Individual Competence vs. Organizational Efficiency LO28866

From: Terje A. Tonsberg (
Date: 07/22/02

Replying to LO28857 --

Hello group,

Joe Podolsky said:

> But the message in his article is well known. For example:
> - Deming's principles
> - Alfie Kohn's _Punished by Rewards_
> - Jim Collins' _Good to Great_
> But companies ... and, worse, our education system, persist in ranking
> people.

My comment:

Although Deming's points against performance appraisal systems are well
taken, Alfie Kohn goes way too far and belongs nowhere near Deming in
terms of intellectual contributions to the debate. As of late it seems he
doesn't want to measure anything at all, thinks that all work and learning
will get done by intrinsic motivation and that even saying something like
"good job!" is a bad thing. These ideas are very appealing to certain
teachers though (who pay for his books and presentations,) because
removing such tests would make it practically impossible to tell if they
were doing anything at all, and fit well with their romantic ideals.

Problem: illiteracy and innumeracy is alarmingly high
Kohn's "solution:" remove the tests that detect these problems

While public rankings of students are unnecessary, one cannot do without
standardized testing -- despite their problems. The alternative is
obviously far worse; a severe loss of control, monitoring, and goal
clarity.... (spareness, sureness and liveness.) It would make teaching and
teachers even more prone to whims and fancies than they already are. The
solution lies in using measurement better, not doing away with it
altogether. One has to measure the capabilities of students and compare
them to some standard to make sure that adequate standards, progress and
quantities are met, and that teachers are at least doing a minimum.

The problems with measurement come when someone decides to use them to
assign exclusive praise (rewards) or blame (punishment.) This shows
ignorance about the systemic nature of outcomes and the limited
information of measures; you end up punishing people for things they can't
control - a good way to achieve learned helplessness and depression. It
also brings competition where there should be cooperation, wasted energy
on "beating the system," etc.

Measurement should be done to make better decisions, and are not enough
alone to judge performers. Measures can, however, also be used to bring
greater team effort -- as Alan Cotterell suggested. Perhaps part of the
solution of the problem with measures is to make it explicit at the
development stage what major factors affect it? I once developed a system
where the Balanced Scorecard measures are divided into two categories from
this viewpoint: shared measures and internal measures (defined as largely
under the control of a department.) The idea was to make it explicit on
the card itself as a strong cue to not jump to conclusions. It was never
implemented so I have no idea how it would have went over.

It is not so simple to dismiss individual rewards, however, because
sometimes individuals really do make a big difference and it is important
to give something extra back. So much for simple solutions...

Alan, I liked your comments on incentives. In your experience, how do you
account for this dilemma regarding individual contributors?



"Terje A. Tonsberg" <>

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