Quantifying relationships, or perhaps not

Jay Cross has often discussed the return on investment (ROI) on learning and knows that you can’t properly measure much learning anyway, at least not to a direct cause-effect relationship and then to some monetary calculation:

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure” is nonsense. The vast majority of what senior executives manage is immeasurable. They make judgment calls; they play hunches. How else do you select the right people for key jobs? How else do you choose your partners? How else do you divine the future? Organizations pay senior executives handsomely to buy their ability to make wise choices in the absence of simple measurements.

I liken learning ROI to military morale. The military puts a lot of stock (and money) into the maintenance of good morale but there is no morale indicator scale in real life. Good commanders know when morale is high or low and they how far they can push their troops. They don’t waste time trying to put an ROI calculation on every effort to build a cohesive team.

Charles Green says that we should stop measuing ROI on soft skills training and gives several reasons why. Here is one to add to your notebook, so that you have a good response when someone asks about your ROI calculation:

the perversion of individual measurement. Most soft skills deal with our relationships to others. The drive to individually behavioralize, then metricize, has the effect of killing relationships—an ironic outcome for relationship-targeting training.

As much of our work moves online and becomes more collaborative and via multiple social networks, we should remember that quantifying these relationships may be detrimental to the very same relationships that help our organisations prosper.

3 Responses to “Quantifying relationships, or perhaps not”

  1. Karyn Romeis

    I’m with you. As I keep saying: either you believe it’s worth it, or you don’t. If you do, you invest, if you don’t you “hit and hope” as we say in cricket.

  2. Jon Husband

    I agree with you.

    Wanting to measure everything in order to manage it is an extremely persistent (and pernicious) holdover from Taylor’s Principles of Scientific Management and in my opinion is an increasingly obsolete assumption in a world where more and more work gets done online every day.

    In my mind I liken the “manage – measure” phrase to the continuing insistence of many labour unions in 2008 to see job descriptions and work rules as a key source of their power … an outdated anachronism resulting from an inability to imagine other was of doing things.

  3. Frédéric Domon

    In a complex universe, it is often reassuring to trust reliable and rational indicators. If ROI can be useful in certain cases, I agree with Jay: “Organizations pay senior executives handsomely to buy to their ability to make wise choices in the simple of absence measurements.” Thus the systematic use of ROI is a nonsense, even an evasion of its responsibilities.
    Concerning social media marketing, some of my customers, marketing managers accustomed to the usual online campaigns, require “Ok, it’s a nice thing! But where’s the ROI ? “.
    I then use the concept developed by David Brown: The REAL Social Media ROI – Risk of Ignoring http://bit.ly/CTPo6


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