As Rupert Murdoch’s News International Corporation draws attention from around the World, one of the overlooked elements of the unfolding story is the pressure that was on journalists at British publication News of the World.
At Global Integration, we often look at targets and measurement in a more holistic context, but one of the lessons we have learned is the need to be careful around what we measure performance on.
Individual objectives and measures can drive people to become very one dimensional, focused only on meeting objectives. This can cause real problems in a complex organizations when, for example, functional and business objectives are not aligned or legitimately compete.
When bonuses and careers depend on hitting objectives and metrics it can be hard to find reconciliations to the trade-offs and dilemmas that are normal in complex organizations.
In the case of News of the World journalists, it would seem from the outside that journalists were judged entirely on their ability to obtain ‘scoops’.
This appears, if the news is to be believed, to have lead some journalists to adopt tactics at odds with the wider corporate objective of a maintaining a good reputation and the trust of readers – whether in person or by commissioning others to bend the rules. (At this point it is worth noting that the one proven perpetrator is already behind bars in the UK.)
Sometimes competing objectives and metrics are desirable – for journalists, for example, finding that all important scoop AND maintaining a clean reputation for the organization by staying the right side of the law .
This is a common issue in results oriented companies. We need different performance management systems to cope within large, complex organization structures – ones that reward doing the right thing for the organization rather than simply meeting the needs of the department or other entity.
For the journalists at the News of the World, the personal repercussions are huge. For the individuals who have found themselves at the wrong end of a misdemeanor, it will be hard to ever forgive. For News International, this threatens its very survival.
We saw similar parallels in with the financial crisis, where individual traders have been set targets which made them take risks. Whilst insider training scandal rocked Enron, a small number of employees trying to cover their tracks closed the auditing giant Arthur Anderson. Nick Leeson managed to play a large part in bringing down Barings, taking ever increasing risks to cover his tracks.
Organizations ignore good management practice at their peril. Personal objectives can seem small and insignificant in the larger scale of things. But time and again we are learning that these small, supposedly insignificant targets can rock an organization to its very foundations.