Managing What Can’t be Measured

Regular readers will know that one of my pet peeves is the silly idea of “Triple Bottom Line management,” “Triple Bottom Line Investment,” etc. I’ve railed against the Triple Bottom Line (3BL) silliness both in scholarly publications, and in blog entries here and here and here.

Clearly, one of the big sources of inspiration for the 3BL idea is the worry embodied in the old saw that you ‘can’t manage what you can’t measure.’ The inference is that if you could only measure ethical performance (or something), and reduce it to a bottom line (or something), then you could really get a handle on it and manage it properly. Of course, ever good manager knows there are lots of things she has to manage that typically aren’t, and maybe can’t be, measured.

Thus my heart rejoiced when i read this bit from a recent Maclean’s magazine article (Time to Stop the Clock? ) about the move by many law firms to stop billing by the hour. The article cites Jay Shepherd, head of a Boston area law firm, explains how he gets by without being able to attach numbers to his people’s productivity:

Shepherd—who predicts the billable hour will last another decade—doesn’t even track his staff’s hours for internal purposes. This has prompted many competitors to ask how he knows if associates are doing their work? “I manage them,” he says. “That’s my job.”


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