The biggest frustration when working in the people and transformation space is the incredibly stubborn resistance to using evidence-based data to inform decisions.


You will all have heard at least one of these classics:

“Our work is not a science, it’s more of an art so can’t be measured”
“People are unpredictable and we can’t just reduce their outputs to numbers”
“A leap of faith is more inspiring than a decision based on logic”

Or our absolute favourite:

“It’s about the feelings not the facts”

These are all tropes from the people profession. Yet part of the reason why “people people” and HR departments are often disliked and not trusted is that the people who decry data are the same people who will consider nothing but “facts” over emotion come a recruitment, performance management issue, disciplinary, tough decision or even a tribunal. Employees certainly notice how swiftly the soft and emotional wrapping are discarded then.


There is, of course, a better, middle way that even we squishy people types can stomach.


Anyone who’s run a team or been accountable for a budget will tell you just how acutely aware they are of the adage: “what gets measured gets done as it’s what the leaders signal is important”.


The fact is that NOBODY is above the need for hard evidence. If you doubt us, then you won’t have been on the sharp end of an organisation re-size; planning cycle; budget bid or resource competition. And if you haven’t been involved in any of the above norms of operational reality, then you’re probably not doing “people stuff” right.



“Despite being a strong believer in the power of the people stuff, I wrote my MBA thesis on the ways to quantify the impact of learning and development. It wasn’t a simple thesis, but it had to be done. I have rarely been involved in a transformation project in the last ten years that hasn’t called for some form of evaluation. That may well have been a consequence of my influence. Rarely, however, without objective input, does the measurement process make the link to the golden thread that ties people initiatives to the organisation’s business plan and bottom line. However, when it does, (as we’ve seen with all of the leadership programmes we’ve developed and run over the last three years), the impact is adrenalizing and the engagement factor is multiplied.”


“Absolutely. Having been a senior leader within an agency and a corporate environment, I always insist on finding people metrics to sit alongside process management goals which in turn drive stakeholder outcomes as well as financial.


Taking a balanced approach to measurement is really important for HR functions to justify return on investment to gain share of purse. It’s also critical for line managers to ensure that their performance reviews with their teams are comprehensive and joined up. Having led large teams of big-brained consultants, performance indicators like billable hours or return on investment are vital both for demonstrating added value and giving appropriate recognition and performance management.


Failure to devolve responsibility for hard engagement; culture or employee development goals quite clearly leads to dissatisfaction; loss of recognition and morale and ultimately to employee churn, especially of the most capable colleagues. The ones leaders can’t afford to lose. And it’s actually not that difficult to come up with three or four meaningful metrics tied to the leadership strategy and business plan. Just don’t overdo it..”

We were recently struck by how one of the most successful members of a client’s leadership team proudly announced that he had increased his income by around 25% year on year since the turn of the decade. He’s a robust sort but hadn’t achieved success through schmoozing the right senior people or pulling the wool over the eyes of line managers or the people function, playing games with their processes.


The key to his success had been knowing his personal worth. In the context of billing. To this day, he creates a balanced scorecard or dashboard for every project he undertakes and grosses these up to what he calls a personal contribution matrix.


Quite simply, he writes down his three key goals under:


  • finances
  • sales and customer satisfaction
  • processes and efficiency
  • team satisfaction, engagement and contribution.


He then creates a narrative around the relative contribution of the enablers to the outcomes, shows how they have improved and quantifies (roughly) how he’s grown the organisation’s bottom line as a team leader.


There’s no rocket science involved and he uses existing metrics available within the group. The difference is that he proactively uses the data to negotiate more favourable terms. He doesn’t sit around waiting to be recognised.


He knows his worth and he secures recognition.



“After running a small business, I learned the very raw lesson of taking money out of the hands of my children and placing it in the pockets of others. It is sobering or, indeed, motivational if you view it appropriately. I took this sort of thinking back to larger corporate roles and, regardless of the reactionary noise, every people initiative worth its salt should and could have a quantifiable business case and should be tested accordingly.”

Hopefully these reflections on our latest future fit leadership trait ring a bell or two with you and have prompted some fruitful ideas and things to try. Be interesting to hear what you have to say about this topic and whether it justifies its ranking in our top five future fit leadership traits. Begrudgingly, I’m sure even the most benevolent of you may have to concede that data and measurement are about to have their day, even in HR and won’t be going away.


We wouldn’t advise ditching the performance management process, especially if you work in HR, if we were you! Quite the opposite, actually.


Just think laterally about your performance indicators and the true areas in which you add value to the bottom line, soft skills and all.