Are Measurement Frameworks Sustainable?
Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in the Conference Board’s Citizenship and Sustainability Conference where I was speaking about whether or not our measurement frameworks are sustainable.
We are conditioned from birth to care about scores, from the Apgar score of a newborn, to our SAT, GRE, and LSAT scores, to our quarterly score cards at work. Measurement systems provide focus and the ability to assess outcomes.
You cannot manage what you cannot measure. We need to look for ways to measure the impact and effectiveness of CR&S initiatives and programs. As CR&S practitioners we need to measure to align with the corporate systems that we’re a part of; after all, the corporations within which we work are driven by measurement.
However, there’s a famous saying that’s often attributed to Albert Einstein: “not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts.” As a CR&S practitioner, it is critical that we measure the ‘right’ things that focus on the right outcomes. We need to be sure that our focus on what we can measure doesn’t distract us from other important but less tangible indicators. In other words, by focusing on the score are we losing underlying value and meaning? As CR&S practitioners we have a special responsibility to pay attention to complex interrelationships, to pay attention to holistic perspectives and to apply values and ethical standards that do not lend themselves to quantification.
As I see it, there are three dimensions to measurements that we should keep in mind when establishing a measurement system and how results are presented.
- Materiality – What are the relevant issues for your line of business? Pay attention to the most material issues even if they are not the most easily measured.
- Incentive – What incentives does the measurement system set and do they help you achieve the outcome you want, or lead to some unintended consequences?
- Context – If you don’t have a context for your measurement scale then the results of measurement can be at best misleading and at worst completely irrelevant. How does the performance contribute to solving the problem it intends to address?
The bottom line is to make sure when you set up a measurement system use it mindfully to deliver information that will achieve sustainable outcomes for society and the environment, not just for the sake of delivering numbers.