At a conference I attended recently, a well-respected executive made one of those statements that got head nods from virtually everyone in the room. She said, ďIn our company, if we canít measure it, we donít do it!Ē After her presentation, I politely but forcibly told her the statement was theoretically possible, but practically unrealistic. As you might guess, my comment didnít delight her, but I proceeded to point out examples that donít meet her test. I mentioned expenditures such as cosmetic construction enhancements (i.e., lobby makeovers), marketing campaigns that canít be measured as standalone activities, and bonuses paid to executives based on results that are dependent on many factors in addition to their efforts. The list can go on and on.
No one likes to be called on statements that approach ďapple pie credibility.Ē The reason I felt it was important to challenge this executiveís thinking was because many of us on the people side of business are frustrated by our inability to measure results. Comments like hers perpetuate the idea that the only things worth doing are the things that can be measured. This simply isnít true.
There are two problems with this notion. The first problem is the idea that every activity or initiative can be measured. The second one is that, even if they can be measured, very few outcomes in business are the result of just one input. Most outcomes are influenced or affected by many factors.
Letís look at, for example, the results of a leadership development course. Possible outcomes for leadership training could include increased productivity, reduced turnover, enhanced communication, or better selection. How can you truly quantify improvements in communication or selection? You canít! Itís all a matter of perception. Itís no different than trying to measuring the results of redoing your lobby or (an example I discovered recently) washing delivery service vehicles.
Now, consider productivity and turnover Ė two items that can be quantified and measured. Clearly, there are many factors that influence these, so there can only be meaningful measurement when all those factors are considered. As a result, itís virtually impossible for an HR executive to be able to say that an initiative like leadership development training has been the sole contributor to the bottom line in a specific, quantifiable way.
Hey, Iím a proponent of measurement as much as the next HR professional is. But you have to look at measurement sensibly. My advice to all you frustrated HR executives out there is this: Look at measurement the same way your counterparts in other departments do. They donít measure certain ďline itemsĒ because either they canít be measured or they donít stand alone, so donít you try to do it either. Find out what is actually measurable and proceed accordingly. Then HR measurement will have the same credibility enjoyed by other functional areas.