«If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it»—true?
“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”
This maxim ranks high on the list of quotations attributed to Peter Drucker. There’s just one problem: He never actually said it.—Drucker institute [*1]
I agree that that is a problem. For a variety of reasons, the internet is awash with fatuous remarks attributed to famous, and often clever, people who didn’t say them [see my blog *2].
However there is a much larger problem. This is that impressionable people and those disinclined to question anything they read on the internet believe he did say it and that it is therefore true. (Drucker, who died in 2005, was an “American management consultant, educator, and author… He was also a leader in the development of management education, he invented the concept known as management by objectives and self-control, and he has been described as “the founder of modern management”, Wikipedia. [*3])
“Your first role [as a manager]… is the personal one,” Paul Zak reports Drucker as saying. “It is the relationship with people, the development of mutual confidence, the identification of people, the creation of a community. This is something only you can do… It cannot be measured or easily defined. But it is not only a key function. It is one only you can perform.”
What a wonderful insight [says Zak]. When it comes to people, not everything that goes into being effective can be captured by some kind of metric. Not enthusiasm. Not alignment with an organization’s mission. Not the willingness to go above and beyond. [*1]
It has to be said that, if you survey the writings of Drucker in detail you will be struck by sentiments pretty close to the misquotation and, in this case, if any confusion has arisen in the management mind over what he actually said, he is not blameless.
The first group of people who are drawn to the misquotation are business people, often those with financial backgrounds, who see truth only in numbers. Of course, some truths are best expressed in numbers: growth of turnover, for example. But, clearly, there are many things, as Drucker himself says above, that you can’t measure. The problem with the misquotation is that it is absolute. It clearly says to people that it simply is not worth managing anything that can’t be measured and, if a manager can’t manage it, it is a short step to the manager failing to pay any attention to it.
And, of course, it resonates soundly with those business people who would really rather that business had nothing out do with people and with developing and maintaining personal relationships with them.
The second group of people who are drawn to this misquotation are politicians. I suspect politicians love it because it is easy to understand and doesn’t need explaining (it’s “obvious”)—an essential characteristic of any idea for many politicians. And can be used to generate data (and data, of course, are capable of infinite manipulation) which can in turn be used to prove whatever point the politicians are trying to make at that moment.
The difficulty is that, when senior politicians supposedly have a duty of care towards children’s education and the national health services, to name but two, they will use processes which rely on measurement, for the reasons given above, even when the measurements are meaningless and even when the things being measured are not useful or relevant things to attempt to measure.
Both of these areas of human activity—unlike say the deployment of troops and weapons of war—are only excellent when the interpersonal relationships between people are excellent; whether it is between the sick, and doctors and nurses, or children and young adults, and teachers. But these things can’t be measured. So they are ignored, because politicians, like many people, to be fair, have an overweening attachment to their need to be right.
I learnt today about formative assessment,
…a range of formal and informal assessment procedures conducted by teachers during the learning process in order to modify teaching and learning activities to improve student attainment. It typically involves qualitative feedback (rather than scores) for both student and teacher that focuses on the details of content and performance. It is commonly contrasted with summative assessment, which seeks to monitor educational outcomes, often for purposes of external accountability. [*4]
Without wishing to reduce the distinction to a few words, basically I get that formative assessment is qualitative and summative assessment is quantitative; formative assessment is intended to improve learning and summative assessment is intended to reach decisions, such as the future of a school or a teacher (or a pupil).
Politicians and others have been repeating today that the purpose of the tests which children are doing this month is to evaluate the school, and, I guess, you do that by measuring the abilities of the children. But, this is a perfect example of the failure to apply a purpose and outcomes model. Or, if you like, how to play golf. To get the ball into the hole, at the moment of hitting it, you focus on the ball not the hole. To create a successful school, you focus on teaching the children well, not assessing the school.
“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” [*5]
This is one of the statements frequently misattributed to Albert Einstein. Ironically, those people keen not to perpetuate this misunderstanding attribute it to William Bruce Cameron (true) but them go on to cite the wrong William Bruce Cameron. It’s the sociologist, not the comedian.
[*1] Measurement myopia (Paul Zak, Drucker Institute website, 4 july 2013)
[*2] Quote? Unquote [my blog]
[*3] Peter Drucker [Wikipedia]
[*4] Formative assessment [Wikipedia]
[*5] William Bruce Cameron, Informal sociology: a casual introduction to sociological thinking (Random House, 1963, p13)
> Purpose and outcomes
© Jeremy Marchant 2016 . image: Free images
Please see About this website for guidance on using this material.