Debating the value of measurement

Wanted to point you to a fantastic conversation/debate going on over at Talent Anarchy, one of my favorite blogs.  If you’re not familiar with Talent Anarchy, check out the topics Jason Lauritsen and Joe Gerstandt write and speak about.

Here are a few excerpts to give you a flavor of the debate.  Jason starts it off in The Measurement Imperative:

The beginning of the year is always a time of renewal and big plans in business.  For most, it’s when we launch our programs and plans for the year that we hope will transform our organizations and the people within them to make everyone more successful.  In the work we do, one of the issues we constantly confront is how to measure the impact.   We all have heard the quote, “What gets measured, gets done.† …

I expect that you are going to argue that some of the most important elements within our work can’t be measured.  When we talk about unleashing talent in organizations, we quickly find our way to topics like passion, love, creativity, and purpose.  It’s easy to say that these things can’t be measured.  If that’s the position we chose to take, then I think we are admitting defeat and that we will never make these things a sustainable part of how people work and what corporate cultures should look like.  They  have to be measurable.  Otherwise, we’re dead in the water before we start.  Without measurement, we can’t know if we are making progress.

Joe comes back in The False Tyranny of Metrics with…

“You are absolutely right, I do say that those things cannot be measured!but why is that admitting defeat?  Defeat of what?  It’s not just easy to say, its also the truth.  I think admitting that the most important things in work and life cannot be measured like simple commodities, is not only accurate and honest, but also a victory over the linear and binary thinking of another time.  Metrics are one dimensional, human beings are not.  Love is not. Curiosity and passion and creativity and perspective are not, organizational culture is not, social capital is not, ethics and integrity are not.   Prioritizing things that can be measured over these kinds of things has been very, very costly to business.  We have, in the name of metrics, hollowed out our organizations, our organizational cultures and the employee-employer relationship.

Assuming that we have got to be able to measure something to acknowledge its existence seems reckless to me and leads us down a very inauthentic and unproductive road.  It is a false constraint.  It is a false constraint supported by antiquated archetypes of the organization, of management, and the value creation process!and those that sell us metrics.  We need not to struggle for measurement of things that cannot be measured, but help our organizations better understand the intangibles that are so valuable today, and that we can still pay attention to and even prioritize things that cannot be directly measured!”

Jason’s turn:  Despite What You May Have Heard, Measurement Isn’t Evil:

Measurement is an objective exercise that allows us to mark progress against either a benchmark or just from where we started.  I’m assuming that even you would agree that when you do work that aims at making a workplace more authentic, you should be able to tell if you are making progress.  If we aren’t making progress, then why do the work.  Futher, if we can’t tell when we are making progress, then how can we know if what we are doing is making any difference at all?  Whatever that thing is that you look at when you are determining if progress has been made, that’s a measure.  It may not look like one of these metrics you so fervently hate, but it’s still a measurement.  You throw out the idea of sitting down with some employees in the organization and talking to them as the anti-measurement activity.  It’s not.

Read Joe’s response in More Metrics Madness… and the very latest guest post by some knowledgeable folks adding to the debate.

I really really love this conversation – these are small excerpts, I hope you’ll read the full posts and comments for more.  Which side do you fall on?

Oh and by the way, Joe Gerstandt will be speaking at ASAE’s Great Ideas conference in March – so excited to see him. Yay!

Previous post:

Next post: