Sometimes people see that I’m a dialogue practitioner and the assume that I am not a fan of quantitative measurement. I think this has to do with the fact that the dialogue practitioner community has been a kind of antithesis to the “measure and manage” world of empirical scientific management.
In any endeavour both qualitative and quantitative measurements are important. The issue isn’t whether or not numbers are to be more trusted than meaning making; the issue is whether we are measuring thing properly.
The issue is whether or not we use measurements as targets or gauges.
Again, this is helpful in understanding the distinction between summative and developmental evaluation and sensemaking. In a linear system, you are aiming for certain end states and targets. In a complex and non-linear system you are aiming to keep to vectors. So using technology to increase production by 5% and decrease expense by 15% can be achieved and you can look back and see how well you achieved that target. You can also do tests and host conversations with workers and customers to discuss the quality of your product, aiming for a general score of “happy” which in turn might be reflected in numbers like sales, returns, recommendations and so on.
In a complex system, lilke an organization’s culture however, you are not managing for a target, but rather you are managing a kind of balance and a direction. You get to choose that direction from your own moral and ethical sense of what is right to do. For example, maintaining an organizational culture of openness, respect, creativity and support requires monitoring your culture in real time, a lot, and noticing how things are shifting and changing. Dialogic methods play an important role here, especially in perceiving patterns and making decisions about what to do, as well as engaging people in the endless negotiation about what those values look like on a daily basis. As a management tool, developing skillful dialogue tools allow you to manage the day to day issues with departures from your preferred set of values, beliefs or practices. Being complex, things like organizational cultures won’t always act they way you want them too, and so good leaders do two things well: they help resolve the inevitable violations of standards and practices in a manner that reflects the preferred way, and they gather together people over time to discuss what everyone is learning about the way the culture is working.
It’s not good enough to convene an annual meeting about the organization’s values and culture. That simply gives you a snapshot in time and tells you nothing about how an organization is evolving and changing, nor does it provide information about promising practices. To monitor over time, you can use a tool like CultureScan or a series of other regular ways of documenting the small observations of daily life that together help provide a picture of what the organization is doing.