How To Measure The Tough Stuff

It's no surprise that some people resist performance measurement. This kind of reaction is normal when people are presented with unfamiliar things. People are often reluctant to embrace change in their work environment, because change can mean more work, or more responsibilities. or more challenges, without any guarantee of a payback (for them).

Resistance is often displayed by statements like 'you can't measure what we do'. Resistance can show up in other objections as well, like 'that’s been tried here and it didn’t work', or 'I don’t know what to measure', or 'I have too many other priorities', but lets deal with the first one first. Here's how to measure the tough stuff that your objectors believe can't be measured.

1. Begin with the objective in mind. Measuring the tough stuff does not begin with crafting measures! Always start with understanding objectives; don't consider the measures until you are clear what you are trying to achieve i.e. the desired impacts, benefits and consequences of your work.

2. Define the characteristics of this objective. For example, let's say we're trying to measure 'policy advice'. Presumably, the objective of policy advice is to allow the recipient of the advice to make a 'sound decision'. What, then, are the desirable characteristics of that objective? This is something that should be determined in conversation or consultation, but here are some possibilities to describe a 'sound decision':

  • Multiple options have been considered;

  • Consultation with key stakeholders has been conducted;

  • Conclusions and recommendations are linked to and driven by the above research and consultations;

  • The advice given is relevant to the decision to be made.

3. Use facts and apply judgement to evaluate results. Using the example above, the question of whether 'multiple options were considered' is easily answered by reviewing the process by which policy advice was developed. So is the fact of 'consultation with stakeholders'. You can also examine how options were evaluated e.g. what pros and cons were considered, which values were employed in making the recommendation, and the relative weight given to each value.

So you can 'measure the tough stuff', but how best to make use of this information? Since the real purpose of performance measurement is to influence behaviors that drive organizational learning and improvement, you can use this information to best advantage by taking advantage of the judgement and experience of your people. Discuss results with them, and encourage them to assess and compare their own judgements and experience and to learn from each other.

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