Two sides to tracking

Back in B-school, I was a member of a team that was in charge of coordinating placements for a batch of students.

In our office, we had a simple metric scrawled on a board – the number of students in the batch that have already secured job offers. This number on the board served as our north star. We cheered when it increased and it motivated us to march forward.

The value of tracking progress on a project is obvious as a motivator. And yet, I have seen several teams deliberately refrain from tracking their progress. They prefer to not know where they stand. Why is that so?

The other side of tracking is that it can double up as surveillance. Real-time status updates bestows power on management. It arms them with the data to point fingers – to question the competence and the integrity of certain teams and individuals. It can hang above a team’s head like a sword, robbing their autonomy and preventing them from doing their best work.

When does tracking go from motivating metrics to statistics that surveil?

The difference is enrollment. When a team is enrolled on the journey – when it is allowed to set its own goals and make its own decisions, it also owns the numbers that show up on the board. When these goals and decisions are imposed from ‘above’ the team starts viewing it as a reward or a punishment.

Participation on my college’s placement team was voluntary – we knew what we were signing up for. Do your team members have the same privilege?

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