Maxwell’s “Law of the Scoreboard”

Recently I reread a John C. Maxwell book entitled The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork. In this book, Maxwell has a chapter dedicated to the Law of the Scoreboard, which is “The team can make adjustments when it knows where it stands.” In sports, the scoreboard is the objective measure of each team’s performance. However, the other areas of life are much more subjective and difficult to measure.

Performance measurement is a full-time occupation for some management consultants, typically because substantial sums of money are involved. As we are all aware, health care is trending toward pay for performance in an attempt to improve quality. Naturally the performance metrics used will reinforce a few specific behaviors that are rewarded, regardless of whether the behaviors actually improve quality or only improve the “score.” For example, measuring the frequency of physician visits will increase the pressure to see the patient more often, but for a shorter duration. As a result, this example has an unintended consequence of shorter durations.

Therefore it is important to make sure that the metrics selected will accurately measure quality and not just a single facet that can be improved at the sake of other unmeasured components of quality.

In sports, if you find out the score after the game is over, it is too late to make adjustments. For the same reason, the performance must be measured in a timely manner so that the feedback is current enough to be meaningful.

I have observed two extremes—some teams do not keep score and others spend more time keeping score than playing the game. The art is in striking the right balance.

For your operation, ask yourself:

  • Are we measuring the proper things?
  • Do our measurements produce unintended consequences?
  • Are our measurements timely enough to make a      difference?
  • How can we reduce the score-keeping burden?
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