Measurement. Don’t believe the hype.

A story…

One evening, a lady walking her dog comes upon a man searching the ground under a street light. The passerby asks the man what he is doing.

“I’m looking for my lost keys,” says the man searching the ground. “I dropped them on my way home.”

The passerby offers to help search for the keys, but after several minutes of searching under the street light they have no luck. “Are you sure you dropped them here?” asks the passerby.

“Oh, I have no idea if I dropped them here, all I know is that I dropped them somewhere on this street on my way home.”

“Then why are you only looking under this street light?”

“Because this is where I can see the best.”

I love this story.

I have issues with metrics.  I have friends that have issues with metrics; Jamie Notter and Nilofer Merchant to name a couple. Actually, I think that my issue is with our use of metrics more so than the actual metrics.  At any rate…

I believe the idea that “what gets measured is what matters” is reckless and lazy.  Rather than considering a larger (and probably more complex) truth, we simply consider what is directly under the street light.  We simply consider that stuff that can be weighed and measured and fits into our equations.

Lazy and dangerous.

Measurement can certainly be helpful, but there are some really big asterisks that have to go along with that statement.

* We actually have a very limited capacity for real measurement in the world of human capital.  Organizations are not laboratories.  We might be able to establish some amount of correlation, but rarely causation.  Big difference.  The consultants, gurus and pitch people that spew things out of their mouths about “this” causing “that” are mostly making stuff up.

* When a measure becomes a target, (which is generally how we use them) it ceases to be a good measure. (Goodharts Law)

* Some things simply cannot be measured.  To say that because we cannot commodify love, passion, creativity, trust, relationships, influence or empathy, they do not matter is probably a big part of why we are in a big, stinky, stagnate mess right now in this country.  Gravity existed before our ability to define it and measure it.  To say that reality or significance is determined by our ability to measure something is both ignorant and arrogant.

This is a serious sticking point for business right now…as intangible assets become increasingly critical to our success, our inability to prioritize them (because we cannot measure them) becomes more and more costly.

Be good to each other.

  1. Maybe what gets measured doesn’t matter as much as you think it does. | David Pensato

    […] couldn’t agree with Joe Gerstandt more: # I believe the idea that “what gets mea­sured is what mat­ters” is reck­less and […]

  2. Jeffrey Cufaude

    “What gets measured is what matters” certainly is a prevailing mantra in many organizations. Perhaps you could coin something as an alternative for it.

    Whether we call them metrics or not, I think it is human nature to want to know how we are doing, what progress have we made, how to decide between options, what is happening, and much more.

    We’ll need to find new ways to have those conversations (which i agree may be just what is needed) if the traditional indicators are no longer going to be used.

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    […] thing that I usually hear from HR folks, but they do not want to measure diversity?  I am actually not a big fan of measurement, because I think that we almost always use it poorly.  We overestimate what we can actually […]

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