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.

Can you make the case?

There are two truths that I’ve learnt through blogging:

– If you write enough words the statistical odds are, that at some point, you will land on something that makes sense.

– If you reread that particular “thing” enough times, you’ll wish you wrote it slightly differently.

On this occasion, the specific phrase is one that I wrote in January 2013,

“We need to accept that you don’t get influence through control, you get influence through other people’s positive experience of you. Get influence through people wanting you involved not by telling them you have to be.”

Fast forward two and a half years and I’m sitting with some fellow HR Directors listening to the Conservative “political beast”, Kenneth Clarke MP, speaking about the challenges of winning the debate on continued involvement in the European Union. Critiquing the state of current politics, one particular statement he made really stood out (and I probably paraphrase a little),

“We used to look at the opinion polls and think, ‘how do we win the debate and convince people our arguments are right’, but now we look at the polls and say, ‘let’s do what they want’.”

In some ways, I think this is an argument that the HR profession needs to heed and particularly when we think about how we use data and analytics as a force for good work and organisational performance and success.

There’s a lot of pressure within organisations for HR to do what the “voters” want, and this has undoubtedly been one of the biggest weaknesses of the drive for HR to be more, “commercial”. Being truly commercial is more about leading the debate than it is following opinion, it’s about having a strategic direction and understanding the steps that need to be taken to achieve it, it’s about cohesive “policy making” and having a view.

One of the things that we overlook in our discussions on data and analytics is the, “so what?”. We can have all the data in the world, but what if it indicates something that is against the prevailing mood of the organisation or the leadership team? What then? Do we have the influencing skills to really carry the debate forward?

The fact is that data is only half the argument, how we use it, how we create the experience of the profession that positions us as experts of everything relating to the employment experience and how we develop the platform of knowledge and insight is as important as the data itself.

Sometimes, as in politics, we’re going to need to be brave and take forward an argument, a belief, a perspective that won’t be immediately welcome or in line with the prevailing opinion. At that point, we’ll test our ability to use insight and data to win the debate and convince people our arguments are right.

That’s when we’ll truly test our mettle and our organisational worth.

The courage to believe

The thing about life is you have a choice.

In fact you have choices.

Every single day, every moment of existence is filled with abundance of choice and opportunity.

But despite this, despite the choices that are out there, there are people who fail to take them. Sometimes that is because of a lack of knowledge, sometimes because of a lack of means and sometimes because of a lack of courage. Now I’m not saying that everyone can be anything, I’m not espousing the Thatcherite dream. But I am talking about wasteful inaction.

It strikes me that there are two types of people, or perhaps two types of thinking. There are those that see opportunity and those who explain away opportunity.

“I would but….”

“It isn’t as simple as that….”

“People don’t want/like/believe…..”

And of course in every occasion they are right. Because fortune really does favour the brave.

So you may think this is trite, you may think that I say nothing more than the contents of a fortune cookie. I’m ok with that.  Because, time after time I see people who need nothing more than that.  A positive word, a helpful phrase, a call to action.  Instead, we mock, we complicate and we denigrate an idea…..because that is our way.  Failure is low risk.

But it is also the disease that will eat away at you to the moment that you die.  People who try but fail, people who hope, people who believe. These are the people who make this country great, that make their families proud, that succeed beyond their dreams.

People who mock, people who criticise, people who explain away and deny.  These are the people who go to their graves with regret.

Every day is full of choices. You know that, I know that. Which one of us is brave enough to take them?

Consider the gauntlet thrown down.