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Can You Manage What You Can't Measure?

We are stepping out of one era and into a new one in the working world. It is crystal clear that the Machine Age structure and rhythm of work has hung on far past the point of usefulness.
In the new-millennium marketplace, our businesses and institutions will fail if we try to hire and lead people using outdated, factory-style ideas and practices.
It is easy to see how technology and culture are shifting the world in fundamental ways related to our sense of time and place, our mobility and our connectedness with one another. The complex and time-sensitive work we do in this Knowledge Economy doesn’t mesh with old-fashioned, mechanical work and leadership practices.
We can’t divided today’s work into neat bundles and give people tidy, consistent job descriptions. That management style is too confining. It’s boring for the people doing the work and they’re hampered by stupid things like job descriptions and pay grades.
Then the machine runs your business instead of good ideas and Team Mojo, the team’s collective power source. We know this instinctively. At work we pretend it’s not true — that people can really care about something that isn’t theirs and doesn’t mesh with their own hopes and passions.
We delude ourselves at work because we were taught that human rules of behavior, ancient and immutable, don’t apply at work.
In our bodies, we know better!
ride the waves SHRM LI March 2015
We won’t innovate or create anything important in the business world or anywhere else playing by one-hundred-year-old rules.
We know that the workplace is changing whether we are ready for the changes or not. The most marketable people are the hardest employees to keep and to keep happy – and why would we expect anything different?
On the one hand we struggle and work hard to make great products and services that will keep customers happy.
On the other hand we’re bombarded with messages about how to lead employees, how to motivate them, how to reward them and how to keep them learning and growing. Every manager on the planet feels overwhelmed – but then again so does every working person.
Why is work so difficult and exhausting? It’s because work is structured for a Machine Age that long ago passed into history.
Work must be organic now. We have to find the fortitude to trust ourselves to let go of the old frameworks that keep work in the 21st century stuck in a nineteenth-century mode. We have to let go of the idea of measuring tasks and outputs at every stage of every process.
If you fall hard into the Cult of Measurement, if you become addicted to yardsticks as many before you have done, you will eventually notice that any process is fractal.
The more closely you look at any process, the more subdivisions you see. Any process subdivides into infinite pieces. The particles of activity shrink to sub-atomic size. First you were counting something real and important like the number of widgets you shipped out for the month.
Once the yardstick addiction hit, you suddenly began measuring the speed at which every sub-activity in the widget-making process took for every unit produced in the factory. Then you correlated the speed of each widget production sub-activity with the quality of the unit produced.
You can draw up charts and then start measuring how long it takes to make the charts. You can measure your company out of existence.
Excessive measurement is a fear reaction, but in companies that compulsively measure things, you would feel the bad energy even before you heard about the yardsticks.
Fear and trust are the two topics that desperately need airtime and don’t get it in the working world. We teach concepts about leadership and culture instead of talking about the actual culture throbbing around us and booming in our ears.
We don’t talk about fear and its stranglehold on creativity and passion – the two things that would power our organizations way past our goals if we could relax into leadership as humans rather than as walking, talking business cards.
You can manage what you don’t measure, but to do that you have to expand your definition of the word ‘manage.’ You can align with the real world and the forces that shape history and culture.
You have to  listen instead of barging ahead believing that your data and analysis have given you all the answers. You have to get your head out of the spreadsheet and notice the energy in the air around you. If you can do that, you can lead at a much higher level than “Did we hit our numbers today?”
Measuring and leading are two different things. Leadership is forward-looking while measurement is backward-looking. You can lead your team to great things if you can give up the religion of measurement and get excited about something bigger than the numbers on a chart on the wall.
Can you take that step?


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