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What Gets Measured Gets Attention

2011 March 22
tags: Performance Management, Performance Measurement, postaweek2011, Productivity
by Andrew   

performance measurementThings not getting done at work? Home? In your volunteer organization? Want better results in your blogging or targeted media? Are you looking for a way to focus attention on what’s important to you or your organization?

Peter Drucker, and sometimes Tom Peters, is credited with first supporting the statement “what gets measured gets done.” It doesn’t, but he was close. I guarantee it. How can I make such a sweeping statement? Broad experience. In organizations as diverse in their management as two state universities, one of the largest land management corporations in the State of Arkansas, the Boy Scouts of America at the local, state, and national levels, some of the largest multinational corporations in the world, and the U.S. government. I have spent nearly fifteen years as a professional evaluator and evaluation manager. What gets measured doesn’t necessarily get done. But, there is a saving grace. What gets evaluated does get attention. Why? Several reasons:

  • The organization can’t ignore it because of the venue in which the evaluations are presented (exposure)
  • Leadership is held responsible for results that are presented (accountability)
  • The evaluated functions don’t want to be caught unawares (broader engagement)
  • The organization may have a legal responsibility to address and correct identified problems (liability)
  • The desire to improve (spirit of excellence)
  • The elevation of the evaluated material to a level of awareness (focus)
  • Rewards are based on performance (incentive)

Focus the evaluations

Regardless of whether it’s one reason or all of them, what gets evaluated does get attention. With all of the spurious data and myriad measures available to organizations today, it is imperative that the right kind of evaluations are applied to the right kind of measures. Even if you evaluate the wrong things, or the right things badly, you’ll still get attention. Attention is important; if you or your management is irritated by the evaluation, it’s still attention. The kind of attention that results in impetus to change the measure to what makes sense or to change the evaluation method to one that yields better results. The key is to ensure the evaluations aren’t diluted in the process. Focused evaluations often identify things that make people unhappy as a consequence; they’re supposed to! If everyone is always happy, they certainly aren’t aware of the areas where improvement is needed.

Consider the desired end state

Good evaluations don’t consider just the state of a given set of measures at a single point in time. They also consider the desired end-state of the process, procedure, or performance area. They consider the goal as well as the current state. And they consider risks to the achievement of that goal without prejudice or bias. Good evaluations are no respecter of persons or positions. They must not be, or their results become suspect at best and currency at worst. That isn’t to say they should be inconsiderate or indiscriminate; rather, they must be above reproach.

The identification of measures is too large a topic for this post, so look for it in an upcoming one. If you have questions about the evaluation of performance measures, or the identification of effective measures, feel free to contact me via the contact link at the top of the page. If the question is relatively simple, I’ll be glad to answer back by email. However, if it’s particularly complex or you prefer the delivery of a topical discussion, we would need to discuss scope and terms. I have a presentation on establishing internal evaluation functions that has been delivered to several large public agencies.


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