Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Lying (to Ourselves) With Statistics

Campbell's Law: "The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor."

I didn't know it had a name. When I worked at the phone company, every new AVP would install his or her own method for measuring the work of the division. Each time this happened, we would all be trained in the new methodology and sent back to our desks. I guarantee that the employees would do exactly the same things they had always done but they would come up with a way to make sure that their numbers came out to please the AVP.

I am working on a project where the management is ravenous to get their hands on numbers that will "measure" the productivity of each procedure and worker in their department. I can provide raw numbers but can't shake the feeling that these numbers will have little impact on the ultimate performance. We have tweeked many processes to greatly reduce the amount ofuseless work being generated. All to the good. But insisting that an up-to-the-minute dashboard of work flow will allow a executive to successfully micro-manage the organization is an abuse of the nature of the data and the conditions under which employees can be effective.

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