A director of quality was shopping in his supermarket one Saturday afternoon. He was packing his goods at the checkout and, being a rather fastidious individual, he was trying to ensure that his iced goods went in one box, his fresh foods in another, tins in another and so on. Unfortunately, he couldn’t work as fast as the boy operating the point-of-sale terminal.

The speed with which the boy could pass things over the light was such that he soon found himself in difficulty. He asked the boy to stop. The boy refused and continued to pass items over the light. The director, surprised and a little disgruntled, did his best to pack his boxes. The boy finished ringing up his goods and at that point turned to help. ‘How extraordinary,’ the director remarked, ‘when I asked you to stop and help me just now you didn’t, you insisted on carrying on’. ‘Well,’ said the young man, ‘when this machine is turned on it is counting how quickly I pass things over the light’.

Managers think they are smart to measure the boy’s productivity. Not so smart that they have no understanding of the impact on their customers.