Disclaimer: I write non-fiction (Measuring Success), short stories, plays, and pretty much everything else based on my inspiration. This blog post is not about measurement, so opt in or out as you're inspired.
Like many people in the US and around the world, I watched George Floyd get murdered on television in the summer of 2020. It was awful, as was the murders on video of other Black people last year. And in other years, and those not caught on video. I just assumed there was nothing I could do, and so for a couple weeks I did nothing. Then I started talking about it.
I just looked and saw that my last blog post was March 23, 2020. Back then, COVID-19 was mere weeks old and we were facing the possibility of a 30-day lockdown to get it under control. 30 whole days, can you believe it?
A lot has happened since then that you don't need me to tell you about. So instead, I want to talk about New Year's Resolutions, and you are invited to join me.
COVID-19, the infectious disease caused by the newly discovered novel coronavirus, is (as I write this) a growing global pandemic. It's also measurable in several different ways including R0, a measure of how many people will be newly infected by a contagious person, essentially measuring the spread of the virus.
You probably think this is easy, and it kind of is, but there are some details worth poking at. If you sell a product for $10, that's $10 in gross sales. If the product cost you $8 to make, then you have $2 in net sales. All done, right? Well, mostly. The purpose of collecting data is to drive action. So what action can you take with the data above? Not much, it turns out. Like other measures, sales should should be expressed in terms of your sales strategy.
The problem with measuring safety is that you're actually measuring the absence of something (injury). You can take no measurable action and get lucky by having no workplace injuries, or you can take tons of measurable actions and get tons of injuries. We improve processes by using past patterns to take future action, but "past patterns" in safety means someone got hurt, or worse. So the trick is looking for the patterns that took place before the injury and measuring (and improving) those.
When my whole job was measuring things, I used to say anything is measurable (I still do). "Yes", people would say, "but what about LEADERSHIP, everyone knows you can't measure that!" they would chortle, thinking they had caught me and that my obvious response would be a sheepish "Yeah, you're right about that one!"
I never said that.
Is there any more enticing blog title than that one? I recently talked to the local chapter of the Association for Talent Development about training measurement and the point about isolating variables came up, as it always does. Isolating variables means mathematically separating the effects of one thing from another thing. Many folks, including folks in the training industry, believe if you can't isolate the relative contributions of multiple variables to an outcome that the measurement isn't worthwhile. Not surprisingly, I disagree.
There are a lot of things I like about my job at Amazon and one of those is that teams are encouraged to create tenets describing how they do their work (a mission is what, tenets are how). Last year my team worked on refreshing our tenets and came up with one of my favorites: we fear no data. This became one of the most important ways that we paid attention to our work, and continues to be one of my personal tenets.
At happy hour recently I was hearing about a friend's new job. Great work/life balance, great benefits, great team. Oh, and they don't use KPIs, they use OKRs which are much better, he said.
It turns out that as soon as you finish writing a book you hear brand new things related to the book you JUST WROTE. I've spent years working with KPIs and then 18 months writing a book about them and this was my first introduction to OKRs. So I started reading, mostly finding discussions about whether OKRs or KPIs are better. The answer? Both and neither.
I rode my scooter to work this morning as I do most mornings. Same scoot, same route, same me. But this morning I was obsessed with the mirrors; I couldn't get them quite right. And it occurred to me that my mirror obsession this morning was the meaning of life. Seriously, stick with me here.