Why you SHOULDN’T try to improve performance measures!

Imagine you come across a right mess of performance tat, all targets and comparisons against this time last year.
Like this!



You’d want to try and fix it wouldn’t you?

Turn them into measures of purpose, chuck the targets and the red and green coloured shapes cluttering up the place like toddlers toys.

Perhaps even put it in time series, perhaps even a control chart…

Stop! You’re doing the wrong thing. In fact, I say….



But I say it again.

You should not try to improve performance measures.

WHAT?! Has TP gone insane?

Last post I said…

Trying to improve performance measures is not wrong.  But it’s not right either.

The whole POINT of this blog is to improve how we understand work and what happens in it so we can improve it.


Here’s why…

Four of the most important little words (and 2 arrows) are in this diagram I’ve borrowed from elsewhere

This shows the cause and effect between work things.t1

Management thinking is how managers think about work and how people are at work, how managers and staff should act. Basically EVERYthing. Every work thing, anyway.

How they think causes them to act in a certain way (ie manage) and shapes how they design work, the way that you do things at work. This is the system that we are all in. You can spot it if you look for the things that help or hinder achieving customer purpose. Those are the visible bits of the system at work. System conditions lets call them cos that’s what they’re called.

Performance is the result of it all. How this affects achieving customer purpose. The length of time it takes, how well we do it, any failure demand, ALL THAT STUFF produced by the system.


This is why it is ALL ABOUT changing management thinking. If you change it, you change everything BELOW it.

So, go in at the TOP and change the actual root cause of both good and bad performance to make sustainable improvement cascade down. It’s just cause and effect.553286206f2df0684a15f75ec0282049

But think of changes that are attempted at the level below the level of management thinking. That middle one called system. This is where you go in and try and change the system conditions directly without changing the management thinking that caused it in the first place. It could be a spot of process improvement or Massive Transformation, a culture change attempt of badges and ribbons or a boring ol’restructure.

Something will result, but it probably won’t be big or lasting. Or even good. Whatever happens at the level of the system will happen without changing management thinking because it is acting WITHIN current management thinking. It slips down without touching the sides cos it’s acceptable.

All the system conditions currently in place, whether they help or hinder, whether wanted and put there by design or unwanted and evolved accidently, all of them exist because of management thinking.

They exist because of it.

Performance measures are system conditions.
They help and hinder achieving customer purpose because they direct managers attention which directs their actions. Like these…

These are rubbish obviously. But they didn’t come into existence because people can’t do maths. This isn’t just a simple set of errors that can be corrected with a technical exercise to explain rationally why these are wrong, and these over here are right.

These are system conditions.

They are caused by management thinking.

These specific pispoor measures exist because of command and control thinking.


If you improve performance measures you don’t change the thinking that created them in the first place.

Control charts won’t help managers know where they are in regional benchmarking, or if this quarters outturn has hit the departmental target.

Those questions will still be there, negating any information the control chart may contain.

So here’s your two step guide, the executive summary for executives too busy for cartoons…

  1. Don’t improve performance measures. It is not the problem you should be trying to solve.
  2. Do change the questions  and thinking. It is the problem you should be trying to solve.



This entry was posted in command and control, measures, systems thinking and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Why you SHOULDN’T try to improve performance measures!

  1. Why do you have a picture of Jeremy Corbyn here? 🙂

    It could be argued that by having performance measures you will be able to spot any problems or at least know what area to look for any problems.

    A problem with performance targets is that it gives people the opportunity and motivation to game the system but having no performance measures or targets does seem a little like flying without a navigator.

    How will you know what;s going wrong if you don’t know what going right should look like?


    • ThinkPurpose says:

      It could be argued yes. But normal ordinary performance measures in a normal ordinary organisation, will be useless. Measuring the wrong thing in the wrong way. They got like that by a reason, and unless you change that reason, then all the best measures shown in the best way wont help.
      Change the thinking, that pulls in the right measures


  2. Pingback: How to be hopelessly untrendy | thinkpurpose

  3. I sort of agree. The great Muni Transport fiasco seemed to have been caused by the consultants not asking the right questions that would uncover anomalies and problems.

    But once you’ve asked the right questions and found out what has gone wrong then you still have to construct some performance measures as a guide for the organisation.

    Using Neuro Linguistic Programming techniques (eg noun and verb blockbusters) should help to clarify the situation/problem.


  4. Rasmus Hammer says:

    But the trick is that changing management thinking is incredibly difficult, especially if you don’t have any results (and no, results from other organizations will rarely be enough) to back up your proposed new way of thinking, so you you might be forced to try and create those results through system changes and then quickly leverage them for management thinking changes before they get squashed by command & control..


  5. ThinkPurpose says:

    i wouldnt disagree, Mr Hammer.
    I must emphasise that all this pile of moaning i have the temerity to call “a blog”, it’s only written from where i sit, and when i sit. So its all quite blinkered. Which is why comments are so useful and important.


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