Often the hardest part of implementing any change program (e.g. an IT implementation, a business unit restructuring, a training and development program) is determining whether the change had the positive impact that its sponsors intended. The difficulty of assessing success comes from three sources:
1) Lack of clarity around purpose for the program, project, change, etc (i.e. a clear compelling image of what is going to be different after installation and when the “new way” of working or being becomes the norm),
2) Lack of clarity around outcomes that will indicate whether the purpose (i.e. the realization of that image) has indeed become reality, and
3) The absence of metrics that can be used as guide posts to gauge both the success of the change process and the realization of the “new way” of working or being in the organization.
Assuming that a strong purpose and set of outcomes for a project, program, or change has been developed and is widely understood, metrics will be relatively easy to define and implement. Absent clear, well defined purpose and outcomes, any discussion of metrics or data gathering activity could be a waste of time. This is because, amid the thousands of things we could measure (e.g. sales, efficiency, turnover, promotions, cycle time, quality, organic growth, etc.) about our organizations, the data we gather only gives us a snapshot of what is happening at a single moment in time. We need the context of where we are currently, where we are headed, and how we will know when we’ve arrived so we can interpret the data we’ve gathered and use it to make course corrections.
Consider this situation: two travel writers have received an advance from a publisher to take a cross country RV vacation, with the goal of researching RV’ing as a viable vacation alternative and gathering data for an upcoming book. They are to visit all 48 states in the Continental U.S. in 4 months with a trip budget of $40,000. They decide to monitor: 1) the amount of money they spent relative to the number of states they’ve visited, and 2) the number of states they’ve visited relative to the number of days they’ve been on the road. If all we knew about these travelers was that they were taking an RV vacation, and we knew nothing about the goals and constraints of their trip, it might be interesting, perhaps even astonishing, for us to know how much money they’ve spent or how many states they’ve visited. But we would not be in the position of, say the publisher, who could interpret this data in light of what they were funded to do and accomplish. That is because we would be missing the context of what they are doing and why. Good metrics help us gauge our performance relative to a goal, but if we don’t know or aren’t clear about the goal, it is hard for us to interpret what the data mean and what actions to take.