4 Ways You Reap What You Measure


You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” It’s a classic management adage for a reason. While not everything can be measured, tracking individual, group or departmental performance really depends on, well, tracking.

Measurement has value beyond management. There are intangibles that influence how much you or your team can get done, yes. I’m sure that somewhere there are offices that function well without taking the time to discuss what their goals are. But it’s almost always worth focusing on what your office could measure because measurement influences nearly every aspect of operations and communications. Here are four ways to think about measurement and how you use it in your daily operations.

Baselines are Basic

You’re serving 100 constituents a month. Great! Right? Well, not if you were serving 200 per month for the last three months. Or if the next county serves over 1,000 with the same budget and number of staff. You can’t rate a number without another number to rate it against. Without comparison against a baseline, there is no progress. How do you get a baseline? You measure it, of course.

Awareness Alone Causes Change

It’s true in household budgeting. It’s true in watching what you eat. It’s true in anthropology. The mere act of studying something tends to change it. In the process of figuring out what you want to measure and then measuring it, you find out what’s important to you. Focus makes a difference.

If You Don’t Reward It, You Won’t See It

This one’s fun, especially if you’re still craving Olympic women’s gymnastics to watch. Jessica Winter at Slate took a detailed look at the way competitors “mount” the balance beam in modern Olympic competition. While she found examples of amazingly complicated, graceful mounts in the ’80s and ’90s, today’s top competitors almost exclusively mount the balance beam by jumping or climbing onto it, with no twists or loops or acrobatics. Why? Gymnastics is scored on a Code of Points, with higher potential points for higher-difficulty moves, and only the eight most difficult moves of the routine count. The dismount is specified as one of the eight; the mount is not. So while a difficult mount isn’t penalized, it also might not be rewarded. The lesson is clear.

Perception Isn’t Reality

In June of this year, the hosts of a podcast called Stuff You Missed In History Class examined the claim made by some listeners that their show was too “female focused,” discussing women in history far more than men in history. As host Tracy V. Wilson put it, “Even though it should not be a problem to talk about women more than we talk about men,” they sliced and diced the data to find out whether these listeners’ perceptions were right. They weren’t. No more than one-quarter of their shows focused on women or groups of women. If you want to know whether a perception of your services or performance, either internally or externally, rings true, you’ll need to measure it.

For a more light-hearted and amusing, but equally instructive example in measurement, here’s another snippet from Slate, also on the Olympics theme: they took a scientifically sound look at “sappiness” in NBC’s Olympics coverage. Numbers tell a story.

Jael Maack is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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