurement to Generosity: As hinted by Morieux, Measurement risks creating a “Public Servant Mindset” where I only perform what I am measured (and rewarded) on. All the intangibles (which are exactly what makes the difference between a compliant, average organization and a high performing one). Look at the 3 moments of Baton passing from the French athletes:

 Look at the encouragements, how far does the exhausted and out of breath first runner continue her course in order to accompany, as far as possible, her team mate… Remember le Cirque du Soleil which is using competence and generosity as critical recruitment factors. They know that their global business cannot simply count on rules, roles and procedures but will definitely need generosity to fill the gaps!

  • Accountability vs Ownwership: There is a very different feeling in being accountable (knowing your neck is at stake, thinking what excuses you may have in order to justify failure when it comes, being a victim of circumstances who will have to report for failure) to owning the project, the venture or your mission. When I feel ownership, I wear the colours, this is my project and I identify with it. Stronger than a job description of duties, there is an emotional ownership in it. The French athletes don’t think for a second of who could be to blame if things go wrong. They are in their garden (Paris stadium), a whole Nation is behind them. They all trained and they all own this race.

I hope you will enjoy watching Yves Morieux’s recent TED intervention. It is worth it!


Enjoy your generous and collective leadership journey!

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