In the US right now there is a major scandal going on in the Veterans Administration where allegedly appointments were falsified to improve managerial metrics. This is not unique to the VA, it is probably happening in every organization.

There is a major US department store chain that has a package pickup model where you scan your receipt and, on a huge monitor mounted on the wall you can track your package"s process as it is delivered to you. Over the space of several years, each time I picked up a package at different stores, I would watch as the monitor reported that my package had been delivered to me in X minutes, yet it still took another 5-10 minutes for me to actually receive it.  Like the VA, store level employees were gaming the system.I'm sure  someone back in corporate was noting the short delivery time on their dashboards yet the reality was the true metric was probably close to double the gamed one.

We could all probably think of other examples, so I'll stop here and get right to the bottom line at the bottom.

If you are a manager and you are relying on metrics such as these to measure performance especially when incentives are involved, you may want to verify your data. As former president Reagan said, "Trust, but verify."

mattpalmer's picture

There's a concept in Lean known as "Going to the gemba" (like most things Lean, it's Japanese -- "gemba" means "the real place").  It's the only way to know what's going on.  To me, the problem with the VA and your department store example is simply that management were willing to manage by remote control, rather than getting into the workplace and seeing what's really happening.  I've done it myself -- been far too hands-off, "trust my people".  Never again, though.  The numbers are useful, but its the people on the frontline that are important.

Doris_O's picture

Instead of asking "Are you being gamed?", I'd ask "Are your metrics driving the behaviors and results you want?" and "Are the penalties and rewards tied to those metrics going to skew the people's behaviors and/or the results?"

Too often organizations create processes that undermine the goal they are trying to achieve. In both of your examples there are reasons why people are gaming the system  - usually either because they will get penalized for poor metrics or a big bonus for good numbers. In either case the goal of improving performance was undermined, not necessarily by the employees, but by the way the metrics were set up in the first place.

In the case of the VA, imagine if instead of measuring the appointments, they used NPS instead. (The VA is a wicked problem that I'd love to have the opportunity to solve).

- Doris O