Today’s post is the featured article from the October 2010 issue of The Front Porch Newsletter. If you would like to automatically receive The Front Porch e-newsletter on the last Thursday of each month just click here to sign-up for your complimentary subscription.

john-newHave you ever felt something was wrong, but you just couldn’t put your finger on it? You may have said this or at least thought it at some point along your professional journey. You knew, in your gut, a problem was brewing … but it wasn’t clear on the surface.

Subtle, shall we say. Subtle, yet potentially lethal. There was nothing to indicate a problem on the monthly metric dashboard. In fact, all the measurements were on track.

Right on track for a derailment.

Last month, on the Front Porch, we talked about the unintended consequences sometimes created by what we measure. (If you missed last month … you can just click here). Measurements with the best intentions can create some critical unintended consequences. People respond to measurements … otherwise measurements wouldn’t be so faithfully used. They do drive results. They also drive some other things … possibly some things not so measurable.

Another reason measurements have become so pervasive is because of the advancements in technology enhancing our capability to measure. And a lot of times we measure things … just because they are measurable. The flood of measurements, in fact, may be a great distraction to “measuring” what is most important.

What if what is most important isn’t even measurable?

Or if it is measurable … maybe it is not measurable using technology. And maybe it is not easy to measure in any form. Just because something is not measurable doesn’t mean it is not important. But in many organizations, no matter how important it might be, if it is not on the “biblical” dashboard, its importance fades. Out of sight … out of mind. Out of discussions. Out of decisions. Out of relationships … and eventually out of the culture. People respond to measurements. And people forget what is left “out.”

Core values become an easy example.

Some organizations would say … those are the soft things. And because they are hard to easily display as a metric on a dashboard, they simply remain a nice backdrop. A hope. A wish. Some organizations, that no longer exist, wish they had been dead serious about them … measurable or not.

Measurements can only capture WHAT we have done. Values capture WHO we are. Put enough laser focus on the WHAT and you can bet the WHO will begin to fade. Where you get to … becomes more important than how you got there. Who and how are related. Twins you might say. The same three letters, just rearranged.

Core values bring focus to the who and the how … the same way a dashboard brings focus to the what. Both serve a purpose when the values come first. Once values become second, it is only a matter of time until there are no values at all.

I know it sounds so simple. It is … until you add the pressure of delivering on the measurements. Then it gets much more difficult. The employees of most organizations can tell you what they are measured on each month. Few could tell you the stated core values of their organization … if they have ever been stated at all. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Core values are nice things … but they are also a business imperative. And leadership is fully responsible for setting the stage.

Leaders can get employees to respond to measurements when the employees know leadership is serious about those metrics. Leadership can also get employees to live a set of core values when the employees know leadership is serious about them.

There is just one big difference. When leaders measure employees with metrics, leaders are looking to see how employees perform. When leaders are establishing core values … employees are first looking to how leaders perform. Maybe that is why core values don’t appear on many dashboards. Maybe it has nothing to do with how hard values are to measure. Maybe it has to do with who is measuring who. Remember you get what you measure. Whether they know it or not … when it comes to values, employees are measuring “up.”

It might serve us well to answer a few questions. Do we have stated values? Does every employee know them? Believe in them? Believe leadership is dead serious about them? Have we designed a way to hold everyone accountable to them above and beyond measurements? What measurements directly or indirectly encourage employees to drift from these values?

Core values, for being so “soft,” sure seem “hard” to do. It has been encouraging to see the leaders who are creatively embracing this hardship! They seem to be measurably less distracted!