You can’t hurry love. And you can’t measure it either.

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.

The missed opportunity in resourcing

Recruitment and resourcing fascinates and perturbs me in equal measure. Of all the areas of the HR lifecycle it is the one that tends to have the highest volume of opinions per capita and the lowest proportion of data. Which is peculiar, because it probably contains the richest opportunity of all to really hone the science of Human Resource Management.

At the recent TREC conference I was talking to Matthew Syed the author of Bounce and Black Box Thinking. He made a point which I found compelling and scarily obvious at the same time.

Consider a key hire:

We go through our recruitment process, we measure our KPIs, we long list, short list, assess and finally appoint. Three month later, six months later, the manager is happy with the hire.

That’s good right? We’ve made a brilliant appointment?

But compared to what?

What about the person you didn’t appoint? Surely that is the best comparator? Where are they now, what are they doing and how will their career progress? Do you measure the lost opportunity and what is the vested interest in measuring the “successful” candidate, successfully?

I also see this closed mindset in relation to technology, candidate experience, candidate management and pretty much every single aspect of resourcing. We are quick to make opinions, quick to justify opinions and slow to challenge our own preconceptions about successful or unsuccessful interventions.

I witnessed a debate on Facebook about using interview on demand technology (video interviewing). Left and right there were opinions being launched, most of them damning. The thing that struck me was that no-one there was offering any experience or data about usage, just their own opinions. Which is fine, but in a world where we are trying to show the relevance of our profession, shouldn’t we do better than, “I think”?

Measurement and data in the field of HR is notoriously difficult, we are awash with the bad and the dodgy. That will only change if we are willing to be open minded, curious and willing to challenge ourselves and our own preconceptions – nowhere more than in the field of recruitment and resourcing.

In order to get better, we need to listen and learn as much as show and tell. That requires a specific mindset and approach – one that we need to be checking for when we hire people to recruit in our name.

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?

HCM A depressing blast from the past

Nothing says “past it” than a term that I came across yesterday for the first time in a long while. Human Capital Management. The words in themselves are enough to make my stomach turn. I know that linguistically it isn’t a million miles away from Human Resource Management, but the latter is a broad church, where as HCM has connotations that I find really quite disturbing.

Whereas the origins of the term date back to economic theory, it has been hijacked by the over willing, over eager consultants as a means of trying to squeeze metrics and measurement into everything. Thus driving “economic value” of the “human capital”. I’m not against measurement per se, but I do think we are on a hiding to nothing with it.

“You can’t manage what you can’t measure”

True, but also not so.

Because in the end, we are dealing with people, not buttons or levers and therefore we have to understand that much of our measurement will be qualitative. The example given yesterday was recruitment. I know quite a bit about recruitment metrics, I wrestled with them for years. Measure time to fill? Ok that tells you something….but what do you really want to know? My guess is the questions are more,

– Are we easily attracting the right people?

– If not why not?

Does time to fill answer that? No,but it is harder to measure what we want to know and therefore we measure the process, because that is easier and as HR people we are happier in the process than in nebulous concepts.

The other piece that rankles with the whole issue of HCM is the view that labour costs are just that….costs. As I said yesterday in the conversation, flip it around and it becomes investment. As you could buy a very cheap computer system or a very expensive one, you can also have cheap or expensive labour. Without knowing the effectiveness or the performance of both, you know nothing (and measuring that is almost impossible). If the cheaper computer system is causing employees to be less productive or is crashing then the actually cost of it could be higher.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, humans are wonderfully unique and unpredictable. We should be embracing that and looking at a more humanistic approach to managing and understanding them, not trying to convert them into something they are nor – measurable assets.

For me that’s why HCM deserves to be confined to the garbage can of failed approaches to people management…if there is still any room left in there.