How to ruin a perfectly good performance measure

If you really want to ruin a good performance measure, you should give it to a performance management officer. I should know, I am one!

But some organisations aren’t lucky/big enough to have any, so if you don’t have access to a performance management officer, here is the secret step by step guide that is handed out to performance staff when they are first initiated into The Creed.

Step 1-First, catch your performance indicator.

Come out my pretties, I have a nice dashboard for you!

If you have been doing your job a good one should be hard to find. They should be aligned with some plan, or guilelessly accepted after being dished out by central government, like sweeties handed out by a worrying looking man at the school gates.
If you find a measure of purpose on the loose in the work, perhaps even being used by those whose work it measures, you must catch it. It will cause unknown good in the hands of those who understand it.

Step 2-Turn it into something useless

At least you can eat this. Yum!

You’ve caught your measure, but what happens if it is in a graph or in a control chart? Get rid of anything that gives context or meaning.

Here is how to deal with the worst case scenario: a measure in a control chart showing performance of a system over time, and the limits of how it predictably performs. 


I don’t need to tell you that this cannot be used. Look at the space used up! There’s no way this can fit on a scorecard. Watch how the meaning can be deleted, step by step.

  • Remove the limits, now we don’t know what is part of the predictable nature of the system. We don’t know when to act, and when not. We have no idea what is signal to pay attention to and what is noise to ignore.


  • OK, we’re getting somewhere, but we can still see performance over time. Distort the data by grouping it into quarters.  One number per quarter please. Look at how everything changes! The peak in Oct 11 becomes second highest, well done!


  • Now we need a number. One number, for the last quarter.


  • Good, but still a number. Let’s abstract the shit out of it. Make it a colour! Compare this quarter’s out-turn with the target, and if it misses the target give it the appropriate colour from a traffic light!


There! Now we have a simple red circle. Like a small child might coo and gurgle at.

Look at the chart that you were first lumped with! Now look at your nice circle! Better!

Well done!


Step 3-Hide it somewhere silly

THERE HE IS! No, lost him again.

THERE HE IS! No, lost him again.

A report! Better than a wall in the workplace next to people who use it. Stick it next to some other measures that have been similarly turned into coloured circles. Theme them up! Go on, theme them. Put measures of entirely different services next to each other because they are about “the environment” or “our customers”. It’s so silly! We love theming up.

Step 4-Give it to someone who can’t do anything useful with it

You’ve taken it away from where people could understand it, extracted any meaning from its presentation by turning it into a coloured shape, hidden it in a plan under some theme next to unrelated measures. But what’s the final nail in the coffin? one_legged_man_arse_kicking_contestMake sure that you give the columns of colours to some people who can’t make sense of it. Give it to a leader. Someone physically located as far away as possible from where the measure first originated. Someone who spends their time reading huge amounts of reports. The best place to hide a grain of sand being a beach, give them to this type of person who have reams of this stuff to plough through, which is why you boiled down the essence of the measure in the first place, removing all interest and flavour, so the reader can scan through  tables of coloured shapes without having to think. Thinking takes time. There’s no time for time.

Here’s the final secret. This isn’t true. We don’t do this deliberately. This is not a conspiracy, it’s a cock-up. Just like Darth Vader wouldn’t class himself as one of the baddies, performance management staff think they’re doing a good job in difficult circumstances. I find this even scarier than the conspiracy theory, that me and my brethren from the creed can be so deluded.

This entry was posted in all wrong, command and control, data, public sector, systems thinking. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to How to ruin a perfectly good performance measure

  1. Bazonka says:

    Do you work where I work?


  2. Bruce Gray says:

    Sadly and completely spot-on.

    “The dashboard metrics go red automatically below 90%”. That’s when you know you are in an episide of ‘The Day Today…its a made-up metric’.

    Thank you, this is brilliant.


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