During the Vietnam War, pilots report that they risked lives and equipment for the attainment of an immediate result (as defined by a number or metric), rather than an end goal of winning the war (achieving peace, promoting humanitarianism, etc.).
Risking Lives for a Goal – A Veteran’s Story
“On a daily level, there was the competition between the air force and the navy, which sometimes led to the misuse of men and equipment, and if not to outright lying, then to exaggerated claims about the damage inflicted during air strikes. One manifestation of the competition was in the sortie rate—a sortie being one round-trip combat flight by one airplane—which was used as a measuring stick to show how hard each service was working to win the war.
When a bomb shortage occurred in early 1966, both the air force and the navy sent their planes up with only one or two bombs per plane, to keep their sortie rate high and prevent their competitor from getting ahead in the statistics game. There was constant pressure to show results in the numbers of targets hit.” (Zalin Grant in “Over the Beach: The Air War in Vietnam”).
What Are You Really Trying to Achieve?
While your own targets may not be as critical as those in military situations, they may be critical to your organizational or individual success. But is the sortie scenario a familiar one in your organization or in your own life—hitting a metric while ignoring (or at least not considering) the end goal?
Time and time again I see organizations and individuals fresh off a recent 360-degree feedback process or employee engagement survey attempt to develop and hit goals that are either unrelated to or in direct conflict with what they are really trying to achieve.
Think about long, frustrating phone calls with customer service reps. How many times do they ask you, “before we end this call, have I been able to resolve your concern, or are there any additional items I can help you with?” NO, idiot! You’ve hit your metric of getting me off the phone within the required time frame. You asked me the required, “before we end this call… concern… additional… blah, blah, blah…,” but the real goal of customer service? Not by a long shot.
What Are You Measuring?
Is your drive for results and the attainment of the metric getting in the way of success? As a manager or coach, are you causing others to fly ineffective (and even dangerous) “sorties,” all in the name of getting the immediate results?
It’s time to re-focus on what we’re really trying to accomplish.