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« A New Year - New Potential | Main | The Social Challenge for 2009 - Scaling Relationships »

January 13, 2009


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Greg Asman

While I agree with you that "doing the right thing" is always best, I think there's a larger problem of knowing what the right thing is.

Management's objectives don't always align with customers or even shareholder values. Don't get me wrong… I believe it would be awesome if they did, but such is life. I think you're right that ROI measurement can go overboard – especially when dealing with something as fuzzy as measuring community involvement but take it from another perspective as trying to do right unto others. For example, if a company were to do what they honestly felt was "the right thing" but its customers thought it was terrible (Facebook Beacon, for example), shouldn't a company have a measurement system in place to gauge community sentiment before a complete uproar?

Setting aside the additional harsh reality that you need to measure success in order to keep funding coming, maybe we can look at measurement as tool to keep people on the right track and make sure all the right things are done by companies, customers, and partners alike.

Chris Selland


As someone who's been on the other side of that debate, I agree about 'doing the right thing'. And I'm glad you agree that there's value in tracking metrics.

Of course any semi-intelligent executive is going to recognize that 'doing the right thing' has benefits that can't necessarily be fully quantified. But if you're going to walk up to that executive and ask them to invest the organization's time or money (which are effectively the same thing) - particularly these days - you'd better have a business case that demonstrates WHY and HOW it will pay off. Whether those metrics are hard or soft - they at least need to be demonstrable.

Anyhow - great post - hopefully we can now at least say we agree;)


Rachel Happe

Thanks for stopping by and commenting Greg & Chris.

You are right in that you do need to track to measure progress, align goals, and keep the investment in the projects going. And, I am fully supportive that - used in conjunction with good judgment. It just seems to me that too often the debate is around 'knowing for sure' before the decision about what to do is made.

I believe that you first decide what needs to be improved, decide what tools make the most sense for what you are trying to accomplish...and then figure out how you will measure.

It's never quite that easy or that clean and politics get involved... part of what would help is if company's could more clearly articulate exactly how they want to treat and be perceived but you rarely hear companies say 'we are the low cost provider and therefore, we offer minimal customer support' And, I KNOW, that is too much to hope for but it would really clarify for the customer what they should expect!

Todd Smith

I love your thinking. If you make a good product, take care of your customers and do the right thing, most of the time business takes care of itself. Sure you can ratchet down the sails and get every bit of speed out of the wind, but only if you enjoy fast racing. Some might call me lazy for saying it, but I'm happy to do the right thing and let the chips fall where they may.

Stephen Denny

Ah, the whole "judgment" thing! We all want leaders with judgment who 'do the right thing.' The problem comes in when the leader has ten times the number of priorities you do and needs a shortcut to understand what 'the right thing' is - and this often defaults to metrics like WOM, personal experience, or ROI.

It does come down to 'the right thing' at the end of the day, and the definition is derived from your leader's judgment - with all its bias, baggage and preconceptions.

Kirsten Barker

Great post. I'm new to your blog...found it through a tweet.

I'd be curious to hear more on your thoughts about the comment you made on businesses doing "the right thing by employees (give them credit, opportunity, and encouragement instead of treating them like disposable widgets)"

Do you see any opportunity for internally hosted social media to enable sharing of ideas? Or capturing the knowledge/story/journey of important players in the company? (Given, of course, that the ROI will be hard to determine/measure and that it might be perceived as a time suck...)

Thanks for the post.


I applaud the sentiment, Rachel, but your (rather powerful) analogy breaks down in organizations beyond a certain size. Beyond a handful of people in close physical proximity - and all with aligned values, incentives, and talents, I might add - coordination is necessary. That means management, and you simply cannot manage what you cannot measure.

Only poor management gets in the way of people doing the right thing. That this happens is no reason to condemn the discipline, or to wish away it's foundation in the objective truth as represented by agreed upon metrics.

Power to the people, I'm all for it, but not many will know what to do with that power if conscience is their *only* guide.

David Spinks

A very thoughtful post.

"Part of my passion around social media comes from wanting us as a business community to start treating each other like humans again rather than protagonists in a plot that can be compartmentalized as 'just business'."


I think a balance needs to be found. Things have been done based on returns for a long time now and that needs to be remedied. At the same token, you cannot reasonably expect a company to just do anything deemed as "good" for their customers because if customers had it their way, they'd get everything for free without having to lift a finger.

The main point is that you don't have to know what the exact returns are. If you can do something to help your customers, and be confident that it will benefit the company in the bigger scheme of things (even if you're not getting directly visible returns) then do it.


Rachel Happe

Todd, Stephen, Kirsten, Mike, David - Thank you for stopping by and adding to the conversation!

I think 'balance' is the right word here - and I think I felt the need to rant because I don't see much balance these days. I'm actually a metrics geek by training...but that was very instructive on finding the limits to metrics.

I'm beginning to think large companies (to Mike's point) do, in fact, need to start hiring people based on an alignment of values vs. a pure skill set perspective. That helps reduce the need for mgmt and increases the ability to individuals to use their own judgment. Not entirely sure if companies (and investors) are ready for that yet though.

Kirsten - in regards to internal employees - I see community environments increasing the ability for employees to opt-in or self-resource themselves on projects they have personal passion least to a bigger extent then they can today. Would be very energizing for employees and lead to higher productivity if it could be pulled of.

Thanks for all the great comments!

A.J. Pape

A few comments.

1 - Hallelujah, Rachel. Thank you for this. Simple, clear, and a nice alternative to some of the unnecessary complexity passed off as so-called wisdom.

2 - There's a lot of evidence to say that we select the data and measures that shore up the decisions we already believe are right. Having worked at the COO level of FORTUNE 500 companies, I have seen more data justifying someone's gut than actually persuading anyone of trying something they instinctively distrust. So I reject the notion that people are objective. How many arguments have you seen in your career where no amount of data would persuade the disputants?

3 - Business is like soylent green - it's made of people. I applaud you for reminding us of this. The film "The Corporation" should be mandatory viewing for everyone in high school or college. We do not excise our consciences when we go to work, nor when organizations "reach a certain scale."

What can happen is that we forget who our decisions impact and so we do what we think makes sense in the social world of the people immediately around us. If they are similarly disconnected from customers or employees, you get the destructive dynamics we all know too well. This is why it's valuable when leaders are more connected to customers and staff.

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