Hammers and nails

What gets measured, gets done.
—Peter Drucker

Back when I worked at a church, I started thinking about metrics. Wait, let’s back up further—

I became interested in measuring the not-measurable when I was working on my certificate for to be a English/Language Arts secondary teacher. I know gradations of artistic merit when I read them; I can help you move your work from where it is to someplace more meritorious. But the hierarchy of letter grades when mapped over the things one makes in English class? Short of low-level fact regurgitation (blech), any scale feels arbitrary. But I firmly believe it is important for work to be measured (evaluated, whatever) in some way, so that the worker can stay grounded in her world. Grades are a way of measuring, one that lots of people come to understand. But still…

In my early 20s, I worked in the training department for a Fortune 100 firm. In that space there’s another aspect to assessment, to trying to figure out whether someone has learned that thing you wanted them to. In a capitalist system, training is only of value insofar as the worker leaves that training better able to do their work. Does-it-add-profit. More interestingly, people started to consider—even if the worker has learned “it” now, does it stick? Are they still doing/able to do “it” three months later? Six? A year? If they only remember until they get back to their desks, better to keep them at their desks and not lose the productivity!

My friend from those trenches went on to earn a degree in Organizational Development, and even took a class in assessing transfer of training. One thing I remember from our conversations is that knowing someone will be checking in later creates a measurable uptick in retention. If you know you’ll be “tested,” you might not dump the information as quickly-!

During this same period I worked in the land of Information Technology trouble tickets. Our informal communication streams were full of cynical jokes about the unintended consequences of various management and measurement regimes—the firm that paid software people a bonus for every bug fixed, so developers would add ones in on the first round; senior managers who evaluated front-end support staff by how quickly they closed tickets, so the staffer would hang up on the caller and change the call status to “closed.” Stuff like that. I first encountered the Drucker quote at this point, and it fit neatly in with what I’d observed for myself: what get measured, gets done. If it’s not measured, chances are excellent it will sit on a back burner forever.

Now we’re back in my church-work days. My job was to handle communcations; primarily internally-focused, but with an eye to whether passers-by would be able to absorb them too. NO connection to wrestling with the perennial question of “What does it mean to have a ‘successful’ church?” But, you know, my brain-!

…to be continued…

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