The old saw goes “What gets measured gets managed.” That is the simplest way to describe the fundamental workings of management as a discipline. Here, at the dawn of truly strategic Human Capital function, we are often surprised at the degree to which people want to argue about measurement systems.
First of all, measurement systems are always inexact. They measure an aspect of things and never provide the whole picture. Measuring tools provide quantitative guidance for decision making. “Measure twice, cut once” is the way that carpenters deal with this obvious fact. No system of measurement is precise enough to guarantee sound decision making from a single glance. Measurement implies study and additional measurement.
In every department of the organization, besides the touchy-feely HR folks, the lesson of measurement was learned during the days of Total Quality and Re-engineering. The rule in this game is “If the first measurement system seems wrong, devise an alternative.” The subtext of “What gets measured gets managed” is “Study and experiment until you find the right measures.”
What is important about measurement is not the measure itself but the attention paid to the problem as the result of measuring it. In other words, using a measurement approach brings the problem into clearer focus. When one measure fails to capture the entire problem, others have to be devised. Management is, precisely, the art and science of devising increasingly accurate and descriptive measurements.
Any measurement system can be manipulated. Our kids all stand taller and straighter when we measure their height on the family growth wall. Once they started getting taller than their mother, she occasionally wore heels for her measurements. Men are traditionally accused of misunderstanding the difference between centimeters and inches while the stereotype of a woman includes pounds that have 20 ounces in them.
Measurement becomes critical feedback once it is internalized. Ultimately, a significant aspect of an organization’s (or person’s) self concept becomes tied to its measures. “We are a Billion dollar company.” “I am 6 feet tall.” “Our applicants receive a friendly response within 6 hours of submitting a resume.”
The more something is measured, the easier it is to understand and manage changes. “We need to increase the number of leads by 40% in order to guarantee a sales increase of 8%.” “These days, we need about 100 resumes to find just the right candidate.” and so on.
Why is this important?
HR systems are undergoing a moment of profound transformation. From workforce planning to web traffic management to copy development for job advertisements, the new processes require the development of new measures and new views of decision making. Some of the hardest work involves the creation and articulation of company specific standards and goals.
It is critical that the people involved in these efforts understand that bringing something under a measurement regime involves a commitment to constant renewal and the search for ever better tools. It is simply inadequate (and lazy) to argue that one form of measurement is imprecise or flawed without proposing an alternative and improved approach.