These days, we can seemingly measure everything. There are well constructed tools for measuring your level of shyness to your acuity in recognizing fake smiles. Instruments are everywhere and hard-working, clever scientists devote their lifetimes to getting these tools right. No question, psychometry is taken seriously as a science, because without measurement it all becomes anecdote and intuition.
Beyond psychometry, measurement in the workplace has never been as prolific, and in the big data frenzy, our every step (quite literally) can be measured. Talent Engagement, 360°’s, Performance Management and Training ROI are but some of the routine measures put in place to better understand people in the workplace. Of course outside of work, measurement of everything has become indivisible from the technology that governs our lives. Where and when you shop, how much you spend, what you browse, what you ‘Like’ and ponder over are all tirelessly and invisibly recorded.
Your life history, as recorded by your cellphone company, credit cards, GPS and browser is archived on databases throughout the world. Is this positive? I would argue that it is.
Measurement is positive because it turns conjecture into information. Is today hotter than yesterday? It kind of feels like it. Well let’s check the thermometer history. Okay, it’s half a degree cooler. Yesterday was hotter than today. The thermometer told me, I don’t need to rely on my wonky memory, my subjective senses or opinion. I have data.
Similarly, are our staff more engaged this year than last year? You might think “yes”, I might think “no.” Better to just measure it. The great positive of measurement is that it brings some level of calibrated intelligence to abstract issues, like engagement. With measurement, data can be benchmarked, compared, examined over a period of time, and analyzed for trends. But the most positive aspect is that humans can react to data and make improvements. Measurement is feedback, and feedback helps us to develop. Without the measurement, we’re just guessing.
Few would argue that measurement is without fault. Almost all measurement has error, and at least some decisions will likely be based on faulty data. Measurement can reify things
that are transient, and people can be unceremoniously labelled in a way that unfairly affects their future. Measurement can over-simplify complex constructs into reductionist numbers that can be misleading. Sometimes, measurement can be the death of nuanced answers, as numbers tell their own story. And sometimes data can be used to befuddle. To wrap up ideas that should be debated into inaccessible statistics, brought in to stifle debates and settle arguments. No doubt, data, like medicine, like science and like technology, can be misused or used selectively.
But the value the measurement brings and the positivity it deflects to society at large, should not be underestimated and far outweighs these negatives.
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