Existential Measurement?

James Clear, in an article in Entrepreneurship magazine "Forget Setting Goals. Focus on this Instead," argues for focusing measurement on your systems instead of goals.  For instance, if your goal is to build a million dollar business, your system is your sales and marketing process. Why focus on systems? Goal tracking can be demoralising and reduces what you make of present in face of a future possibility.  Focusing on systems means that you build good habits that help you stick to the process.   (Read more: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/230333#ixzz2sIXveBTl)


It was nice to find something in the world of performance measurement that takes a different view on the importance of targets and goals.   I am also not big on  tracking goals to quantitative targets if this also means missing out on important information that isn't as well structured but might yield key insights about your work and future directions. For instance, picture a couple arguing over directions and missing the turn off, or hikers hurrying up a trail to the view point missing the rare birds and flowera in their midst.  We are also terrible at setting goals and targets (and demanding non-profits set them)  for something that we have very little influence over.  Too many times I have seen a blank square in a funding application asking for the specific quantified impact  that a program  will have on a major community outcome like reducing poverty or reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 


Yet returning to the article at hand, measurement is pointless without being able to derive meaning from it (and to act practically on that info), and a key tool for that is to make sense of what we see based on what we would like to see.  In other words, focusing on systems is not enough without reflection, and reflection assigns meaning to practice. This meaning is purpose, which, if it has a future orientation, gets us back to objectives and goals.  Of course there are other ways to make sense of what we see without just focusing in on a few indicators, a few of which have been formalized in such methods assuch as Appreciative Inquiry and Outcome Mapping, which both articulate a structured process for 'sense-making'.  Still many of us have  articulated what we  we would like to see in strategic planning or business planning, and this is a natural starting point for interpreting what we do see.  But we have to be careful about using goals, and measurement of indicators of these goals, to get the conversation going rather than shut it down!  This happens when:

  • Goals are not relevant to front-line staff, only to management;
  • There is no forum to openly share information and observations that may not fit into a formal performance measurement system;
  • We assign unreasonable targets to goal (for tips on setting useful targets, see the related blog "Is your Target Way off Target?");
  • We aren't balanced in tracking to goals - we only articulate goals for financial performance and none that relate to the social mission or to the well-being of employees, and the development of organizational sustainability.




blog type: 
Issues & Ideas