Values: soft vs hard

You can’t ‘manage what you cannot measure’. Or so it seems.

If there is a choice, I will go for soft values over hard values.  But then they are not supposed to be mutually exclusive. As long as you are careful of what and how you measure.

The problem with soft values that is soft values cannot be measured directly. Tell me – how on earth will you measure attitude; or a warm smile; or leaving behind a legacy; or making people feel better.  And if you can’t measure, you start doubting, which in turn makes you feel insecure. But the problem’s here is you, not who or what you measure. Remember ‘Blink factor’?. Given enough experience and talent, you develop a kind of gut factor. Kind of trained gut feeling. And you have a hunch you are right. Mostly you will be right. And if you fail? So what.

Then why do we feel afraid. Because we don’t have either the expertise or talent to have developed that gut factor. Neither passion.

Let’s take hiring. In some industries, I am told that the use of gut factor is common, like in arts, like in music. But somewhere it is a poor dilbertian. In software, if you are not working for Joel, some MBA who never compiled a piece of code will interview a star programmer.  Peter’s principle at it’s best.

Or good companies will have detailed process and metrics (nobody can be hired less than score 10!) based on interview results. Or worse, a filled in questionnaire, complete with a macro to spit out the final score. Good, it tells us a lot. But don’t replace the need for intense communications, the need to feel good, so on.

Or let’s say a software development project. There might be 100 metrics to measure every aspect of work  – how much are we doing with money, how many days have gone by, how long are the defects, so on and so forth. How many time we felt safe looking at the numbers when there were dark clouds behind is. Or other way round – false alarms. You need to check the terrain as much as the map.

Tom Peters, the management guru, seems to be a long time advocate of soft values over hard values. Here he takes on a rant against Peter Drucker(yes), Taylor, Robert McNamara, Xerox.  Here he goes on to say:
…and they spent all of their time and energy arguing about “cross-elasticities of demand.” Meanwhile, they were content to make crappy copiers (albeit the first copiers). But they didn’t care about the product or the people or the customers. It was all about the numbers. The numbers, the numbers, the numbers. I was fed up with the numbers.

Search said, It’s not all about the numbers. Profits are cool. They give you room to invest in cool stuff. But somebody has to bleed. Somebody has to show some passion. Search, I like to think, put the blood back into business….”

Numbers are good and beautiful but don’t kill the gut factor; the ingenuity to know what’s behind the wall; passion to develop gut factor – all the softness around. They go long.

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