How to Measure ‘Purpose’

Lisa Earle McLeod
3 min readJun 8, 2023

People often ask, how do you measure noble purpose?

If you’re someone who has been managing traditional numbers for most of your career, expanding your field of vision can be challenging. Measuring something more abstract, like purpose, takes work. Consider this example from the (highly competitive) sport of figure skating.

The scoring in figure skating is more complex than scoring in speed skating or track. Figure skaters are scored on two elements. Part of the score is for technical merit and part of the score is for artistic impression.

If the scoring were simply based on technical merit alone, it would be a very boring event- one performer after another would do the same jumps and turns, checking the boxes for technical proficiency.

It’s the combination of technical merit and artistic impression that make the competition so compelling. The top performers excel in both. They check all the boxes for technical merit, but recognize, those are just the table stakes. No one wins gold on technical merit alone. The difference often comes down to the competitor’s passion and how emotionally engaged they are in the performance.

Business is the same. Yet in business, we often pretend that technical merit is the only thing that matters. But like figure skating, the technical merit (i.e. having a functioning product and adequate service) isn’t enough to win.

The challenge is, artistic impression is harder to measure. It’s the hundreds of little things that contribute to the customer experience. It’s the way your team pulls together after a mistake. It’s the tone of voice from your mid-level manager. It’s caring enough to call a difficult customer or coach a struggling employee.

It doesn’t fit nicely into a 1–5 rating, there’s not as much predictability, and it’s more difficult to be precise. Yet, we know, breakthrough organizations all have a special sauce. It’s palpable. And like a gold-winning figure skating performance, you know it when you see it. It’s qualitative. So how do you measure it?

  • Have examples of what ‘good’ looks like. These examples don’t even have to stem from your organization. If you’re looking for more innovation, a stronger commitment to customers, or a more highly engaged workforce, study what that looks like. What are the signs? A detailed picture of your targeted ‘end state’ makes it easier to identify gaps.
  • Show what not to do. Have you ever had this conversation with your spouse? “What do you want for dinner.” “I don’t know.” “What about Sushi?” “No. I’m not in the mood for that.” “How about burgers?” “Nah, too heavy.” Sometimes we don’t know what we want, we just know what’s not right. If you’re struggling to articulate the special sauce you’re going for, try becoming clearer about what you don’t want.
  • Evaluate biases. When you’re measuring something imperfect, like pride, creativity, or even engagement, it’s crucial to evaluate your own biases, and the biases inside your organization. While a qualitative metric is never perfect, it should be fair.

When the ‘technical merit’ measurements become the sole focus, it dulls down your organization. Employees quickly recognize that these types of metrics have little impact on anyone except the people measuring them. Quantitative metrics are designed to improve compliance; qualitative metrics ignite commitment.

You cannot spreadsheet your way to a highly engaged, passionate workforce. It’s imperative to look beneath the numbers.

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Lisa Earle McLeod

Lisa is an advisor, consultant, and speaker who works with senior executives and sales teams around the world. She is the author of five bestselling books.