One of the lessons of our recent book from John Wiley and Sons, Conquering Innovation Fatigue, is that the choice of metrics that business leaders use to track and drive innovation can actually contribute to innovation fatigue. Unfortunately, one’s choice of metrics can have unintended consequences that drive bad decisions and poor behavior. A recent example of how metrics can actually achieve the opposite of the intended results comes from a Wisconsin grocery chain, where a friend employed there explained the unintended consequences of management’s good intentions. Management is now pushing for higher levels of IPM, items per minute, as a metric for the performance of cashiers. This is a measure of how many items per minute the cashier processes. IPM looks like a valuable metric for productivity. Faster checkout means happier customers and shorter lines, so of course we want IPM to be high, right?

However, as with all metrics, the details of how IPM is calculated come into play and may bring unintended consequences. For IPM, the clock doesn’t tick when a lane is closed or, more specifically, when the cashier’s terminal is in “secure” mode. Shut down the terminal to the “terminal secure” state and the clock stops, something that some cashiers use to their advantage while checking out a customer.

A new manager at one store is pushing for IPM scores of at least 30 for all cashiers, but as one cashier explained, the only way that you can achieve that high of a score is to routinely go to “terminal secure.” If the cashier has to help with the bagging or do other tasks that reduce IPM, they can secure the terminal and then reactivate it before they continue scanning goods. That gives a higher IPM score, but the back and forth of securing and reactivating the terminals actually SLOWS DOWN the real work because it involves extra steps that eat up valuable time. By focusing on IPM as a proxy for productivity, productivity can actually decline. Lines can get longer, not shorter.

A further consequence of securing a terminal is that the customer may need to swipe his or her credit card a second time. The card readers in each checkout lane allow customers to swipe their credit card during the scanning of goods, but when the cashier switches to terminal secure mode, the swiped credit card information is discarded and the customer will have the annoyance of having to swipe a second time. By focusing on IPM as a proxy for customer satisfaction, the annoyances to the customer and the time to check out actually increase.

Unintended consequences of metrics can easily follow similar patterns when it comes to innovation, intellectual assets, and new product development. Leaders need to step back and observe the impact of their metrics on those in the ranks and on the actual performance of the company. A carefully selected basket of metrics with frequent reality checks are needed to avoid hindering real productivity and innovation with your good intentions.

Innovationedge can help your organization explore the impact of its metrics and find a better bundle to help you deliver on your business plan. Metrics are one of the factors we can help you explore as we work with you on your technology roadmap or your Ascent to Collaboration™ (your strategic plan to realize your open innovation potential). Give us a call today! We’re at 920-967-0470.

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Comments (1)

  1. C


    Some of the cashiers at Walmart do this and you are absolutely right it slows down the lines. I also cashier and see this happen. I do not like using the action code key to disable the clock. Messes up the screen, prints long receipt. In a way it’s cheating the score.

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