Monday, 22 October 2018

But what are they measuring?

There’s an old management adage that says you can’t manage what you can’t measure.  It’s superficially attractive; turning progress into numbers can help make managers feel that they’re achieving something.  Only superficially, though; it tends to engender an attitude towards managing an organisation which concentrates on those things which can easily be measured in numerical terms, and a target-based organisation can lose focus on what it’s really trying to achieve.  In an attempt to make things manageable, people try and put numbers on things which aren’t amenable to such a simplification; things like using staff surveys to ‘measure’ morale or job satisfaction as though such essentially subjective things are capable of being objectively measured.
It’s with such a sceptical approach that I find myself wondering exactly how anyone can put a percentage figure on the progress in the Brexit negotiations.  In July, Michel Barnier told us that the deal was 80% completed, and last week, he updated that to 90%.  According to Theresa May, in just two days over the weekend, that has gone up to 95%, and the finishing line is in sight.  But what, precisely, are these figures measuring?  Are they simply telling us that in a document of 100 pages, the content of 95 of them has been agreed?  That would certainly be a means of measuring something, but I’m not at all sure that what is being measured is the extent of agreement between the two parties, given that there is still a complete failure to agree on the basic fundamental principle which has been outstanding since the very beginning.
Perhaps it’s a measure of elapsed time: when Article 50 was triggered in March 2017, we were told that agreement had to be reached by the end of October 2018.  They’ve certainly expended in excess of 90% of the elapsed time, but that isn’t really a measure of the extent of any agreement either.
Managers who think that a 90% satisfaction rating on an internal staff survey means they’re doing well can easily be lulled into a false sense of security; negotiators who think that they’ve agreed 95% of all the issues are probably suffering the same fate.  The methodology of the measurement is more relevant than the numbers it throws out.

1 comment:

Spirit of BME said...

I certainly concur with your view on measurement and management ,but something else may be happening here ,which was identified after the Treaty of Versailles was done and dusted. In that everybody was so relieved that it was all over nobody worked out the potential consequences , but on the day of signing everything was so logical.
The withdrawal agreement could well be named as Versailles 2.0, as UK will be making reparations to the EU over many years and I assume the sum agreed is in Euros, which means that there will be an exchange rate involved ,therefore if sterling is wrecked on the money market, paying this bill gets harder and I can see future HMG`s cutting budgets in order to make the payment and in Versailles 1.0 you saw the outcome that created.