It surprises people in other lines of work that gathering data and measuring performance is a unique discipline within management consulting. Of course, doctors and teachers and police all rely on metrics but don't have people on staff who've devoted their careers to the "how" of measurement. Instead, they hire them and that's where management consultants come in.
Peter Drucker’s assertion “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” has thoroughly soaked in—through the carpet, the pad, and stained the subfloor. The concept is so widely accepted by our government clients and ourselves that we put data, data management, and measurement reporting central to nearly everything they do. Performance measurement is like water—without it you can only survive a couple of days. Right?
I don’t know. Maybe this obsession with measures is really a distraction.
Please, don’t me wrong. I love, love, love data. I love looking at charts, trends, and tables of all sorts. Common delimited spreadsheets are three of my favorite words. Pivot tables give me shivers. So, this isn’t an anti-counting rant. I just think there is an opportunity to put the numbers in the right box and allow them to peacefully coexist with our personal stories, anecdotes, and professional intuition.
The funny thing about data and it’s rapidly multiplying offspring—metrics—is that we spend a lot of time and money collecting it. As soon as we have some, we begin attacking the quality and completeness-- and if we're feeling particularly ornery, the messenger. The data is bad, you're bad, the sky is falling and we're all going to die. This cycle drives more data collection, then quality audits, and ultimately a management review. At some point (often years later), everyone just gets tired and accepts that the data is what it is and a meeting is scheduled.
Every metric review meeting I’ve ever been to then goes something like this…
An Excel-saving analyst sweats it out over her laptop and fiddling with the projector. Once the charts go up, the smart people around the table look intently at the numbers, maybe ask a couple of questions—then IMMEDIATELY begin relaying real life little tidbits that either support or disprove the numbers. After some discussion, the most memorable parts of the meeting weren’t whether we were at $12.5 million in 2012 but it’s what Karen said about that one-off project that drove revenue that year.
I guess the point is—is there one? not sure today—is that our stories resonate more deeply than our numbers do. The numbers, at best, become background music—quietly entertaining but not too loud to drown out conversation.
So, in contrast to Mr. Drucker (blasphemy in our business, I get it), we manage stuff all the time that we can’t measure but don't give ourselves much credit. The joy in this business comes when you simultaneously feel like you’re making a difference for your clients, growing your business, and getting a chance to interact with other smart, engaging people. All of which are measured by our own yardsticks, internally without a spreadsheet in sight.