Because my birthday is in late September, I was always in a weird place in terms of my grade level in school. Rather than waiting a year to start first grade, my parents sent me to a special, brief six-week kindergarten class to prepare me for school in the fall – where I’d be one of the youngest kids in the class.

I distinctly remember two things about that six weeks: first, on the last day of class as I was walking home I somehow lost my nearly brand new Mickey Mouse watch. I was terribly upset about that and have lost almost nothing – and certainly never a watch – since. The other thing I remember was receiving solid “E’s” for effort on my grade card. The school didn’t give standard letter grades to us, just “E” or “N.” You didn’t want an “N” which stood for “No effort” or something to that effect.

My mother and I were pleased, but my dad was less impressed. I remember him explaining that he thought that the “E’s” were meaningless, since effort didn’t really mean you’d learned anything. I didn’t really understand what he was saying at the time, but my engineer father was giving me my first lesson in the importance of measurement of results versus measurement of effort.

Yesterday I was having a discussion with someone who was explaining to me how much effort they’d been putting forth on a project. The trouble was, the project was getting nowhere. As an engineer and entrepreneur, I had a pretty negative mental reaction to this statement. I didn’t really care how hard this person worked, what I cared about was getting results. Frustrated, I ended the conversation before I let my emotions do the talking.

Thinking about it overnight, I realized the problem: the project didn’t have any specific, clear, measurable outcomes. Worse, we weren’t gathering data as we went along, and we were compensating based on time spent. It’s hardly a surprise the project was off the rails; the entire environment around it was designed (or rather not designed) to cause that to happen. The person on the project really didn’t have any other measure to refer to than his effort.

Right away this morning I provided guidance on the measurable results I wanted to see and tied compensation to those results, not effort. I put in place a way for us to measure progress, other than effort.

After doing some more thinking, I was struck by how much this situation reflects exactly how many mid-sized businesses deal with technology. Too often when we first visit with a potential client, what we can easily see is that there are no methods of measuring what’s going on. There’s no technology strategy or plan. There’s no ongoing monitoring of the environment to get any idea of how well things are performing. There’s no tracking of service requests. There’s no budget. If there are IT staff, they’re working long hours, they’re fatigued and burnt out, and the business is dissatisfied with the level of support.

One of the very first things we do when we start working with a client is to establish monitoring and measurement. We can’t support what we can’t measure. We can’t tell if things are improving unless we have goals and we measure performance and progress. We work with the business management to create a technology strategy, and to establish measurable processes and procedures. In every case we’ve seen so far, this turns dysfunctional environments around, and does it quickly.

Is your business grading your technology operations using “E” for effort? If you can’t measure and monitor what you’re doing, you can’t make changes that improve the situation. More importantly, though, if you don’t know what you’re working toward all you can measure is effort – and effort alone is a poor indicator of progress.