The Problem: Are We Watching the Right Score?

Aug 30, 2022 | Strategy & Execution

In the next few weeks, we’ll talk through the concept of keeping score and the value and dangers in our attempts at “scoreboarding“. We’ll look underneath our implementations of KPI’s and other management metrics to answer these questions. WHY do we have these measured goals, and what is their true value?

Have you ever seen someone score for the opposite team? We’ve all seen clips of kids shooting at the wrong basket or goal. It’s almost cute when young kids do it, but doesn’t this happen in our daily work life? For non-sports fans, imagine playing the card game Hearts and happily strategizing, only to realize everyone else is playing Spades. Maybe they didn’t actually score points for the other team, but their lack of understanding led to a mistake. We may not all be competitive people, but I’m hoping this image is clear.

In order to score, we must know how

Professional sports and companies across the globe leaned heavily into metric and statistics tracking over the last 20 years. If you’ve ever seen the movie Moneyball, you know how stats can help an organization build a winning team. We, as managers, have to remember that supportive statistics, though helpful, are not in themselves a scoreboard.

To be a scoreboard, it needs a SCORE.

The team that holds the ball the most, makes the most passes, or sends the most emails doesn’t always win. Of course, increased team activity can correlate with winning, but which part of the scoreboard truly matters? The points, goals, or runs matter, everything else supports the end result at best.

​​You might be thinking, thanks for that oversimplified point my man. It’s clear we must first know how to score, and we should track that right score. However, we can all point to work teams we’ve been a part of that miss these foundational values. How many of you know exactly how to succeed and know without a doubt the rest of your team possesses the same definition of success?

How and why do we watch the wrong score?

The point of this article series is to raise the conversation and acknowledge that we sometimes miss the mark with our management and systems. We must first acknowledge before we can correct. Let’s construct three buckets of negative behavior around scorekeeping.

Bucket #1: Individualized and Unclear

Scorekeeping is prevalent in our culture and you might recall memories of past bad relationships or transactional micromanagers. Media outlets often highlight the downfalls of keeping score. In a Forbes article, Peggy Drexler highlights the downfalls of workplace scorekeeping. She describes scorekeeping as “individualized” where people focus on keeping things even between “my coworkers and myself.” This type of scorekeeping fosters negativity and unease, and forces a guess as to what transactional exchange occurred.

Unclear, internal scorekeeping removes trust from our teams. Does a world series pitcher complain to his team that he has to throw the ball more than they do after a win? Does a leading soloist hold contempt for fellow performers for her additional effort? Both individuals don’t resent heir teammates but probably value the added responsibility as an achievement.

So why should the workplace be different? My thought: In the absence of a better measure, people will fill the gap.

Bucket #2: Postured and Presumptive

We all have that colleague tallying points as the ‘busiest.’ Does that busyness make them more productive? That remains unclear, but it trends more in our culture today. For example, HBR titled a recent article, “Why Some Men Pretend to Work 80-Hour Weeks.” Though a clever title, academic support shows this posture works. Researchers point out that we value work over leisure in today’s society. The article highlight show, much like a Hermès we assign value to a perceived scarcity. A mythical 80-hour workweek projects scarcity and ambition.

We can’t allow this subconscious, cultural value calculus to drive our workplace culture. If busyness doesn’t produce measurable progress, should we see it differently than ineffective sports effort? The kid showing the most fatigue at half-time typically isn’t contributing the most, so why do we credit it as value at work? I like to think of work in terms of the physics definition:

Work = Force x Displacement

Force, in and of itself, doesn’t result in work done. So the number of emails in our inbox, or the hours we spent distracted at our desk don’t constitute work. We have to stop crediting activities without progress. Value the team members that produce and construct scoreboards that bring this value to the surface

Bucket #3: Top-down and Directive

The final bucket of bad behavior might be the least negative but still bleeds trust and production from our teams. By having a top-down structure of directing metrics or tasks with no objective structure and alignment with those doing the work fosters insincerity and breeds micromanagers. Impulsive micromanagers kill motivation and distract teams from achieving. This boils down to what The Great Game of Business calls Seagull management. A Seagull manager only comes in to get something, harasses, and leaves confusion in their wake.

How do we remind players they’re in a game, not practice? As the Great Game Team puts it, the process of keeping score moves the team “from ‘them measuring us’ to ‘us measuring ourselves.'” The authors of Get in the Game contrast this business principle well: “However, unlike sports, too many businesses are running their companies by focusing their players on the stats and only the stats, all without ever really knowing if they’re winning or losing.”


If it doesn’t objectively contribute to the meaningful progress of our team, we shouldn’t credit this activity as a score, goal, point, or whichever metric you use as success. Meaningful progress cannot be achieved without first understanding how to score. Implementing systems like Salesforce shouldn’t be seen only as an aid to task completion, but should cross-cut throughout your teams to define and measure progress.

In my next post, we’ll look at what drives positive scorekeeping.

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