Measuring What Matters is Not Easy

One of the biggest challenges that organizations face is measuring what matters. The first question could be: Matters to whom?

There are many ways to imagine how to wrap your head around this. So, here is my first of a series of stories. At one point in my career I was responsible to create a small long-term care facility for seniors who were deaf or deaf-blind. There were 40 seniors in the facility, which was designed specifically for them because they wanted to be in community with other deaf seniors. I hired an operational manager, and the center launched. My sign-language skills were limited, but I still enjoyed visiting the center and helping to provide the support that mattered to them.

After a few months, the social worker for the seniors decided to ask the seniors how they liked the center. They liked it just fine, but they said the food was bad. A small group of seniors met with the social worker. It was the menu they said. “We want input,” said the seniors. The dietary staff reluctantly agreed to work with the seniors to create a new menu. And then the menu launched. Expecting great compliments, the staff were stunned that the food was still rated poorly. What the heck!

The director reported the low marks on food again! I wondered if the food didn’t taste good. Maybe the recipes were wrong. It remained a mystery until one woman made it very clear.

At home, she would serve the food right from the pot, and she would then wait for it to cool and eat it. We served the food at the temperature noted in the regulations for safety purposes. The reality was we could serve her and a few others food that was hotter because they had the judgement and skill to wait. For others, we had to be careful and serve food at just the right temperature. In the end, we made a few plates hotter and then everyone was pleased. The dietary staff was delighted that the new menu was enjoyed and appreciated, the residents were safe, and those who wanted to watch the food cool off were happy.

So here is what we learned:

We learned that our initial idea was wrong. Sure the food needed to be kept hot for safety, and the variety was important. But there was more to it from the seniors’ perspective. If we wanted to achieve our mission of providing a great place to have a happy life, we needed to take the direction from them, not us or the regulations. We needed to learn what matters to everyone.

The inspectors were happy the food was safe. The residents were happy that the food was of their choosing. Everyone liked the variety. The residents who like to watch the food cool, were happy. The dietary staff were happy that their food got good reviews. The social worker was happy that she figured out the problem. The family of the seniors commented that Mom or Dad liked the food.

In the end, we found that we had measured what mattered to everyone.