“so if i drink this beer with my right hand (my offhand, and the one on which i wear my fitbit flex), will it register all the calories i’m burning...”
yes, that was an actual thought i had the other night.
how quickly behavior can change when it’s measured. granted, in the case of my fitbit, it was a present from my wife after a lot of research and something i was excited to receive and wear. though in a matter of days it had already changed my behavior. i began to push myself a bit harder during workouts. when going for a run, regardless of how i felt or how bad the weather was, i wouldn’t stop before i hit my goal.
that celebratory vibration and light dance from my fitbit was enough to keep me going.
while i’ve heard other such stories from friends who wear similar devices (like nike’s fuel band or the jawbone up), i merely expected cool metrics from my fitbit. i hoped for a better way to capture and retain data (something of which i’m huge a proponent)... what i did not expect was actual behavior change.
no wonder the quantifiable self (the really cool venture capitalist term used to describe this space) is such a powerful trend these days, and we’re just beginning to scratch the surface of what’s possible.
i remember one of my favorite slides during my mba related to this point about measuring the right things. to build a functioning organization you need to put in place metrics that capture the most important elements of the business. not merely the elements of that job or function, but of the business. for what gets measured, gets done.
simple, but so often poorly executed. it’s easy to think myopically about one group’s metrics and how to best measure and hopefully optimize their performance without thinking a few steps ahead as to how that affects the rest of the organization, much less externalities.
flopping in the nba is perfect example. the best player on the planet, lebron james, just got fined for flopping and a number of players have been fined throughout the season and into the playoffs for oncourt theatrics. overall, the nba has gotten more strict about it’s no flopping rule, but they are measuring the wrong things.
the root of the issue stems from how referees are measured.
referees used to have more leeway. they could stop calling fouls -- even if a player was clearly fouled -- if that same player had a reputation for flopping. they had the ability to maneuver and correct behavior... then the nba officiating committee started breaking down a referee’s performance by the accuracy of his calls. his whistle was no longer a way to adjust behavior, but the means in which he would be measured. a good officiating game was not about how players played or behaved or how in control the games was, but rather how precise his calls were.
this might sound like a great idea in theory as it’s also more quantifiable. far easier to say referee x isn’t cutting it because his calls were below a certain percentage or that referee y should do the nba finals since his call accuracy is the best in the league.
accuracy got measured, and so it was done... and now we have flopping as one of the unforeseen results.
flopping aside, some referees and the nba might still prefer this approach. they know exactly how they are judged. certain employees and managers might prefer this too. it’s easier to remove judgement and ambiguity. when it comes to bonuses and reviews, it’s black and white. did your sales meet the quota? did your product ship on time?
however, i would argue for metrics that leave more room for interpretation. strict rules and behavior too far down the org chart doesn’t account for the fluidity and interconnectedness of an entire organization. simply optimizing one person’s function rarely results in maximizing value for the whole company as people in any function will invariably wear a lot of hats. particularly in a knowledge economy, with constant movement and behavior changing rapidly, i’d encourage the measurement of hard to measure things.
customer service, for example, has seemingly straightforward metrics. calls per hour, call duration, and so on. yet none of those get to satisfaction. zappos is famous for its customer service, and it’s succeeded largely because it doesn’t focus on easy metrics. satisfaction is all that matters, and that doesn’t even mean a long phone call -- for that could be gamed in the other direction.
satisfaction really boils down to repeat and referral business, but that’s tough to reward your customer support team on things that are also affected by product and operations. thus the need to measure what matters, cognizant of second and third derivatives -- sacrificing accuracy of measurement for impact -- and then tying rewards into individual, team, and organization-wide results.
qualitative metrics have far more room for impact, and will challenge employees to be -- as mark pincus, the founder of zynga, likes to say -- the ceo of their jobs. brad feld, managing director at foundry group, wrote a great piece about this.
an organization with the right employees and right culture will value qualitative, imperfect goals.
when thinking back to when i was founding workables (now part of zaarly), i often thought one of my mistakes was trying to solve a problem that required a change in user behavior. as the saying goes, people are creatures of habit. if they are used to a certain process or product, it’s tough to make them think differently.
now i’m not so sure. many of the great products and services today taught us to do things differently, from adding a filter to a photo to making reservations and appointments with an app instead of a phone call. linkedin helped us to better fill out our profiles, largely because they helped us measure our progress.
whether you’re trying to start working out or trying to stop playing candy crush, changing one’s behavior is always a challenge. it’s hard enough to try to change our own behavior, much less have someone else or something else change us. as terrible as each of us is (at least in some way), we’re pretty happy that way... but increasingly i think we’re willing to change, collectively as a society and individually.
where we work, where we live, what we eat, and even how we think has never been so fluid. for those who create organizations that measure and reward creatively, there’s never been more opportunity to capture share of both mind and market.