What we choose to measure is a belief statement: it says “this matters, and this is success”. It is loaded with meaning - even the decision ‘to measure or not to measure’ says something about us.
As such, before we consider what we should measure, we should first ask ourselves what we believe the role of measurement in a 21st Century Organisation to be and what we hope to achieve with a measurement practice (see: "What is the role of measurement in a purpose-led organisation?").
With those questions in mind, this set of criteria will help identify what might be worthwhile measuring:
- Measure what matters - money is often not what matters, it’s the outcome, not the issue.
- Prioritise personal well being and community relationships.
- Help improve the core work of the organisation for its customers.
- Largely take a long-term view: short-term measures have their place but should not be the focus.
- Go well beyond the formal boundaries of the organisation to consider as broad an understanding of the organisation's externalities as possible.
- Be contextual and relevant to the team/locale. If HQ wants to impose a measurement then they must be able to demonstrate why: the burden of proof is on HQ.
- Be co-developed by those who will be subjected to the measuring itself.
- Be in the service of customer-facing, front-line employees.
- Default to being openly shared with all employees and, potentially, the public.
- Human and trusting in its approach.
- Quantitative and Qualitative: Qualitative measurement is often overlooked as it requires more effort to interpret and evaluate but it’s in conversation and dialogue that the precious information is found.
- Take into account hidden measures of success such as accumulated learning.
Measurement should not:
- Become our focus. The statistic we generate at the end isn't what we're working towards: it's the lived experience that occurs behind them. Reports are not the job.
- Provide data that usurps what's really going on, in real-time or otherwise, because numbers can lie, mislead or become complicated by a time lag. It is only one part of the story.
- Be a mechanism to monitor and control employees. Measurement is not the way to deal with people’s behaviour: the hiring process, culture and peer-to-peer accountability are responsible for that.
- Be undertaken for the sake of justifying someone’s role or position - this may sound flippant but it's very common .
- Be tied to pay in the default fashion we are used to. This will most likely skew work practice away from the bigger picture and will reduce purpose driven motivation .
- Just focus on outputs. Inputs, like creativity, enthusiasm and failures are all meaningful data that contribute to the making of an innovative organisation.
- Be one size fits all across an organisation. If they don’t make sense for one particular group, then they need not be imposed for consistencies sake, unless it is absolutely necessary (e.g. legally required).
- Not allow revenue to dominate over profit. Measuring revenue creates an inflated view of success which can lead to growth for growth’s sake, rather than delivering products of sustainable value.
- Focus on individuals over a team. Individual efforts are actually very hard to quantify accurately; there are just so many external variables involved.
For some practical ideas, see: What are some practical examples of things we could measure?