Yes, Austin, Dashboards are Dangerous and Dysfunctional!

Given my long-time stance that dashboards are dangerous and dysfunctional, I was absolutely thrilled by this recent article in Intelligent Enterprise on how metrics can lead in the wrong direction which quoted Robert D. Austin, author of Measuring and Managing Performance in Organizations who said:

Kaplan and Norton’s cockpit analogy would be accurate if it included a multitude of tiny gremlins controlling wing flaps, fuel flow, and so on of a plane being buffeted by winds and generally struggling against nature, but with the gremlins always controlling information flow back to the cockpit instruments, for fear that the pilot might find gremlin replacements. It would not be surprising if airplanes guided this way occasionally flew into mountains when they seemed to be progressing smoothly toward their destinations“.

If the doctor had a hall of heroes, Robert would have to be the first inductee! Not only will your staff be lulled into a false sense of security when all of the gages in the dashboard are in the “safe” zone (and not look for the faulty wiring about to spark a devastating explosion), but, and this is especially true if their compensation is based on those numbers, they’ll start to perform dysfunctionally if such behaviour improves the score. For example, many call centres once thought (and some still do) that number of calls processed was a good metric. The result? The reps, who do their best to get you off the phone as soon as possible, don’t take the time to understand the true nature of your problem and instead focus on a “quick fix” to get you going again (even if such a fix, like “reboot”, doesn’t fix the issue and will only result in the problem re-occurring again and again). As a result, not only did the number of calls processed a day increase, but the total number of calls processed by the organization increased, because people have to call multiple times to get their problem solved. Not good. Not good at all.

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