I was working with Xerox a while back, and in one of their divisions, they ranked all of their facilities on certain key performance indicators. When a new VP, Jim, took over the division, the plant that initially was on the bottom, and had been for some months, climbed to the middle of the pack the first month. The next month, it reached the top. The VP spent a day at that facility to learn what employees were doing differently. At the end of the day, he walked into the plant manager’s office, laid the report on his desk, and asked, “How did you get those results?” He responded, “I made them up.” Perplexed, Jim asked, “Why?” The plant manager’s reply: “I was tired of being on the bottom.”
This is an example of managing “to” the results, rather than “by” the results. In a results-only environment, managers will do whatever is necessary to achieve the desired results. That can include things that are illegal or unsafe, such as at GM. And, in the case of the VA and Xerox, altering numbers to beef up results.
In these situations, employees logically made choices to avoid the consequences of not meeting set results. Meanwhile, leaders put their organizations at risk because they are only managing to results. At these organizations, “leadership blindness” created a near obsession with holding managers accountable for results without any attention to the underlying behaviors.
Unfortunately, however, results often mangle the truth, as it did at the Xerox division I worked with. Managing to results is like driving around a big city looking only at the tourist highlights without encountering any real-life situations. The tour doesn’t capture a full picture of a city or what lies in its future, good or bad. In organizations, as in cities, widespread problems often show up months or years later, when they can be extremely costly to correct, which is exactly what happened at the VA and GM.