I found a picture while preparing for a recent talk that raised an interesting point about measuring performance. Peter Drucker’s statement “If you can’t measure it you can’t manage it” is portrayed as dogma. It is contrasted with the statement that “The important stuff can’t be measured” which was portrayed as truth.
I have heard this argument many times. It is applied to measuring what people do in organizations and the outcomes or results the organization’s produce. It is argued that you can’t measure something that is intangible or has no accepted standard of value. This view is often accompanied by the premise that well trained, dedicated, hard working people with good intentions will achieve good results. Hire good people, trust them, get out of the way, and everything will be fine.
This perspective is understandable but misguided. It poses a significant barrier to accountability and improving performance — getting more of what is important. Measuring what happens in a business process and the results the process achieves has many challenges. There are practical measurement problems and there is always the risk that managers may misuse measurement. But dismissing measurement as an essential management tool leads to random, temporary improvement as best. We can’t imagine science and technology advancing without measurement. How can we expect organizations to improve without measurement? Sustainable improvement requires performance feedback. It simply doesn’t work without it. Measurement provides that feedback. The important stuff can be measured if we put our minds to it.