Does It Measure Up?

Following the last post about the role and significance of culture in an organisation, please consider this next thread more of an ‘add-on’ than a new stream…

I couldn’t let the comments from Stephen Sadove, below, pass without sharing, as I think they neatly challenge one of the most redundant ideas in current management practice: “If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist.” The trouble with this view is that it doesn’t have the ‘soft hands’ required for the subtleties of today’s workplace or marketplace.

In a recent New York Times interview, Sadove, chairman and chief executive of Saks, makes a clear case that it is actually culture that drives numbers: “Culture drives innovation and whatever else you are trying to accomplish within a company — innovation, execution, whatever it’s going to be. And that then drives results. When I talk to Wall Street, people really want to know your results, what are your strategies, what are the issues, what it is that you’re doing to drive your business. Never do you get people asking about the culture, about leadership, about the people in the organization. Yet it’s the reverse, because it’s the people, the leadership, and the ideas that are ultimately driving the numbers and the results.”

Because we tend to view the outward manifestations of work performance as products shipped, revenues booked, or earnings-per-share, we can easily discuss them in analysts calls and at management meetings. We can barely see – and surely can’t measure – the cultural aspect of what makes great products and unique experiences. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be decoded, and it certainly doesn’t mean that it is not contributing.

Beloved of audit and finance committees and CFOs, and often dressed-up as responsible governance, if we applied the ‘measurement’ dictum to many current aspects of marketing, public relations, social media and consumer interactions, we would still be in the dark ages with regards to brand engagement.

Intuition and instict – the idea of knowing both your domain and your audience – is worth much more than process or reliance on recorded measurement. It takes real commercial courage to support and rely on these skills above evidential data, and yet it is often this approach that provides a breakthrough.

When was the last time a new innovation, product development or consumer insight came your way as a result of Nielsen stats, Datamonitor desktop or retailer EPOS? Sure, these all contribute, but someone, somewhere has to have an idea and a convincing purpose based on what she knows of the market, the consumer and the latent opportunity.

Above all, most measurement metrics tend to reflect past performance, or, at best, current attitude. Hard measurement is limited in terms of a predictive index, and it certainly doesn’t give a real-time read of how, when and in what direction current attitudes are changing.

Passion; vision; faith; empathy; bright ideas and the courage to fail. All priceless; all resistant to measurement.


About Paul Henry

Paul Henry: founder and principal strategist at winehero consulting ltd; 2010 WCA International Wine Communicator of the Year; 2007 Len Evans Tutorial Brokenwood Scholar.
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4 Responses to Does It Measure Up?

  1. Ric says:

    The other problem is that we only measure what we CAN put a measure on, and we usually restrict ourselves to the things that are easiest to measure – which is why financial measures are so popular, but ultimately limiting.

    I’m not denying the importance of the measures we have – I am saying that we should be working harder at forming useful “measures” of some of those harder-to-define qualities that Sadove identifies, AND looking at second- and third-order effects of things like culture, leadership etc.

    People ARE a company’s most valuable asset (and increasingly the most important competitive differentiation) – but most companies will pay the idea lip service only because those “assets” never appear on a balance sheet.

  2. And of course, if you observe and measure a phenomenon, you will alter it – as any quantum physicist will tell you, “by the very act of watching, the observer affects the observed reality”.

  3. Angela Slade says:

    I’ve been noticely lately that not too many people actually have the skills to think creatively and craft ideas & projects based on intuition and passion. I think somewhere along the way, creativity has been outcast as ‘oovy-groovy’ and not a real skill to have for business success and therefore hasn’t been practiced or developed, except by the ‘quirky’ few. And, then, of course, having the courage and clarity to take an untested, new idea and build momentum and maintain direction towards success? ….well that is absolutely unheard of ; )

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