Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Why Quantitative Measures Often Make Performance Worse, not Better

Why Quantitative Measures Often Make Performance Worse, not Better

Posted on 11 April 2008

Today’s obsession with quantifiable objectives is more about office politics than performance

I was working for a well-known European government a couple of decades ago, in the days when quantifiable objectives for performance measurement were new and exciting — at least if you were excited by quantifiable measures of performance objectives. We had an office in the department where I was working which spent most of its time involved in complicated international negotiations.

So, when it was approached by the management planners, with their Boy Scout-like enthusiasm for the task of performance measurement, the department in question said, “Sorry, no can do. You don’t understand — our work can’t be reduced to quantifiable targets, because too many other people in all sorts of countries are involved; no one organization, or even country, controls the process.”

“No,” said the Boy Scouts. “You don’t understand. This is a political directive. If you don’t have any quantifiable objectives already, you’d better make some up.”

Read the rest including: Measuring what can be measured, not what truly matters, The psychology of facing set targets, Treating human beings like Pavlov’s dogs at SlowLeadership.org

This article has a number parallels in sport. More funding in sports generally brings more accountability, and often in the form of increased quantitative performance measures, whether truly meaningful or not. In sport many aspects of performance can be quantitatively measured, but whether measuring athletes and performances in this way positively affects endurance performance is up for debate. Witness a number of "old school" endurance programs still dominating the results of many international competitions, despite the increasing emphasis of technology and sports science interventions. While simple measurement doesn't necessarily affect performance in a positive or negative way, often I see those who go the route of extensive quantitative measurement lose the plot of what's important for endurance success. Its easy to get caught up in the measurements and data and lose sight of the human side of performance. Key coaching decisions don't always leave time for analysis of the "data", quick decisions in the moment often have to be made, thus developing those instincts, supported by data when possible, but primarily by keen observation is key. In addition, a heavy emphasis on quantitative measurements can take the spontaneity and fun out of sport, and leave athletes stressed and feeling like lab rats. I'm found of the saying "the best measure of performance is performance itself", so leave the testing to the races.


  1. I prefer to ask the "rats" ;) How are you feeling? Screw the PM today... tell me why you feel like a$$!

  2. Oh yeah... Joel is a big fan of asking the athletes how they feel... ;-)

  3. So i take it's more of the... "shut the pie hole and GO!!!" then. ;) HA!