Nancy’s Blog: Beyond Measure…?

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Three years ago, we themed our TEDxAustin event “Beyond Measure”. As technology and access to information continues to advance at dizzying speeds, we wanted to explore what it means to be human at a time when we are hurtling toward exponentially expanding extremes. How can we find our human value between quarks and googolplexes (Googleplexes?)? What are the implications of volume and complexity on the way we live?  And how does our stunning capacity to measure help us lead richer, more creative and interconnected lives? Or not?  

We are diving into that theme again this week. There is now widespread acknowledgement that measuring wellbeing is an essential part of measuring quality of life, alongside other social and economic dimensions. But as we increase our ability to measure, are we really getting at what matters most? What about empathy? Happiness? Love?

This week we’re focusing our attention on the new ways in which we’re evaluating our own progress — the evolved performance metrics by which corporations are assessing themselves and what that means for HR, recruitment companies, and CTO’s (Chief Talent Officers). We introduce the fascinating work that Gallup is doing to create a comprehensive measure of wellbeing with their “Global Wellbeing Index” (along with much more research on the topic). Oh, and we look at  the choices we have as we go from points A to B.

What the World’s Largest Data Set Can Tell Us

The projected cost of American healthcare by 2017 is over $4 trillion. At least half of this cost will be due to preventable disease: diabetes, cardiovascular conditions, and strokes mostly. The World Health Organization defines health as is “not only the absence of infirmity and disease, but also a state of physical, mental, and social wellbeing.” In an unprecedented move, Gallup and Healthways, the wellbeing improvement company, have partnered to build the world’s largest well-being data set from more than 2 million conversations with U.S. adults.

Why? In the forward to the study, Angus Deaton, consulting PhD, sums up the opportunity beautifully:

“Measurements of national performance have for too long focused on income — gross domestic product (GDP) and its components — but such measures are much too narrow. Income is certainly important to people — and the growth of incomes over the last 250 years has been one of the greatest achievements of humankind — but it is not the only thing that matters. People can have low wellbeing and high income, and conversely high wellbeing and low income.

Income is not worth much without health to enjoy it; {but] good health is a blessing in and of itself, allowing people to live a full and worthwhile life. A good education is not only a vital requirement to do well in life, but it brings its own joys and a richer life in many dimensions. People enjoy contributing meaningfully to the betterment of civil society. The absence of the fear of war and violence, something that was rarely enjoyed by people’s ancestors, also contributes to high wellbeing. When we ask people to think about how their lives are going, to report on their daily emotions, and to tell us about their health, we gain a much broader picture of their wellbeing than can be inferred from traditional economic surveys. 

I first worked on wellbeing in 2007, using data collected through Gallup’s World Poll. As a traditional economist, I was originally skeptical, but over the years, I — like many other mainstream economists — have begun to see the immense potential of the data. They allow us insights into a wide spectrum of human concerns, many of which have previously been out of the reach of measurement and analysis.” 

What they learned about Americans’ wellbeing was so compelling that Gallup extended its reach globally, with more than 130,000 additional conversations in 134 countries, to create a comprehensive global data set of wellbeing information. As the study summarizes…

“Now leaders around the world [inspired in part by Nicolas Sarkosy in France and David Cameron in the UK] have a truly global picture of wellbeing, to measure and compare the elements that comprise wellbeing, the relationships between wellbeing and other population metrics, and the impact of wellbeing improvement initiatives. These global insights present an unparalleled opportunity to address critical needs on a scale never possible before. By looking comprehensively at populations’ wellbeing, we can realize sustainable lifestyle improvements, stronger communities, and significant cost savings.” 

Looking wide and far, we are encouraged by the impact this kind of learning and perspective can have long term. It’s not that hard to imagine the more expansive choices we’ll have available to us as society begins to decouple satisfaction and worth with strictly economic output, is it? 

The Evolution of Performance Management

When Deloitte tallied the number of hours spent on traditional performance management systems to evaluate employees, the total came to 2 million p/year. At Adobe, prior to radically reforming its performance management system, it spent over 80,000 hours per year. So, both changed their methodology, shifting from performance evaluation that measures talent based on ratings and output to a system of development, coaching and performance that is driving improvement and dramatically increasing productivity.

Deloitte’s new approach asks “What’s the most detailed view of you that we can gather and share?  How does that data support a conversation about your performance?  How can we equip our leaders to have insightful conversations?”. Their question now is not ‘What is the simplest view of you?’,  but ‘What is the richest?’” Is performance management at root more about ‘management’ or about ‘performance’?  Put differently, although it may be great to be able to measure and reward the performance you have, wouldn’t it be better still to be able to improve and better support  the work ahead?

“We’ve arrived at a very different and much simpler design for managing people’s performance. Its hallmarks are speed, agility, one-size-fits-one, and constant learning, and it’s underpinned by a new way of collecting reliable performance data. This system will make much more sense for our talent-dependent business.” [Deloitte.]

Having simplified the process, it can now happen much more frequently – quarterly or at the conclusion of every project. This terrific HBR overview ‘Reinventing Performance Management‘ (by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall) shares the in-depth research underpinning all this, but ultimately, it seems there are only four questions that really matter:

1. Given what I know of this person’s performance, and if it were my money, I would award this person the highest possible compensation increase and bonus. [This measures overall performance and unique value to the organization on a five-point scale from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree.”] 

2. Given what I know of this person’s performance, I would always want him or her on my team. [This measures ability to work well with others on the same five-point scale.] 

3. This person is at risk for low performance. [This identifies problems that might harm the customer or the team on a yes-or-no basis.]. 

4. This person is ready for promotion today. [This measures potential on a yes-or-no basis.] 

As the article discusses, this is the beginning of the shift. There are many questions to resolve—not the least of which is the question of transparency (i.e., should folks all be able to see their “number”? And if so, how does that bias the reporting?). Yet what a compelling example of how lots of data, rigorously analyzed, and applied to thoughtful questioning and design, can lead to much simpler, significantly more human outcomes.

Want one more?

Getting from A to Be … with the Most Happy Route

“Logic will take you from A to B, imagination will take you everywhere.” —  Albert Einstein.

Maps get us to where we want to go, but what if they could intuit taking you to places you didn’t know you wanted to go, or offer alternative, more happy routes? Instead of getting us from point A to point B via the most direct route possible, what if we could wander and enjoy the experience of getting from one place to another?

Daniele Quercia (At Yahoo! Labs, Barcelona) pondered these exact questions one day while riding a bike through Boston and as a social scientist set about developing a new type of map — the happy map! In this quick but wonderful TED talk he describes why and how he and his team made it happen.

In summary, just as the amount of data mounts daily, so does our opportunity to look at the world around us and wonder what can we do better? How can we improve lives through greater understanding? And most importantly, how do we ensure that we elevate our humanity as a result?

We wish you a happy Memorial Day! And a new week that invites us all to cast a fresh eye on what to measure, how, and in ways that can truly add value to our lives.


Nancy + Emma

Stories we pinpointed this week:

Beyond Measure…?

What the World’s Largest Data Set Can Tell Us

The Evolution of Performance Management

Getting from A to Be … with the Most Happy Route

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