Publication: Survival: Global Politics and Strategy August–September 2017
17 July 2017
Anyone who has been on a management training course will have been confronted with the proposition that ‘if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it’. This statement, or some variant thereof, has variously and erroneously been attributed to different management gurus: specifically, W. Edwards Deming, who actually said the exact opposite, namely ‘It is wrong to suppose that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it – a costly myth’;1 and Peter Drucker, who doesn’t actually seem to have said it at all. Neither of these pioneering thinkers would be impressed with the mechanistic way in which incompetent managers – and there are many – attempt to enumerate things in ways that are misleading and counterproductive. Such managers, at best, reduce management to a meaningless box-ticking exercise and, at worst, set themselves up for unpleasant surprises when they discover that what purports to be solid, fact-based analysis turns out to be highly misleading: as Mark Twain put it, ‘what you know for sure but just ain’t so’.
Successful managers will be well aware that not everything that has to be managed can be reduced to simple metrics, and that the most intangible of qualities – human judgement – remains a key factor. Nonetheless, metrics that are devised intelligently and analysed in an appropriate context constitute a vital management tool for general situational awareness, the early identification of problems and the highlighting of opportunities for performance enhancement. Metrics alone will not guarantee success, but an absence of reliable metrics may well contribute to failure.