What you measure is what you get

What you measure is what you get

The other day I spoke with a brand many would see as a role model for ethical fashion and I was shocked. Their sustainable sourcing manager told me that one of his biggest bottlenecks for change was the conservative old fashioned way that the company measures its success: in numbers of products sold. So I asked “as an innovative brand did you find a suitable scale beyond which you don’t aim to grow anymore?” expecting a well thought answer, considering the wider web of relations and their optimum scale. His answer was “world domination!

I thought he was joking but he was dead serious. “As long as consumers buy our product instead of someone else’s we believe it’s OK. Our aim is to be the number one brand in our product range in terms of market share. We want to see how big our brand can become.”

Out of the window went my belief in ethical brands leading from the front lines of compassion and consciousness, charting new territory for the next phase in civilisation where humans outgrow competition and grow into their role of wise stewards of the planet.

We’re stuck at world domination…

Since then this insight has been sitting with me, uncomfortably poking me in the side, and two things happened. First of all it reinforced my conviction to work on alternative metrics and indicators: if more firms would measure impact on Common Good for example (see the Economy for Common Good balance sheet methodology here) we would be having a much more interesting conversation. We could be talking about ways to truly hear how workers and end users relate to the purpose behind the supply chains that touch their lives. We could be sharing tips on how to collect and interpret reliable and meaningful qualitative data. Etcetera….

The second thing that happened was an awakening to the topic of scale. At high school we learned that the ancient Greeks going to the oracle in Delphi for advice would find two mantras written in stone. One was “know thyself” and the second was “nothing in excess”. It seems to me that we have lost our bearings when it comes to scale. It is obvious that not everyone can be the biggest, and I doubt anyone can actually do a good job at being the biggest. So can we imagine a different logic than battle for world domination?

What indicators do you think brands and suppliers should be tracking? Let us know your ideas for the measurement regime of your ideal supply chain!