What gets done gets measured - comment

In this new world, we will not always be able to catch the unintended consequences of our actions.

Wilson says he even adopted the measuring approach as a parent. Picture: contributed.
Wilson says he even adopted the measuring approach as a parent. Picture: contributed.

What really drives behaviour? I’ve had the pleasure of leading businesses in a number of sectors and have seen the traditional reversal of the saying, “what gets measured gets done” menacingly scrawled in permanent marker on white boards in all manner of workplaces.

I too was a disciple. Target the behaviours you want, pick the measure that you believe will show it’s working and, hey presto – watch as the sales flood in, costs will tumble and things will generally be better.

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I even adopted this approach as a parent. I can distinctly remember lining up two of my kids in front of a “reward” chart when they were little. A vain attempt to get them to use cutlery, the potty, get to bed on time, you know the story. In response to this approach, I can distinctly remember my oldest (then aged four) looking quizzically and simply responding “Daddy, can you not pick things we already do?”

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And there we have it, what gets measured does not in fact get done. In reality, we pick things that we believe will make changes we want, then make ourselves feel better by managing the numbers. But what actually gets done?

One example haunts me from when I ran a bank branch network. We came up with a great plan to get our staff to contact more customers that rarely came to branches to “meet their needs” (sell to them!).

To encourage them, we set staff a target of a percentage of appointments to be with these customers as opposed to from traditional “walk-ins”. I remember visiting a branch and having a lovely honest chat with one of the team. She explained that a customer had walked in off the street to get a mortgage the previous Friday afternoon and she had declined to meet them (her diary was clear).

Instead saying it needed to be booked in the following week. Why, because seeing this “walk-in” would have meant she missed her “self-generation” percentage target for the week!

So, what got done (meeting booked the following week) got measured. In many instances, the customer would simply have gone elsewhere, and we would never had known.Another more worrying tale was when I was responsible for a group of motor repair centres where we were trying to encourage more standardised repair methods that were safer and more efficient (quicker!). Again, we came up with some measure of success: how quick teams were. I recall a site visit where I saw a rather alarming corner being cut that could have caused some serious harm. Again, what got done (less safe repairs) got measured, quicker.

In both cases, the guys at the front line were not trying to cheat or do anything dishonest, they were hard working dedicated employees simply trying their best to deliver. The issue was mine for thinking that measures alone will get the best outcomes.


As we ponder how we manage and lead businesses in this new world, this has become even more problematic. In both these instances, it was only when I was out in the business that I could see what was actually going wrong – the unintended consequences. In the case of my kids, the spaghetti-splattered walls and bathroom floors liberally peed on certainly told me the measures were not working.

As people work more remotely without line of sight, we need to be even more mindful of how we lead. Great care has to be taken when thinking about how we seek to create success in a business. Instead of the traditional notion that you can coerce behaviour out of people by simply measuring what you want them to do, leaders that will succeed need a little more sophistication.

Real success happens when you are clear on the values and behaviours that will truly help your customers. With that potent knowledge, you can then attract people that instinctively live and love those values and behaviours. If you give these talented people a clear sense of purpose and unleash them on your customers, they will naturally do the things that they need and value.

When that gets done, you will be able to measure your real success.

Chris Wilson, partner and co-founder, Opto Advisory

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