Why what gets measured does not get done.

The old axiom “what gets measured, gets done” has been on my mind for a very long time now.  As a safety guy, I liked the concept.  As a risk manager, I embraced the concept.  As a CEO, I think it is the one of the worst phrases to put in the minds of untrained safety coordinators and risk managers.  Don’t believe me, these entities measured it, but still it is not done.  LA County measures 10 billion in unfunded work comp, LA City measures more than 10 million in sidewalk repairs.

Why what gets measured does not get done

The emphasis is on counting

I am a statistics guy.  I taught it at the University of Missouri.  I married a professor who has committed her life to research.  I write databases for major universities to collect and manage data.  I know data.

And I also know that the emphasis is on getting numbers.  Managers say “We need numbers to support…”  “I want to see the numbers…”  “What do the number say…”  Getting numbers is great, but getting the right numbers is superb.

We don’t know how to count

1, 2, 3, sure everyone knows that, but do we really know how to count what we are trying to measure?  As a researcher, you would study research methods. One of the key concepts in the class is “operational definitions”.  What is an operational definition?  It is a definition of the thing you are trying to measure.

Let’s take the apple for instance.  How should we count apples?  Should we count red and green apples the same?  Sure, that makes sense.  Should we count red delicious, Washington, and Granny Smith apples?  Now, what about crab-apples and dried apple slices?  What about decorative apples, Apple computers, apple keychains, etc… We need to define the things we are tying to measure.

Let’s put that in work comp terms – slips, trips and falls.  Have you defined each of the terms to your adjusters and supervisors?  Probably not.  Now what about 3 point contact.  Is sending an email the same as sending an email and getting verification that it was opened – what about opened and read?

If we don’t define the things we are trying to measure, you can rest assured that your numbers are lying to you.

We’re counting the wrong things

Now that we know how to count and we are counting correctly, the next big hurdle is to ask ourselves if we are actually counting the deciding factor.  John Maxwell spoke about the deciding factor in a presentation to real estate agents on why their sales were so poor.  Agents threw out all kinds of factors – the economy, prices, the media, unemployment rates, etc.  As Mr. Maxwell explained it “No doubt all of these are factors, but they are not the deciding factor.  If they were, then no one would be successful.  Not one person would sell a house.”

The same holds true for work comp costs, injury rates, ppe usage, ergonomic complaints, safety committee attendance, vehicle accidents, sewer leaks, and every other safety and risk management program you are trying to improve.

If you are going to measure things, count them, report on them and make business decisions on them, then you had better be measuring the deciding factor.  I once met a CEO of an consulting firm that told me they measure the level of fraud by the whether or not they have the claimants cell phone number.  The CEO said it was an indicator of trustworthiness.  Would you base your business decisions on a simple cell phone number?  What if the person doesn’t own a cell phone? Are they a person who commits fraud?  Probably not.

How do you determine the deciding factor?  It’s simple really.  Ask the five why’s.  Why did they slip and fall?  Why did that cause the fall?  Why, why, why.  Keep drilling down. Pretty soon, you will notice that the last why is the variable that actually changes the outcome of other variables.  It causes the other variable to happen, not just correlates with it happening.

We have the wrong solutions

This is a tricky one, because so often our solutions are intertwined with our measurements.  Most times we have pre-selected the solution, hoping that it will solve our problem only to find out that it hasn’t made an impact.  This is typically due to our eagerness to look good, so we based the solution on the wrong measurement or no measurement at all.

There’s only one way to get the right solution and that is to ensure that we are selecting the deciding factor.  That one key variable, which if changed, can make all the difference in the world.



Hope you enjoyed this article.  If you need more personalized assistance, you can work directly with us.  Reach out here. http://wilmes.co/contact-wilmes-risk-control/

1 thought on “Why what gets measured does not get done.

  1. So what is the one defining factor? No example is given, but as to the discussion of trip and falls, there are many factors. For our cities, it is often tree roots that is probably the defining factor. But we can’t eliminate trees. Inspection is a problem due to lack of funds to hire inspectors.

    Carrying through the discussion to root out all but the defining factor in a case would be helpful to the article.

    Hope you enjoyed this article.  If you need more personalized assistance, you can work directly with us.  Reach out here. http://wilmes.co/contact-wilmes-risk-control/

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