Management by Numbers: Be Very Afraid

By Scot Herrick | Job Performance

Feb 07

Is your manager managing by numbers? Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Before all of you management types and close readers of Cube Rules think that I’ve abandoned my long standing statements about being able to measure performance, I have not.

But there is measuring performance and then there is managing to a number to the exclusion of good business sense. There is a world of difference.

People need to measure all types of work so as to be able to tell when things are working right and when things need to be corrected. We need to be able to measure our work for our performance reviews and our quarterly updates with our manager. Meeting those numbers is critically important.

Numbers tell a story

But here’s the key thing about numbers: they tell a story. They represent the culmination of the work you are doing. The story is a business need. And this is where managing the business and managing by numbers starts to get very important for those of us working in cubes.

When managers use numbers to run the business, they are all involved in the story behind the numbers. They want to understand what the numbers are telling them about the state of the business. They want to know so they can change what is being done with the business to make it better.

But when a manager runs the business according to numbers, the world changes. No longer does the story matter. No longer does your input count as to what can make the business better. No longer, even, do logical and rational reasoning make a difference. No longer do innovative ideas on improving the business matter. No, what matters is the number. Not the story.

A practical example

Consider the need to lay 10 people off in the department for budget and business needs — a legitimate business decision that sometimes needs to be made. If you were a manager using numbers to run the business, you’d look at the overall situation and see how the 10 people being laid off would impact the business.

You’d reach out to other departments and, in doing so, come up with a creative way where what you and others do meets the objective of the number and the needs of the business customer. It may even mean laying the 10 people off — but you’d fully explore how to run the business while still meeting the number.

On the other hand, running the business according to numbers means you simply execute the plan to hit the number. It really doesn’t matter if you can meet the objective in some other way by cooperating with other departments.

All that matters is hitting the number.

It really doesn’t matter that hitting the number without putting in place safeguards for the customer will ruin your customer satisfaction.

All that matters is hitting the number.

It really doesn’t matter that you come up with a way to reduce the budget dollars by the same amount as the people who would be laid off, producing an innovative solution to a really tough problem.

All that matters is hitting the number.

When you have a manager that uses numbers to run the business, you can be creative, innovative, and your voice will be heard — as it should since you are closest to the business. The numbers tell the story as to what is causing problems and can point you to solutions.

If, instead, you have a manager who runs the business by the numbers, all of that is shut down. The numbers still tell the story, alright: you become the story. The creativity, innovation, and engagement is gone — and, in fact, viewed as being obstructionist. And, if in this practical example, you’ll be the one laid off.

All because your manager isn’t willing to act on the story, only the number. Be afraid of the numbers manager. Be very afraid.

Photo by Jorge Franganillo


About the Author

Scot Herrick is the author of “I’ve Landed My Dream Job–Now What???” and owner of Cube Rules, LLC. Scot has a long history of management and individual contribution in multiple Fortune 100 corporations.