In his weekly note with the Riverford Veg box, farmer and activist Guy Singh-Watson notes that management loves the phrase ‘if it can’t be measured, it can’t be managed’. In a wistful mood of late, his weekly missives have searched through the toolbox of how to approach building a successful firm.
He follows up with “though true and useful up to a point, this oversimplification can too easily morph into “if you can’t measure it, it isn’t worth having,” or even “it doesn’t exist.” The dogma has caused a huge amount of suffering and societal damage over its 40-year rule.”
Management theory has definitely been kicking around for longer than 40 years, and this mantra doesn’t always and hasn’t always ruled, but his point is well-made about non-measurables falling by the way side when we become too obsessed by metrics. Metrics reassure us. There is much that lies in between the data. To swing too far to the other side of course, is a lesson in How Experts Don’t Matter which is playing out in an all-to-evident climactic cliff edge. All of this swirls through our daily lives.
Change Management tries to tie measurement into manager’s goals in order to lever change into the beast, the mechanism, to try to best the inertia and (obviously important) main attraction of business as usual (BAU). It’s necessary to some extent as this is how you engage the management tier – this is how you achieve buy-in.
But the soft side of this discipline, and the ‘feelings’ side of stakeholder engagement is as crucial. And to misread and misremember and miscalculate (the irony!) of how it makes people feel is a category kill kind of an error, a kind of comedy where the people who are needed in order to make it happen will just say no. We must remember how people feel when we try to assign statistics to human problems.