“Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count and everything that counts cannot necessarily be measured”. An Albert Einstein quote which eloquently sums up the problem with performance measures (and targets).
I’ve been struggling with performance measures for ages and don’t think I’m any closer to being comfortable with them than I was about 20 years ago. What has changed is my viewpoint. I have moved away from the ‘hard targets / measure’ mindset and the ‘if it can’t be measured it can’t be managed’ mantra, towards a greater recognition of the complexities of life, and you can’t (and probably don’t need to) measure everything.
All of this can be illustrated through my latest ‘let’s experiment on the kids’ adventure. Eldest son (Steady Eddie) is in the middle of selecting a university to attend. An important choice, one I couldn’t possibly let pass without offering some support and guidance (aka parental meddling). Being the robust scientific type, anything I offer needs to be logical, well structured, evidence based and repeatable. What he needed was a beautifully designed evaluation framework, based upon carefully selected performance measures. The perfect way to decide where he is going to spend the next three years of his life (I am such a good dad!).
I should also mention that I believe in empowerment and involvement, so it is only fair that Steady Eddie decides upon the performance measures and the scoring system himself, I’m ‘just helping’. What he came up with surprised me a bit. These are all very sensible, the kind of ‘grown up’ thing I was looking for.
Steady Eddie’s University Selection Criteria
- Employability – what percentage of graduates from the course get good jobs?
- Teaching Style – how much contact time is there with tutors? Is it classroom or practically focused?
- Environment – how safe does the Campus feel?
- Accessibility – how easy is it get to, and get back home?
- Accommodation – availability, quality & cost, a big deal.
Scoring system (there was a bit more to this, but you get the idea)
- 5 = absolutely brilliant
- 3 = average
- 1 = completely rubbish.
This was fantastic. My spirits were lifted; this was everything I wish I’d done myself at 17 years old. Then reality crept in, we’d visited 3 Universities and it’s was starting to look like the ‘wrong choice’ was going to win. This was the local University which opened up the prospect of a ‘live at home option’, definitely not in my plans. Time for me to develop an alternative scoring system and performance measures, here goes:
Meddling Dads University Selection Criteria
- Tutor Dress Sense. The worse the clothing, better the score. I want technical focus, not some fashion victim. Tweed jacket, tracksuit trousers, Hawaiian shirt and a woolen tie (preferably all at once) = high score.
- Graffiti Quality. I like obscure graffiti eg “Heisenberg may have slept here!……… are you certain?”, fantastic. However “I am bored” carved into the lecture theatre desks is a bad sign.
- Lab Technicians / Junior Staff. I want someone in charge that looks like Arkwright from ”Open All Hours”, preferably with a brown lab coat. Someone who’s been around for eons, oozing wisdom, from which the ‘bright young MSc/MA’s who work there can all learn.
- Canteen Food. Always check out where the PhD students and Tutors eat. It’s got to be good old stodgy institution grub. Food is fuel, shovel it in and get back to the lab. Anything ‘gastro’ = bad news.
- Open Day Car Park. I want to see lots of second-hand Volvo’s in the car park. All driven by earnest middle class types who have thoroughly researched where their offspring is planning to go (saves me the hassle).
The outcome has been that my alternative performance measures have helped guide his choice. By measuring some of the things that really matter, he’s settled on a university over two hours travel away. Definitely not a live at home option, result!
So, what’s the PONT?
- Just about anything can be measured, but focus on what matters most.
- Going for the obvious, ‘sensible’ option didn’t help get the outcome we wanted.
- Be imaginative. Tutor Dress Sense should be a standard performance measure across all universities.
It’s a pity that we learn all these things a little late …
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