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Sunday, January 06, 2008

The tyranny (and essential need) of measuring

Scarlett Surveys International offers Employee Engagement Surveys. These could be useful -- but so could your own direct communications and connections with your employees.

Client surveys, employee evaluations, web statistics . . . and more are certainly essential these days in business and marketing. Of course your ultimate success is measured by bottom-line results: The "books" and accounting data showing profit, cash flow, revenue per employee and the like. But much more measuring is now an essential part of the picture in any marketing program -- ranging from client satisfaction to the "will your clients recommend you" advocated by Fred Reichheld. The measuring process is aided by new, easy-to-use web based survey tools, which allow you to capture quick results at virtually no cost.

But all of this measuring may have a significant cost -- you may find the measuring exercise distorts your values; confuses your perspectives, and causes you to lose touch with your clients and employees. When everything is turned into numbers, the subjective and subtle hints can be lost and (worse yet) you can get some really strange and unhealthy behaviour as people game the system and act in artificial manners to beat the measuring tools.

Having said this, I am at a loss to offer a better option.

You see, the seat-of-your-pants approach to business, the gut feel and instinct methodology, can work on a small scale, but is hard to replicate going forward, and if you have achieved exceptional success -- or know someone or some organization which has -- through purely intuitive and instinctive approaches -- you may be leaving much money and business on the table by not finding some way to measure and determine the sources of this success.

So what should you do?
  • Measure stuff, by all means, but keep it reasonable. If you have a 15 question survey, boil it down to three questions; and ask only the people who really need to know to answer it.

  • Make sure that everything you measure has lots of opportunities for comment and subjective communication -- you want to encourage people to speak their minds, to be open, and to share thoughts. Read the comments as much as the survey data.

  • Share your results. Be open, but respect privacy. (We for example use an online sales test for all sales job applicants who pass the initial screenings. The person who applies always sees the results -- the only others who see them are me and employees directly involved in the selection process.)
  • Most importantly, don't get so trapped in the measuring game that you get things like I experienced when purchasing a car. The sales rep said: "Please take the survey call and respond, because I get a bonus for every good result.". Sorry. Measuring should not define the business -- or the client relationships.

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