“How can I make my goals measurable?” That’s a question I get a lot.
Sometimes, this comes up during performance review time. The manager knows the action she wants to see from someone on her team, describes it to me, and then wonders, “But how do I make that measurable? How do I quantify it?”
Or it comes up when a team is in the process of forming a shared vision. They describe—with great passion—the picture of the end result they seek. Then they ask, “But don’t we have to make it measurable? How do we quantify it?”
The Measurement Mix-Up
It seems to me that a lot of people struggle with defining measurable goals because they make the mistake of assuming that measuring and quantifying are the same thing. They’re not.
Numbers are quantifiable, and therefore, they can be measured. But that does not mean that for a goal to be measurable, it must be quantifiable.
Consider the full richness of goals, visions, and other targets. Many of their desired outcomes are measurable without numbers.
Number-Free Measurement in Action
Let’s understand this better by looking at some examples:
“I’d like this chili to be more spicy.” The chef adds some jalapeño. “Now it’s great!”
You arrive easily at this assessment without attaching a number.
Okay, okay, but how about an office example? No problem:
Sarah is a naysayer whose sour attitude brings people down and stalls forward momentum—so much that some on the team avoid her. So Sarah’s manager, Cliff, engages her in a behavior-modification effort. Cliff and Sarah paint a vision for the desired outcome: the same realistic Sarah, but with an energetic, can-do attitude.
As Sarah progresses or slips back to negativity, Cliff and others can answer the question, “Is Sarah improving toward that vision?” People can see, feel, and sense if Sarah is better, worse, or stagnant.
They can’t put a number on it. But they can measure it.
Finally, let’s look at an example that goes from the office to the home front:
A key part of Jefferson’s personal vision is to create focused family time—time when he is not multi-tasking with his growing business. So, he schedules a couple of windows in each week day when he will leave electronics on his desk, close the doors of his home office, and engage in pure family stuff.
Before closing up shop each day, he takes a moment to consider whether or not he followed through on this goal. When he does this, he knows almost instantly if he’s blown off his family in favor of work (or faulted in the reverse).
Jefferson doesn’t need to get out a calculator in order to get to an answer—no more than he needs a spreadsheet to track his time fishing with his son or watching his soccer games. At the end of the day—or of each week, if he prefers—he can measure it without numbers.
Once you free yourself from the false measure = quantify paradigm, you’ll probably find that you’re better at measuring than you think you are. Now on to hitting those targets!
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