When metrics attack

Sometimes success metrics can create unexpected, misguided, and counter-productive behaviors. I heard a great anecdote recently from a client, Celia. She is a former marketing head at an airline, so she knows of what she speaks:

The other week Celia was rushing to catch a United Airlines flight in Pittsburgh. She arrived late to the gate and found the United employees were intent on closing the door to the airplane ten minutes in advance of the flight. She had to argue to get herself on the flight. At United, it seems, success is measured by the percentage of flights that push-back from the gate before the scheduled time. These employees were perfectly willing to slam the door in Celia’s face rather than face having to fill out paperwork and other repercussions tied to missing the success targets.

No doubt push-back time was considered something employees could control and reasonably correlated with on-time arrivals. In addition, push-back time is straightforward to measure -- unlike the seething anger of a customer like Celia.