The one with the paradox of metrics

On May 16th I attended the 4th ConnectingHR Unconference. I’ve been to a few before (and you can find blog posts on my previous experiences here) and it was great firstly to take a member of my new team with me and secondly to see how the event is evolving as time passes. There were a number of posts written reflecting on the event which you can find linked from this cracking post from @flipchartrick

One of the changes from my previous outings was that the day kicked off with a number of short presentations from a variety of people, which went to the title of the day “The Power of a Socially Enabled Organisation”. Jamie Priestley‘s presentation was entitled “The Importance of Being Unreasonable” and he landed a number of points not least the challenge to look behind evidence and also how data is often over interpreted and over stretched in the attempt to make a point.

The point he made that stayed with me most related to that grand adage ‘what gets measured, gets done’. It’s an old favourite and anyone who’s been anywhere near a corporate environment will have had it trooped out on numerous occasions. The point that Jamie made which really got me to thinking went along the lines of ‘if what gets measured gets done do people only really focus on what can be measured’.

Of course he loses 5 points for using the iPod as an example of things that weren’t measured whilst they were being developed (the iPod is akin to Richard Branson in that they both work as great examples against most points) but gains at least 10 points for using e=mc2 (there’s no superscript on here!) as another example.

Given the difficultly of effectively measuring some of the ‘big stuff’ in organisations e.g. culture, engagement, discretionary effort, leadership effectiveness, etc, to an organisation that focusses solely on metrics is there a MASSIVE risk of focussing just on the outputs and not on the inputs? Or as Dr Chris Shambrook put it, the focus being only on the results and not on the performance.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that nothing should be measured but I find myself thinking that a lot of the things I really think are important (and this may reflect my role) are things that are measured more intuitively than a RAG’d spreadsheet.

Two of my colleagues recently went to visit Unipart’s head office in Cowley, Oxfordshire. Unipart are well-known for their motor spares business but have two additional business areas in supply chain solutions and consulting. They are actually working with my organisation at the moment. Rather than dozens of metrics measuring micro parts of their business they have two metrics which (if my memory is serving me correctly) are availability and returns. Their belief being that if those two measures are good then everything else underneath them is functioning correctly.

The arguments for and against metrics will continue long after this post (and likely this blog) and my fundamental belief is they have their role but that role should be put in context and tempered with other considerations of an organisation.

That said in measuring the success of attending the unconference one of my objective  is to come away with some things to think about that challenge my existing thinking. Jamie’s presentation (the pack for which you can find here) certainly ticked one box… More boxes to follow shortly!

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3 responses to “The one with the paradox of metrics

  1. Pingback: Best of the HR blogs: 12 great HR blog posts from May 2012 - XpertHR's Employment Intelligence blog - XpertHR Blogs - HR Blogs - HR Space from Personnel Today and Xpert HR

  2. Pingback: Best of the HR blogs: 12 great HR blog posts from May 2012 | XpertHR - Employment Intelligence

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