Measurement matters

We live in a world full of data and numbers. Data apparently has been called the new oil. The use of analytics, data and numbers to come up with measurement metrics pervades everywhere. Be it in performance appraisals, setting business targets, defining new product launches or even designing outcome/impact based societal engagement programs. We cannot do without measurement.

The problem with quantitative measurement however is precisely that – it lacks the sensitivity and ability to pick up the qualitative nuances of a project or strategy or even performance indicators. There is after all, more to human beings than mere number crunching.

When measurement metrics are designed purely on mathematical based thinking not all outcomes can be precise or accurate. We are driven by our thoughts, feelings and emotions to act and perform. Even salient strategic decisions are born and driven by the above process of thoughts-feelings-emotions-action. Our thoughts create our reality. Hence, it is imperative that holistic measurement metrics take into consideration the ephemeral thoughts that lead to the final outcome.

In the various KPIs that professionals work with, it would be important to be considerate of the dimensions that can easily skew the final result of the data.

  • Measuring feelings and emotions is not easy

Of course, measuring thoughts is not easy and is not something that you and I can pick up and run with. The option therefore is to design the key performance indicators (KPIs) in a way that they capture the thoughts and bring in more depth to the final analysis.

  • Time is of essence

This is true especially when indicators are identified for impact assessment of product launch/projects that are long drawn and run over a period of more than 12 months.

Human memory is short. It takes a lot of effort to recall and capture something that happened long time ago. Short interventions and regular monitoring programs can give far more valuable insights here.

  • Stakeholder perspective matters

What others say about your project/brand matters more than what you think about it. The stakeholder universe here should not be restricted to direct beneficiaries but can be expanded to look at indirect beneficiaries as well. What can be better than a consumer extolling your brand! 

  • Metrics need to evolve

This is especially true in studies that are carried out year-on-year. There can be a tendency to use the same metrics as those in the previous studies. People evolve. Impact changes. Metrics too need to undergo course correction so as to capture the variances.

  • Measurements cannot be targets to be achieved

In one of the KPIs set for achieving maximum media coverage for a particular news, the organisation went around releasing multiple messages across all platforms. There was no strategic thought applied and needless to say, the end result was only confusion.

When metrics become a target that needs to be achieved, it can lead to the ‘cobra effect’, wherein an attempted solution can result in unintended consequences. The word ‘cobra effect’ originates from an incident that took place during the British regime in India. The British government offered a bounty for every dead cobra in Delhi. Enterprising people started breeding cobra snakes to get the bounty, leading to even more cobras in the city.

  • Banking solely on monitoring consultancies

There is no dearth of monitoring consultancies. They offer detailed evaluation metrices and reports that can run into pages. It makes sense to have the monitoring and evaluation of impact/outcome by professional firms. However, it would be foolish to bank completely on their understanding of the situation. Key stakeholders of the relevant function need to be involved right from the discussion to the design stage of the metrics.

Measurement myopia can lead to unintended consequences and provide a very skewed and unrealistic picture of the outcome/impact. Be mindful when designing measurement metrics.


The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Sarita Bahl
Country Group Head CSR at Bayer - South Asia
Sarita Bahl leads the Corporate Social Responsibility function for Bayer South Asia and is also the Director – Bayer Prayas Association. Prior to this, she successfully oversaw the communications and public affairs function for Bayer South Asia. Over her three decades of professional experience, Sarita has held multiple roles across diverse industries, public sector, trade associations, MNCs and the Not-for-profit sector. An alumnus of Tata Institute of Social Science and the Swedish Institute of Management Program, Sarita specializes in stakeholder engagement, sustainability and communications. She is passionate about animals (is mother to a female cat), books and movies.

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