Most of us are familiar with the Drucker assertion, “what gets measured gets managed”. It is a rare year in my business life when this isn’t rolled out at some point or other in a conversation about how to improve some area of performance. It goes without saying that measurement is a hugely important part of delivering a change in performance, but it isn’t the only important part.
The risk of adherence to statements like this is that there is an inherent acceptance that if you can’t measure it, it can’t be managed and therefore isn’t important to focus on. This is particularly problematic when we start to look at the management of people in the workplace and the push for HR analytics. I should say, before we go on, that I’m a big fan of using data to better understand people’s experience of work and the workplace and I’m a fan of using it to better understand the way in which we can improve performance at work. But I don’t believe that everything important for leaders to focus on can and should be measured.
If we are looking to lose weight, run a marathon or swim the channel then measurement and performance data becomes important. I need to know the weight that I’m starting at, I need to know the target that I want to achieve and when. I need to measure the amount of calories that I’m taking in and those that I’m expending and it probably helps if I check my progress as I go along. But what if you want to know how much you’re loved?
Is it how many presents you’re given or their value? How long or often you hold hands? How many times you think about that person during the day? Or how many times they think about you? For anyone with two or more children, answer the question which one you love the most. In the vast majority of cases I’m sure you’d say that you love them all equally, but I wouldn’t mind betting that on quantifiable measures there would be differences. I’m not doubting that you do love them the same by the way, the point is more that measurement is incapable of dealing with the complexity of some areas.
Why is this important? Well it matters when we start to talk about topics such as culture and employee experience. It matters because there are two potential traps that we can fall into – firstly that we say that it can’t be measured and therefore isn’t important, secondly to avoid this first argument we create meaningless measures (the organisational equivalent of the number of times you hold hands) that drive the wrong behaviour.
There are whole load of really important things in our workplaces that can’t properly be measured but they can be managed. The answer is not to look for one, two or three killer measures but instead recognise that there are a myriad of tell tale signs that might help you understand how you’re doing. As human beings we’re hugely adept at processing enormous amounts of small data points and drawing sense of them, we should be encouraging that in leaders as much as a focus on data and measurement.
If you’re working in a crap culture, you probably know it even if you can’t measure it. Just like if you’re in love.