The seventh deadly sin of measurement programs is greed. Greed in this perspective means allowing metrics to be used as a tool to game the system to gain resources; this is generally a reflection of fear. When metrics become a tool to manipulate the system based on an inordinate desire to acquire more resources than one needs or deserves we see greed. At that point measurement programs start down the path to abandonment.
There is an active debate whether greed is a basic human instinct or whether it is a behavior generated by environmental / cultural conditions. I suggest that the nature or nurture discussion is a red herring when it comes to the health and well being of a measurement program. I believe the literature shows that greed like envy, at the very least is affected by a combination of personal and organizational failings and in most cases psychoanalysis is outside the mandate of most measurement programs. Whether the root of the problem is nature or nurture, organizational culture can make the incidence of greed worse and that is something we can do something about.
One of the critical cultural drivers that create a platform for greed is fear. W. Edward Deming in his famous 14 Principles addressed fear. Principle Three is “Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company.[i]” Fear is its own disease however combined with an extremely competitive culture that stresses win / lose transactions creates an atmosphere that causes greed to become an economically rational behavior. Accumulating and hoarding resources reduces your internal competitors’ ability to compete and reduces the possibility of losing because of lack of resources. Fear driven greed creates its own insidious cycle of ever increasing fear as the person infected with greed fears that their resource horde is at risk and requires defense (Sun Tzu). An example of the negative behaviors caused by fear that I recently heard about was a company that had announced that they cull the lower ten percent of the organization annually at the beginning of last year. Their thought was that completion would help them identify the best and the brightest. In a recent management meeting the person telling the story indicated that the CIO had expressed exasperation with projects that hadn’t shared resources and that there were cases in which personnel managers had actively redirected resources to less critical projects. Creating an atmosphere that fosters greed can generate a whole host of bad behaviors including:
- Cliques / silos
- Manipulation of authority
The measures and metrics in your metrics program can have a dramatic effect on many of the Seven Deadly Sins (or are a reflection of just how entrenched those sins have become). Programs that have wrestled with a common measure of project size and focused on measuring effectiveness and efficiency will be able to highlight how resources are used. Organizations that have set goals that are supported by effectiveness and efficiency will create an environment in which hoarding resources generates a higher economic burden on the hoarder because it reduces efficiency. That burden will therefore create an environment where greed is less likely to occur.
Measurement programs can help create an atmosphere that defuses greed by providing transparency and accountability of results. Alternately as we have seen in earlier parts of this essay, poor measurement programs can and do foster a wide range of poor behaviors.
We began this journey through the Seven Deadly Sins of Measurement Programs nearly four years ago only to go on hiatus for nearly three years and then we began again 14 weeks ago. The Seven Deadly Sins we have covered are:
- Pride – Believing that a single number / metric is more important than any other factor.
- Wrath – Using measures to create friction between groups or teams.
- Sloth – Unwillingness to act or care about the measures you create.
- Gluttony – Collecting data for data’s sake.
- Lust (Extravagance) – Pursuit of the number rather than the business goal.
- Envy – Instituting measures that facilitate the insatiable desire for another team’s people, tools or applications.
- Greed – Allowing metrics to be used as a tool to game the system to gain resources.
In many of the cases the behaviors that the Sins generated are a reflection of the organization’s culture. A culture that can’t be changed by good metrics alone but in every case measures that focus on the business goals, foster transparency and are used as tools rather than weapons can provide a healthier environment. As leaders, measurement and process improvement professionals should push to shape their environment so that everyone may work effectively for the company (Thank you Dr. Deming).
[i] Out of the Crisis by W. Edward Deming. In my opinion, if you read one book on quality and process improvement, this MUST be it.