As a CEO, I like measurement and analysis. They help me understand what’s happening in our business and inform good decisions. I’ve also learned that a lot of what matters is tough to measure. For example, there is a delicate balance between the share of mind we give to client service and to our own operations that doesn’t show up in time sheets. We obviously have to focus on clients and pay attention to how we do things, but too much attention on the latter invariably hurts the firm. How much is too much? I can’t count it, but I can feel it.
Our profession is constantly challenged to provide measurement and demonstrate ROI, and we should do both. But I’ve also seen that demand carried to an extreme, and I worry about what I think of as “standardized test syndrome.” Just as the quality of education can suffer when schools teach for better test results, the impact of communications can be lessened when the tactics emphasized are determined less by an underlying strategy and more by what’s easiest to measure.
Babson business professor Tom Davenport apparently shares the broad concern. In a recent article on the critical but overlooked value of judgment in managing a business, he wrote, “Good judgment is another important virtue — if not the most important one (as Aristotle thought). Like love, it so far defies measurement. But we ignore it as a critical factor in organizational life at our peril.”
He also said, “So much of life cannot be measured yet is still lived and enjoyed. Is there a way to calculate the ROI on raising children? If there is, I for one would like to know it. (Yes, I know all about the human capital equations of economists, but I’m talking about real life here.) What about the satisfaction of serving one’s community or nation or planet altruistically? We can count Google hits, but they are hardly a proxy for reputation. The number of friends one has on a social network is no measure of the value of friends.”
I’m not saying measurement doesn’t matter – it’s critical and we, as a firm, have made a significant investment in our ability to measure the direct impact of what we do on our clients’ performance. I’m suggesting we not forget what every parent among us already knows: that there are things we can’t measure that sometimes matter most.