Wednesday, 13 July 2011

What Gets Measured Gets Done

There’s nothing like a blog post on measurement to get comments flying.  It is as though in business “To Measure” or “Not To Measure” is an either/or.  Of course it isn’t!  Both qualitative and quantitative aspects of management and leadership can and must live happily side by side. 

It was Tom Peters, the indefatigable business guru who inspired this blog, who reminded me of the importance of measuring the important stuff in business.  I recently came across one of his essays from 1986 entitled “What Gets Measured Gets Done”.  In his tireless campaign to improve customer service, improve efficiency and generally shake up business people everywhere he advocates measuring our promises to improve.  Then holding ourselves accountable – weekly – with our peers. 
He suggests starting out by quantifying 10 areas that are fundamental to success: sound advice which just happens to work.

As regular readers will know I have been moaning about my weight for far too long.  I keep meaning to do something about it, and then nothing happens.  Well measurement turns out to be the answer.  By rigorously measuring my calorie intake on a daily basis at last I’m beginning to see results, even though my running has taken a bit of a back seat recently.  And I’m still eating everything I enjoy, admittedly in smaller quantities.

This isn't rocket science, but neither is it the Atkins diet, the cabbage soup diet or even the Dukan diet.  It's the measurement diet.  And it works astonishingly well, without buying a single book, DVD or branded kitchen scales.

Peters recommends regularly celebrating small successes, a Danish pastry for meeting a project milestone or whatever.  It’s nothing more complex than carrot and stick, or positive reinforcement, but it has a dramatic and hugely beneficial effect.  I'm looking forward to my slap up meal for losing a stone!

Thank you, Mr Peters.  Still inspiring excellence after all these years ...

And just in case you can’t find the article when you type “What Gets Measured Gets Done” into Google, here’s a link to the essay: 


  1. But Caroline, having studied evaluation you know that something doesn't need to be measured to ensure it is done. Your examples are all very true but what about the social worker who sees imperceptible signs of enthusiasm in a person who has hitherto assumed that they have no worth? Qualitative evaluation, as you remarked in your MBA project, 'goes behind the numbers to understand what is happening, rather than taking the numbers at face value.' Quite.

  2. Absolutely Mike, but surely this isn't an either/or. Qualitative evaluation is more difficult and more subjective, but just as necessary. We have recently been working on a system that incorporates both - quantitative scores for how training was perceived, as well qualitative comments on what they liked/disliked or thought was useful. Both have their place. Whether something needs to be measured in order to get done, is a bit more complex. The things we like doing or have to do, always get done - what an old boss used to call the eat and sleep routines. But when you are trying to change behaviour or ensure that important things are always done, then measurement has a place. I suggest.