Why KPIs are not the answer for complex systems (part 3)

What defines a successful organisation?

The answer, of course, is "it depends". But it does amaze me that so many people assume that their answer is normatively better than others.

Let's wind back. Organisations are complex systems, but they are quite different from other social systems for two reasons:
(1) they are intentional, and
(2) they are created for a stated purpose.

Why KPIs are not the answer for complex systems (part 2)

Let's get something out of the way. A common fallacy about complex systems goes like this: If we could only observe all aspects of a complex system, we could predict its behaviour perfectly.

It's an easy trap to fall into, because in complex systems the chain of events leading to an outcome can be traced after the event. We see this all the time in coronial inquiries and other kinds of port-mortems. But despite the fact that complex systems aren't random, their non-determinism is fundamental.

Why KPIs are not the answer for complex systems (part 1)

There's a saying in politics: "When you are sick to the teeth of repeating a message, people are just starting to hear it". By that yardstick, Simon Guilfoyle would make a great politician. For 30 months straight he has maintained a blog with one overriding theme: that numerical targets create dysfunctional behaviour and should be eliminated.

Targets and KPIs are so ingrained into the management mindset that it never occurs to many people to question their necessity. This applied to me too: When I first heard Simon's message, I felt that such a blanket condemnation couldn't be justified. However, after a short conversation with Simon, he completely won me over.

[Read about why Simon's right]

Being married to the job, why people are opting-out, and the odd consequences of that

Joan Williams recently wrote an important piece in HBR about the fact that men, and particularly younger men, are increasingly rejecting career paths that require an overcommitment of time to work. Faced with the option of "up or out", men are choosing "out":

Younger men increasingly want schedules that work around family needs — just as women have been demanding for years ...

TIARA: The essence of a results-only work environment

There is increasing recognition that an employee's performance is rarely determined by how many hours they spend at their desk. While there is a separate discussion on whether it is useful to focus on individual performance at all versus creating a high performing team (the short answer is: it depend), in either case the measures required are similar.

Moving to this type of environment, variously referred to as an activity-based workplace (ABW) or a results-only work environment (ROWE) can be summarised in the TIARA principles:

The 7 tests of worthwhile advice

The Chris Argyris book Flawed Advice and the Management Trap: How Managers Can Know When They're Getting Good Advice and When They're Not is an uncomfortable read. Mostly because it pretty much accuses all workers, and particularly managers, of being skillful liars!

But it's difficult to argue with his conclusions. Just one of the tidbits worth printing out and sticking on your wall as a constant reminder is Argyris' 7 tests for whether you are receiving worthwhile advice:

There are three tests for the validity of advice:

1) If implemented correctly, the advice leads to the consequences that it predicts will occur
2) The advice's effectiveness persists so long as no unforeseen conditions interfere, and
3) The advice can be implemented and tested in the world of everyday practice.

There are four tests for the actionability of advice:

1) The advice specifies the detailed, concrete behaviors required to achieve the intended consequences
2) The advice must be crafted in the form of designs that contain causal statements
3) People must have, or be able to be taught, the concepts and skills required to implement those causal statements, and
4) The context in which the advice is to be implemented does not prevent its implementation.

(paraphrased slightly for clarity)

The modern customer and the modern company

There was an important and insightful post from JP Rangaswami last week. JP is far ahead of me in incorporating the work of the recently-deceased Ronald Coase into his worldview (but I'm trying to catch up), and he absolutely nails why resilience and preparedness for change is increasingly essential to organisational survival:

My Upcoming Masterclass: 5th Annual National Records and Information Officers' Forum

I'm excited to announce that I will be delivering a Masterclass on "Developing a Roadmap for the 2015 Digitisation Target" for Liquid Learning's 5th Annual National Records and Information Officers' Forum on 21 February 2014.

Download full brochure

[If you're coming, tell me what you want out of the day]

The psychology of risk avoidance

This isn't a post about the NSA's extensive efforts to defeat any attempt to communicate securely over the Internet, although it may appear that way at first blush.

ICT is not always a source of productivity

One of the commonly-held beliefs of managers is that productivity improvements can be best done through the development and implementation of new or upgraded ICT systems. The McKell Productivity Report (2012) writes: