Making measurement work for you

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“What gets measured gets done.”

Peter Drucker usually gets credit for that quote, but I’ve seen it attributed to several other folks, including William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin, psychologist Mason Haire, and the Medieval
astronomer, Georg Joachim de Porris. My guess is that several people across the ages have said something like it, because there’s a lot of truth in those few words. But beware! Danger lurks there as well.

What gets measured does get done

My friend Dan gained more than a few pounds when he couldn’t work for several months. He started walking to burn up some calories and increase his energy. When I ran into him a couple of months later, I complimented him on his new, sleek look. Dan gave the credit to an app on his iPhone that counted his steps. He set a target, tracked the steps he took every day, and gradually walked more and more.

That’s the good side of measurement and performance. If you measure something that can be counted easily and that leads to the outcome you desire, you get good results. But “what gets measured gets done” has a dark side.

Sometimes what doesn’t get measured doesn’t get done

Too often, what does not get measured does not get done. After all, if it was important, we’d measure it, right? Maybe, but some of the most important things in life cannot be counted. How do you “count” the quality of a relationship? How about good health?

Not all measurement is measurement

“Measurement” may not be the best word to use. I think words like “assess” or “monitor” do a better job. They allow for comparison and improvement, but don’t tie you down to things you can count. One of Dan’s goals is to increase his energy. I don’t know how you count that, but I know Dan monitors it with daily entries in his journal.

Leading and lagging and success, oh my!

Dan only actually measured two things: the number of steps he took every day and how much he weighed every Sunday morning. He tracked both with charts on his computer and posted the new charts next to the bathroom mirror every week.

To really use monitoring to increase your performance, you need to track two types of things. Dan’s steps were a leading measure. He reasoned that if he increased the number of steps he took every day, it would show results at his weekly weigh-ins. That seems to be how it worked. His weight was a lagging measure. You need both.

Lead measures help you track something that should make you more successful. Dan tracks the number of steps. Salespeople might track the number of sales calls. Lag measures let you know if you have been successful since the last measurement. Dan weighs himself to find out how he’s doing. Salespeople would check their sales figures.

Measurement (or Monitoring) isn’t all there is

If you want to make a significant improvement, monitoring isn’t enough. You must change the way you’ve been doing things. Dan started eating off smaller plates. He and his wife banned all kinds of cookies, crackers, and snacks from the house. They agreed that neither of them would eat anything unless they were seated at the kitchen or dining room table. No eating while standing or while sitting in the living room.

Limit the things you monitor

You can’t concentrate on more than a few things, so limit the number of things you monitor. Dan monitors three things. He counts his steps every day. He assesses his energy every day. And he weighs himself every week.

Make sure they’re important and easy to track

Since you can only track a limited number of things, make sure they’re important. Otherwise you might be improving in the wrong direction. And make it easy to monitor your progress, otherwise you’re likely to skip it on tough days.

Social support is important

Dan’s wife is part of his social support system. She’s willing to make some changes in her life to help him make changes that he thinks are important. She’s also willing to be what she calls, “a jerk for a good cause,” reminding Dan to sit at the table if he’s standing up eating a sandwich. Social support makes it easier to make positive changes. Find an accountability partner who will help you achieve your goals.

Start with a prototype

You won’t get this right all at once. You may decide to change what you monitor or the way you track things. That’s OK. Just keep working at it, reviewing your progress, and making changes to do better. Dan’s system has changed over the last year. It will probably keep changing.

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