I think one of the most common mistakes people make when they put in new measures into any business is underestimating the intelligence of the people they are measuring. I saw a strange example of this in the papers a few weeks ago, regarding the refit of trains for Southern Railway. They have decided to not have toilets on the new trains (bizarrely defending their position by saying the 66% of their trains will still have loos – if I’m on a train with a 5 year old who needs a pee – the train either 100% does or 100% does not have a toilet!). This seems like a strange decision, until you look at the justification. They talk about increased capacity (makes sense: more fares for no extra rolling stock or operating costs) but there’s also the reliability measures, a loo that goes wrong can take a train out of service and of course removing the loo means that maintenance and cleaning costs go down. So some pretty sensible measures – fare revenue, capacity, reliability and maintenance costs have resulted in a decision that seems totally nuts.
How does this happen? People are great a playing games. I don’t mean this in a derogatory sense. It’s no accident that people love playing chess, Modern Warfare 2 and the rest. People are very, very good at taking a set of rules and making sure they get the outcome that is personally important to them. There’s a whole organisational behaviour dimension to this, and I’m not even going to touch that – but it’s worth thinking about the implied rules that you impose when you start to put measures, KPIs and targets into a business.
It might just be better to look at this as if you were writing the rule book for a new board game.