“What gets measured gets done” is a long standing saying that some argue goes back to the 15thcentury!  It’s hard to disagree with this simple idiom which compels you to measure what you believe is important.  And what can be more important than ongoing success? In the first part of this two part series, reasons why it is hard to measure success are described.  The second part describes the benefits and top tips to put practical measures in place.

There are many reasons why measuring success is hard:

  1. So much data – so little information. We can now gather more data, more easily, than ever before, but it’s harder to find the crucial pieces of information we need. As Erik Brynjolfsson says “We’re rapidly entering a world where everything can be monitored and measured. But the big problem is going to be the ability of humans to use, analyse and make sense of the data.”
  2. A tendency to only use “hard” operational measures. It’s easy to look at Financial measures as the best and sometimes only measures of success.  How much revenue? What were our expenses? Focusing on these hard measures ignores other important aspects that are known to be critical to long term business success, those based on customer and employee perspectives. So, we get stuck as we try and pin down the more elusive soft measures.
  3. Realizing that we have measures that tell us more about where we have been rather than where we are going.It’s important that anything we do measure enables us to take action and course correct. For example, last quarters revenue or expenses are a limited guide to what will happen this quarter and the impact of taking actions to correct you will not be seen until the following quarter.  These “lagging indicators” are a bit like looking in the rear-view mirror and changing course based on that information as you are driving.
  4. Our ability to measure the milestones along the way that give us the confidence we will achieve long term success. Measuring our progress as we go to ensure we will end up with the right quality, within our agreed budget and to the timeline we have set is not easy.
  5. Taking accountability. Individuals need to take responsibility for setting targets and taking action if not achieved. This can be hard to do as it is very concrete and visible. People have to feel safe and ready to take this on (see article on creating accountability)
  6. No effective mechanisms to agree actions. Often meetings are set up to only be about how we will address issues rather than getting clarity (and agreement) of what the issue is and its impact on success. In the unusual case of meetings where measuring results is central they can be seen as bureaucratic if many measures are discussed and no meaningful actions result.
  7. Current organizational performance rather than long term performance is measured. It’s much easier to set targets and measure performance of how we are doing now rather than how well we are doing against future goals. This is because its clearer what success looks like today. But measures that are relevant today may not be relevant for the future.
  8. Seeking the perfect measure. Because it’s tough to identify a simple relevant and pragmatic measure then we stop looking. Even Einstein acknowledged this:  “Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.”  Sometimes it takes more time to collect the data than the value it brings. Or knowing that if measures are instituted that will drive behaviours that are not wanted.  These can be significant hurdles to overcome and organizations default to not measuring at all.
  9. Measuring task completion rather than impact made. It’s easy to default to measure whether tasks have been done or not rather than the impact that has been made. This means that we keep busy measuring that we are doing things rather measuring if we are moving towards our goals.
  10. Integrating our day to day tasks with the measures we have set. Sometimes we work on items that are not measurable in a meaningful way so either we lose sight of the measurements and targets we have set or we regard them as valuable in the day to day practicalities of our work.

So many challenges – it’s not surprising that measurement and the associated systems do not get implemented!

In the second part of this two part series I describe why measuring success is worth doing and provide some tips for navigating towards measure that are meaningful and enable the achievement of desired results.

Thanks to Denise Moody for sharing Einsteins quote and Janette Thomas for her review and practical insights.