Metrics are a false idol

The following posts build on the guest post at XpertHR about Commercial HR and looks at some of the themes in a bit more detail.

There was a time when I was pretty hung up on HR metrics. I’d read Huselid, Becker and Beatty, I’d read Ulrich…well some of it….and I was pretty convinced that all we needed to do was to be able to measure what we did in HR and then the world was ours for the taking.

The pattern that I, and I imagine many others, went through was this,

–       Measure stuff

–       Get criticism of measured stuff being inconclusive

–       Decide you’re measuring the wrong stuff

–       Try and measure some other stuff

–       Fail because that stuff is too hard to measure

–       Go back to measuring original stuff because it is simpler

I wrote about a specific example last week, when you look at “Time to fill”, a simple measure that tells you very little. And within that pot you can add a whole host of traditional HR measures. But, unfortunately, the “better” measures either don’t actually exist or require so many different pull or push sub measures that they become and industry in themselves.

So in the end we stop doing and start measuring…..Genius!

Thinking of it another way around.  What if I asked you the following questions?

How fit are you? Have are you feeling today?

In order to answer this do you need to check your BMI, your blood pressure, your recovery time, your heart rate and a red blood cell count?

Or can you intuitively answer the question because of a number of micro observations that you have made throughout the day, how quickly you got out of bed in the morning, how your trousers felt when you put them on, how you felt when you had to run for the bus or climb the stairs because the lift was broken?

Now I’m not saying that the measures aren’t important to do every now and then – in the same way you go for a medical – but if we spent more time in our businesses being observant, being intuitive, asking questions, listening and feeling, my guess is we would come to better conclusions than we would by measuring a whole load of HR process.

And in the meantime we’d learn a whole lot of things and build a whole heap of relationships that would add more value than sitting in our department crunching meaningless numbers.

Surely that’s got to be the elusive win-win?

18 comments

  1. Pingback: XpertHR - Employment Intelligence
  2. Doug Shaw · April 12, 2011

    I agree. And I’m totally biased. I make my living encouraging pretty much what you have articulated:

    “but if we spent more time in our businesses being observant, being intuitive, asking questions, listening and feeling, my guess is we would come to better conclusions than we would by measuring a whole load of HR process.

    And in the meantime we’d learn a whole lot of things and build a whole heap of relationships that would add more value than sitting in our department crunching meaningless numbers.”

    I am lucky. And I’m persistent. You have to be when you’re going somewhat against the flow. And it’s worth it. So worth it. Making work better is not mine to measure, and it’s great fun!

    • Neil · April 14, 2011

      I think it is letting go of the perceived “control” too? If we don’t measure we won’t know anything attitude? When in reality we don’t know anything anyway?

  3. KarenF · April 12, 2011

    I agree! Metrics give us the basics of what we want/need to know, but it is just that, a base it doesnt give us the nitty gritty. Getting down and dirty and looking underneath, over the top and all around gives us far better clarity of the why, and to do that getting out there and asking questions will give a whole heap more!

    • Neil · April 14, 2011

      And has the added benefit for HR people of making them look engaged and interrested in the business….which face it, they should be.

  4. Pingback: XpertHR - Employment Intelligence
  5. Pingback: XpertHR - Employment Intelligence
  6. David Goddin · April 13, 2011

    Here’s a thought….

    For most of us, throughout education and into industry, technical ability through qualification (metrics) is more valued (idolised?) than developing our intuition, observational/questioning/listening skills and even feelings.

    That is until we start working in teams and managing/leading others, when we (hopefully) realise and appreciate the huge value of observation, intuition, questioning, listening, feedback and even a willingness to be wrong.

    Then what happens? We measure management & leadership through competency frameworks & assessments – more metrics.

    Perhaps we should think about what in the broader business context is best determined through intuition, observation, questioning, listening and even feelings, supported with metrics only when really required?

    • Neil · April 14, 2011

      I’m very lucky in that I have worked with some very intuitive leaders. People that were brave enough to say, “that feels right, let’s do it”. But I do think this is rare and I love your point that we should be encouraging this.

      • David Goddin · April 14, 2011

        Didn’t think of that last night Neil – thanks!

        My leadership role models are similarly intuitive, questioning, brave (risk takers?) and fallible.

        I know that largely their human leadership abilities have been developed through the support of mentors and roles models.

        As we look at organisational development, perhaps mentors, role models even eldership could provide the solution…

      • Neil · April 14, 2011

        Wouldn’t that be a fantastic thing to set up?

  7. Pingback: XpertHR - Employment Intelligence
  8. Pingback: XpertHR - Employment Intelligence
  9. Pingback: The one with people in boxes | Masters or Bust
  10. Pingback: Are CIPD and SHRM out of touch? | XpertHR - Employment Intelligence
  11. Pingback: What is commercial HR (1)? An HR director's thoughts on the 2011 Strategic HR Network Annual Congress | Employment Intelligence
  12. Pingback: What is commercial HR (2)? The real definition of Organisational Development (OD) | Employment Intelligence
  13. Pingback: What is commercial HR? (3): Our raison d'être is our people | Employment Intelligence

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s