“First, let’s kill all the ‘bean counters'”. Is this what Shakespeare would say today?

I attend many conferences where graduates with MBA’s from elite business schools tell the audience how to increase efficiency. “It is all in the metrics”, we are told by the experts. Competition today is greater than ever and you will not succeed unless you cut out the fat and get rid of inefficiency. You can’t tell where you are performing without a means of comparison. Measure, but at what cost?

The attorneys in the meeting which I attended described the loss of talent that some of them experienced due to the over 65 rule. Attorneys who had long established relationships with critical clients, and who hit the magic mark, were asked to leave or surrender their stock. Attorneys who mentored junior attorneys without billing a nickel of that time were let go. Attorneys who greased the skids of growth and progress of the firm in invisible ways were sent packing. Why? Because their status couldn’t be justified when the metrics were reviewed by the CFO. It is all in the numbers. Ask the bean counters.

I feel that much of the humanity that used to be present in many organizations has been formulated and squeezed out of those organizations in the interest of competition and progress. As we continue to cut the fat and squeeze the organization to eliminate inefficiency, who is there to act as a counter weight to build into that efficiency some common sense?

The problem, as I see it, is that we want to automate processes so that termination is automated. We kick the can down the road for those problem individuals in the organization who we find difficult to manage. Those who are irresponsible or fail to properly manage their subordinates are often promoted to their highest level of incompetence. In an effort to rid the organization of those individuals, the automated option, which can be driven by metrics, becomes the default. Rather than engage in real communication between those affected, and affecting others, we punt. We look for other options which don’t raise the risk of litigation for unlawful discrimination or other challenges for good cause. All by the numbers. . . .

Should we first, kill all the bean counters? Or should we institute a policy of open communication within the organization? Do not institute metric driven policy without giving thought to the big picture and the important immeasurables.

Before I get an onslaught of angry responses from those in charge of maintaining financial order in organizations, let me say that there is a time and place for metrics. But the problem is that those arguments in favor of efficiency often overlook the counterbalancing human factors that cannot be measured. Let’s strike more of a balance and engage in open communication and transparency within the organization before instituting automated management. 


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