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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

KPIs Don't Make An Educator

Some time last year, my bible taught me that to worship God using dressed stones, was to dishonour Him. "Dressed stones" are defined as stones which have been reworked by man. I can understand why. It's because God's work is perfect, and no matter the skill of man, it cannot surpass the work of God.

Think about it. When you think breath-taking beauty, do you think of the Esplanade or the Twin Towers? These structures are imposing, no doubt, but they don't draw from you the gasp of admiration or quicken your heart beat. Think now instead of the savage beauty of the Kalahari Desert, or the misty ranges surrounding Guilin, or the wild craggy handsomeness of the Scottish Highlands, or even the stunning perfection of a sleeping baby...

The thing about management theory and practice is that much of it is man made. Everything from Performance Management Systems to KPI setting to Chaos Theory to the Vroom-Jago model, to the science of Transformational Leadership are man's paltry attempts to pin down, describe, understand and control human psychology... a reality which people can neither see nor touch, but is not for all that, any less awe inspiring, complex nor beautiful. Researchers with their PhDs in Psychology are so proud of their Psychological Science but in truth, every theoretical model and theoretical principle are but clumsy approximations of a vast and complex reality.

Dressed stones they are. Every one.

No management consultant will tell you that there are limitations to the KPIs system (Key Performance Indicators). No researcher that delves into goal setting will crow about the limitations of setting quantitative goals. But there ARE limitations... there ARE negative effects. These are known and not said. Management consultants wanna sell their expertise. Profs who study goal setting wanna get tenure. In their communications, 95% is coolio and only 5% is no-no. Unfortunately, our Ministry of Education is managed by KPIs.

To understand the limitations of KPI setting, let us look at Husband Performance. First, let us define what a good husband is...

(1) Good provider
(2) Humorous
(3) Comforts me through my emotional ups and downs
(4) Protects me totally and completely
(5) Does household chores I dun like to do

Next, let us develop KPIs for each of the above performance dimensions
(1) Target to give wife $2000/= in spending money and another $3000/= for family expenses at the end of every month
(2) Target to make wife laugh twice every weekday night and 6 times on weekends.
(3) Target to make wife smile through her tears 100% of the time after every emotional heartbreak (caused by anyone or anything at all, from bossy mothers-in-law to irritating colleagues to bad bonuses)
(4) Protect wife from own mother (and mice and cockroaches and rapists and cheats) 100% of the time.
(5) Does 100% of the household chores (because I dun like to do any)

Now, when you have set KPIs, you need to tie them to an incentive. Mostly, KPIs are tied to more money (i.e., bonuses and promotions). That's because most people like money. Just like most husbands like kisses. So, when managing Husband Performance KPIs, we need to tie the KPIs to kisses. Every time a husband (not mine because I don't manage my husband with KPIs) meets his KPIs, he gets more kisses. This will motivate husbands to meet the KPIs.

Can you see any problem with the above? I see plenty of problems.

Firstly, KPIs don't capture the complexity and richness of the love a husband bears his wife. There is that slight touch of the hand in the dark. There is touching foreheads over a baby's cot. There is the diamond solitaire sitting in a velvet box underneath a half full wine glass. There is the sms from wherever he has travelled to, to let me know he is safe. KPIs cannot capture the complexity and richness of what it means to be a good husband. Can they capture the complexity and richness of being a good educator?

Secondly, focusing a husband's attention on the KPIs and tying it to kisses, cheapens the husband as an individual, and cheapens the husband as a role. Very soon, the husband might say "What's so great about your kisses? I don't need nor want them. I want out of this marriage." Focusing educators' attentions on KPIs and tying everything to money, cheapens the role of the educator and every individual who plays that role. Not surprisingly, many decide, "What's so great about your money? I can get more elsewhere."

Thirdly, KPIs are inflexible. If you've set for your husband a KPI to make you laugh every night, what about nights when you don't want to laugh? Sometimes, the best thing for a child is to do poorly at a subject so that he or she can recover from a flu. KPIs that focus on pass rate don't account for such situations. They are blind numbers and it is the blind human that puts so much faith in them.

Fourthly, what happened to the nobler aspect of being a husband if all his husbanding instincts are driven by KPIs? So too, one might ask, what happened to the nobler aspect of education if Teachers are all driven by KPIs?

Kisses are a part of every marriage. Why use them to motivate? Money is a part of every employment relationship. Why use it to motivate? The human soul is capable of greater nobility than that which can be stimulated with kisses and money.

Not everything that is precious about living and learning can be quantified.


My SINFONIA said...

Finally a post from you. Thought you'd gone on holiday. Missed reading your blog. What ever KPIs, you made me smile.

petunialee said...

Hey... thanks for the note!! Was busy lah...

Malar said...

I was wondering too on why no post from you. i assume you're busy with your house construction!
This post is very interesting. I think KPI's are not applicable in family life...

petunialee said...

Malar - Thanks for your concern!! I think it should not apply to education either. There is too much love required in education for KPIs to be healthy.