What do you measure?

social fish
social fish

I am reposting this very interesting question from Eric Lanke (originally posted on his blog here). I would love to hear from you if you have any thoughts on this.

This is a true story. My association Board chair and I were chatting not long ago, talking about the mission and big-picture objectives of our association, and I mentioned, literally without giving it a second thought, that we were incapable of measuring progress on some of the things we had set for ourselves.

It was only the look of shock that passed over his face that made me step back and think about what I had just said.

Maybe I was thinking about Shelly Alcorn’s recent post, Is Your Mission Bigger Than What You Can Measure?, where she argues that associations had better be focused on things that are difficult to measure. If you can measure it, she seems to say, you’re not aiming high enough.

Or maybe I was thinking about Seth Godin’s recent post, Avoiding the False Proxy Trap, where he cautions against settling for something that’s easy to measure as a proxy for what you’re truly trying to achieve. Tactics that you employ to move the proxy needle will likely have very little to do with affecting change for the bigger picture.

Thought-provoking stuff. But what was more likely on my mind was an email discussion I had recently had with Jamie Notter in response to his post, Taking High Performance Seriously. Reacting to a much-circulated slide show from Netflix on their “high performance” culture and values, Jamie insightfully suggested that achieving high performance was more difficult than the slide show lets on–and that at least part of that difficulty was related to determining what to measure.

“So if you want to get serious about “high performance,” then I say go for it. Let’s raise the bar. But get ready for the hard work of clarity. Get ready to spend some time (involving everyone) in determining what to measure (and how). And please don’t default to what we already know (hours worked, or overall organizational performance). We need more sophistication than that if we’re going to do this right (I was happy to see that Netflix says hours worked is “not relevant”). We can’t assume our people are like cogs in a machine, where we KNOW they accomplish more if they spin on their axis for 10 hours than they do if they spin for 8. We can’t oversimplify it and say if the company does well, then everyone is performing well. Let’s roll up our sleeves and experiment with some new metrics and try to learn enough from the experiments that we can create the clarity that would truly drive a “high-performance” culture.”

I thought it was great advice. Something I wanted to learn from. So I reached out to Jamie, asking him for a reference to an organization who had done exactly what he was advocating, who had done or was doing the hard work of engaging everyone to determine what to measure and how. I thought he would know of at least a handful off the top of his head.

Turns out he didn’t know any. Not one.

It’s an interesting conundrum. Pledge yourself to something that can be measured and achieve things of lesser significance. Or pledge yourself to something of great significance and give up on the idea of finding a metric that truly tracks your progress.

Does any one know of a third choice?”

What I am interested in is Eric’s first question – who is doing “the hard work of engaging everyone to determine what to measure and how”?  I think that Bob Rich has been doing some of this kind of strategic work at the American Chemical Society – specifically in involving the whole staff in developing their strategic plan.  I would bet there are others too.  What do you think?

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