The world is drowning in data. The term “Big Data” appears in most technology trend articles in 2013 and reverberates at seemingly every conference regardless of industry. This reminds me of a quote attributed to Mark Twain that I used with my senior picture in the high school yearbook: “Collecting data is much like collecting garbage. You must know in advance what you are going to do with the stuff before you collect it.”
Now companies and government agencies have an idea what they’re going to do with the data they collect. And a leading use of data is measurement. Measurement mania has spread throughout every function of seemingly every organization from government agencies and universities to public school systems and corporations. Organizations can now measure traits among applicants and team members ranging from emotional intelligence to flexibility. Plus companies can calculate transactional cost-per-hire.
The relentless drive to measure people can reduce value creation and compromise collaboration. Measurement mania breeds fear and internal competition among team members and encourages leaders to focus on short-term results which create less sustainable value than achieving longer-term objectives. In a numbers-obsessed organization, leaders are more likely to cut corners by booking phantom sales or sacrificing safety in manufacturing plants. With hidden agendas running rampant, collaboration towards common goals becomes impossible.
Media reports suggest that Zynga, the company that develops online games including FarmVille, has thrived on numbers. “Relentlessly aggregating performance data, from the upper ranks to the cafeteria staff,” is the way Evelyn M. Rusli of the New York Times describes the company in a November 27, 2011 story. According to a November 28, 2011 blog post by Ryan Fleming of Digital Trends, executives nurture “fierce competition both between the groups and within each department.”
Apparent measurement mania is one of many structural and cultural issues that have plagued Zynga. A September 8, 2010 story in SF Weekly by Peter Jamison indicates that the company’s values are sub-optimal and that rather than focusing on innovation, Zynga has instead pushed team members to appropriate ideas from competitors. If these assessments are accurate, it appears that Zynga would benefit from changing the structure and culture of its organization. Principles is one step that I explain in my new book, The Bounty Effect: 7 Steps to The Culture of Collaboration.
In perhaps the most sober indication of problems with Zynga’s focus, the company reported second quarter results last Thursday that contained few bragging rights. While the results exceeded analyst expectations, the number of daily active users declined 45 percent in the quarter from the same period last year. In the three months ending June 30, Zynga’s sales fell 31 percent to $231 million. According to the Wall Street Journal, Zynga CEO Don Mattrick indicated that “getting a business back on track isn’t quick, and isn’t easy.” Mattrick recently replaced founder Mark Pincus as CEO.
While Zynga clearly faces challenges on many fronts, the company’s structure and culture are likely factors in Zynga’s woes. The company is by no means alone in the issues it faces and the possible structure and culture elements. Organizations of all kinds face exigent circumstances ranging from new competitors and disruptive market forces to natural disasters and terrorist attacks. These storms that blow through businesses provide opportunities to change.
In The Bounty Effect, I discuss how to replace command-and-control remnants including measurement mania and how to adopt collaborative principles, practices and processes among other steps. Creating value through collaboration happens only when organizations change their structures and cultures from Industrial Age command-and-control to Information Age collaborative.