People do what you inspect, not what you expect

2017-12-26 2 min read

    While reading Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance about the revival of IBM in the 90s I came across a simple, yet profound statement by Louis Gerstner: “People do what you inspect, not what you expect.” We hear variations of this constantly and it’s true - if you want to drive behavior change you need to make sure that’s what you’re actually measuring and holding people accountable for. Otherwise we all run the risk of preaching what we don’t practice.

    The more I work the more I see this pop up in all sorts of situations. The obvious one is to think about compensation plans and how the dollar usually wins if it’s in conflict with anything else. Beyond that it influences the way we tackle any project. If we focus on collecting and sharing metrics those will be the guiding posts for the project’s evolution. This is why it’s critical to think deeply about the goals and metrics for a project and make sure they’re properly collected. Exposing these via a dashboard to the team will do more for motivation than anything else.

    If you’re constantly talking about and measuring story points or hours in the office then those become what people optimize their days around. If that’s not what drives the business forward then you’re not focusing on the right levers and should switch to something that’s more aligned with the business.