Measuring What Matters

Dan White
Jun 29 2021 | Insights
Closeup hands of businesswoman working with laptop computer and using a calculator at office desk.

Dan White, the director of Ezra's Impact Lab, discusses how measurement is about identifying the right things to measure, not just picking the metrics that are easiest to obtain and put into a report.

As you’d imagine, in the Ezra Impact Lab we talk a lot about measurement. How to measure the impact of coaching, determining causality, controlling variables and so on. It was in a conversation this week with our (rather brilliant) Insight Lead, Abi Phillips, that I reflected on measuring the right things, not just measuring well.

It hit me that this is as much a question of philosophy, marketing or positioning as it is about factor analysis or any other statistical question. We measure what we measure because we feel that thing to be important, which tells you a lot about why we do what we do.

When we set up Ezra, we did so with the simple strap line “Now everyone can be better with a coach”. The key there is “be better” – not feel like they’re better. Ever since, we have pursued a belief that we are in essence a learning company; technology enabled yes, but at our core, we’re about learning. Because we want to support people to learn to perform to a higher standard.

We focus on performance because we believe that when people and organizations engage a coach, this is what they really want – performance to a higher standard: to do more, better, faster. Ultimately, this performance coaching is measured in terms of organizational output, be that sales performance, innovation, manufacturing output, etc.

At a cohort level, where hundreds or even thousands of people are involved in a program, we work with clients to set up control groups and track meaningful organization metrics. While causality is always a tricky thing to prove, we can – at least in theory – show the impact of an intervention when compared to a group that has not had that intervention (where as much as possible all other variables are kept constant).

But this doesn’t support us to answer the question of how to measure the impact of coaching at the individual level.

Our initial analyses and literature reviews showed that it is generally pretty straightforward to prove a link between coaching (and other similar interventions), and measures of things such as employee engagement, motivation and wellbeing. Teaming up with a focused, dedicated coach, who works non-judgmentally to support your development, to encourage you and to challenge you to reach just that little bit higher, to be on your side…how could this not improve someone’s wellbeing!

We would never take it as a given, but that, for us, was not the challenge. We are seeking to measure a more direct link to organizational performance – namely, individual performance. Our journey to doing this in the most efficient and effective way possible is a journey I don’t predict we will ever proclaim is complete – there will always be more that we can do.

Until then it remains important to us that we remind ourselves that this is about measuring the right things. We believe coaching is all about performance and, to be able to show an impact, we need to measure that. Focusing on other elements such as wellbeing or engagement is problematic for two reasons, the first being that this is not a direct enough measure for what we believe coaching is all about. That is to say that it’s measuring the wrong thing.

But perhaps more importantly than that: if a client of ours was seeking a way to improve wellbeing or engagement alone, we could suggest many cheaper ways of achieving this besides coaching. And this is the insight I want to focus on this week – that when you measure the impact of an intervention, or indeed of anything, it is important to distinguish between the side effects and the effect that you really want to understand. These can be hard to pull apart, and it can be tempting to reach for things that are easy, but less meaningful.

Measuring what matters is fundamental to the success of all organizations. What we measure describes not only what we care about, but also what we believe.

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