Measuring What Matters

It's neither feasible nor desirable to measure everything in your organization; at some point too much data is the same as none, because you exceed your capacity to analyse and use the information. So, how do you make sure you are measuring what matters most to your organization?

The answer is fairly easy to define, but may be a little trickier in execution. The short answer to 'what is important to measure' might be given in three words:

  • Effectiveness

  • Efficiency

  • Capacity

Lets look at each of those measurement areas in more detail.

Effectiveness might be simply defined as 'how well are you achieving the expected results of your program'? The challenge in the public sector is that different stakeholders may have different expectations of results. Demands may be placed on your organization by regulators, other government agencies, your customers, the public at large, or even your vendors and suppliers. While priority should be given to the intended beneficiaries or customers of your program, it's still a good idea to consult with known stakeholders before measuring what matters with respect to effectiveness.

Efficiency is the relationship between resources consumed and outputs produced. In theory, an efficient organisation produces the maximum possible outputs for the resources used. Or it might be described as producing a given level of output with the least resources possible. But efficiency in most public sector organizations is rarely that simple.

The kicker is often quality. Costs - i.e. budgets - are easy to track, but the quality of outputs (or service quality) is open to interpretation. Definitions of quality can be manipulated to produce counter-productive results. This is also related to the different perspectives various stakeholders may have. For example, the most efficient way for Canada Post to deliver mail may be to parachute a huge bundle into each community via airplane; however, recipients may have a negative view of this efficiency measure (although skydiving mail-handlers would be entertaining.) Measuring what matters in this case means choosing efficiency measures with consideration for which organizational behaviours you want to reinforce.

Capacity might be defined as the ability of the organization to sustain delivery of goods and services. In other words, do we have enough people supported by the right training, tools, information, infrastructure and leadership to deliver on our mission? All these might be considered measures of organizational health. Beyond simple numbers of human resources, people like to feel they 'fit' in their jobs; they like to feel they understand what they are contributing to, and that they have the direction and support and resources they need to deliver.

If these factors are present, then the organization will tend to do well with efficiency and effectiveness, too.

See also:

Best Practices in Performance Measurement

Why performance measurement fails

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