WHETHER WE’RE CONSCIOUS OF IT OR NOT, WE HUMANS
are always measuring and evaluating. We compare our
cars as we sit in a traffic jam. We remember how we did
on midterms—and how our classmates performed. We
calculate the distance from our favorite coffee shop to
the office and adjust accordingly. In the office, we keep
a running tally of how we’re doing, and the time and
effort our colleagues and reports are putting in. I think
it’s because we’re always striving to do a little better, or
gain an advantage, or just to know and make sense of
what’s happening around us.
But taking the measure of the workplace and school
has become an endeavor unto itself. There’s the heated
education debate over standardized testing and using
student performance to evaluate teacher effectiveness—
as though there’s some direct correlation between input
and output. We do performance reviews; private practice lawyers keep track of their hours, and lots of billable
hours can sometimes be as much of a triumph as a winning case. Or so it seems.
In the legal department, the doctrines of Six Sigma
and other efficiency methods have dictated that chief
legal officers and their corner office colleagues measure
as many aspects of performance as they can. A big part
of that is economic; in most cases, the legal department
is a cost center, and general counsel need
to show senior management that their
departments are doing the best they
can with the resources they’ve got.
Indeed, if they can measure and then
squeeze out inefficiencies, they’re
ahead of the game.
That’s given rise to a veritable
industry of measurement and pro-
cedures. You can read
about it in reporter
cover article “Legal
Departments by the
You can’t measure
without being predict-
able about how you’re
taking stock, and mea-
suring what can be measured. You gotta have a proce-
dure, in other words.
And there’s the catch. I read once that the singer
Madonna will sit at her desk at a given hour every
morning to write songs. But many people don’t quite
have that drive, or won’t be able to drum up an idea or
strategy at a designated hour. There’s serendipity, too.
Personally, I’ll semiconsciously think of ideas for this
column, and then toss them all out because while I’m
walking the dog at night, something else occurs to me.
People have an anarchic bent, too, and will find ways
to get around rules and procedures. And ambitious
goals sometimes lead to what you might call massaging
the results. Or cheating.
This is somewhat off the subject, but I think that currently there’s no better example of the human propensity to cheat than Volkswagen AG, for years one of the
shining stars of German industry. Their engineers are
known for their creativity and sheer ability to get things
done. And boy, did they do something creative. Despite
what looked to the world like a model compliance program, with a separate compliance officer and department, the engineers managed to come up with software
code to cheat on emissions testing for diesel engines.
The lesson? Knowing what we do and how we do it is
good. Putting programs and procedures in place to help
us figure that out can be helpful. But there’s a missing
element, and that’s knowing what you’re looking for,
and what you’re really trying to achieve with the stats
you’ve got. And if you’re unrealistic with your goals,
you could run the risk of inspiring some to cheat.