How we perceive.
When you look at those two lines, you see them as having different lengths. The one on top is longer, and the one on the bottom as being shorter. The reality is that both are exactly the same length. You can measure them, and your mind will still tell you they are not the same. The measures don't lie, but often our minds will trick us. One of the most fascinating aspects of the work I do is the interplay between the role of metrics in driving performance improvement and the role of Hu (Human Elements) in terms of culture, upbringing, and intuition in fighting against it.
Our wiring may inhibit us.
Sometimes these perspectives are so ingrained that we don't even think about it when we are doing it. In one case, I recall a crew in the oil and gas industry who were setting records with performance. In 30 days of operation, they had 17 perfect days in a row! No downtime, no equipment failures, no safety incidents, no issues at all. This had never happened in the history of that company or the history of the client company. Yet, the area manager continued to operate from a traditional perspective that told her that crews needed to be ridden, criticized, and scrutinized.
She moved up the hard way, and her experience and training told her there was the only way to get crews to perform. Every visit to the site required that she find some kind of fault, some issue, so she could "rip them a new one." I pointed out the performance data, but it was as if she could not trust the metrics that were telling her the story, that her experience could not allow for what she was seeing. Fortunately, she eventually came around and became a great practitioner of performance management, and fortunately, too, she had crew leaders who were able to shield the crews from the negativity until she did.
We all do it.
This happens in every industry and every sector, from operations to the C - Suites. It does not have to be a negative outlook; it can involve things like making choices for new hires or promotions. Companies develop exhaustive sets of metrics to try and tease out the best candidates, but often, at those crucial moments when the metrics tell you to go one way, you go the other. In the movie money ball, the scouts for the baseball club looked at things like how good-looking the player's girlfriend was to measure confidence. The influence of the "halo effect" and "confirmation bias" is starting to be explored and factored into our decision making, but our minds and the way we make choices still complicate issues.
Recognize and Trust
Two things to take away from this short analysis is this; knowing that you will bring bias into your decisions and developing a robust set of metrics to guide you are two excellent ways to avoid running contrary to what the numbers are telling you. If you don't trust your analytics, change them so that you do. Understand the tendency to bring bias into decision making and look for ways to combat it, like having hiring teams who are allowed to speak freely and make a case for or against choices presented.
Instinct or Numbers
I have done this a long time, and trust me when I say that having established metrics around the things you need for making decisions, you are going to be confronted at times with results that run totally contrary to what your instincts are telling you. Will you go with the numbers or with your gut? Hu centered leadership - think about it.