The Gospel of Metrics says, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” But what if some companies are measuring themselves to death?
Here’s one thing I love about plumbers: whenever I hire one, they stick to the plumbing. Not once has a plumber fixed my kitchen sink, only to follow up with a credit card offer. No teaser rates, no plumber points, no “convenience checks.” Not even a customer satisfaction survey. They simply do their job and collect their fee. It makes me wish dealing with larger companies were that simple.
Take for example the pre-authorized credit card offers that incessantly arrive in the mail. Every weekend, I spend a few minutes opening, shredding, and recycling the week’s accumulated offers. This routine is especially galling because many of the offers come from companies I have a relationship with. As with the plumber, I hire these companies to do a job for me (one that has nothing to do with credit cards). But unlike the plumber, these companies don’t seem to understand their role in my life.
Most of us call these unsolicited offers “junk mail.” The industry prefers the euphemism “direct mail.” Within marketing circles, this kind of tactic is known for being highly measurable. Outside of marketing, it is known for being highly annoying. (I’d suggest that these two attributes are not mutually exclusive.)
Complaining about junk mail is hardly novel. But “Junk Mail Thinking” is not limited to credit card offers. Junk mail thinking is metric-oriented thinking, and it pervades the business world, stemming from an almost religious devotion to measurement. An entire generation of managers has been brought up in the Church of Measurement, whose catechism is: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” It seems like an innocent enough idea. But as uncontroversial as it sounds, a dogmatic devotion to measurement can create problems. Those problems begin with a few simple truths: