ImageI’ve spent most of today working through part of an online training course on Six Sigma – a process improvement technique. As interesting as the subject matter is, sitting in front of a screen all day reading about complex concepts and making copious notes in the hope that they’ll stick in your brain isn’t the most dynamic of ways to spend your time.

So it was nice to come across, amongst all the descriptions of statistical models and definitions of documentation requirements and team structures, a rather nice saying that I believe has applications far beyond the field of process re-engineering: one cannot change what cannot be measured.

It caused me to pause in my work for a moment and ponder the truth of the statement. It made me think of times in one’s life where things aren’t going as well as they could be and, from within the mire of worry or upset or perhaps even panic, it can be difficult to comprehend a way out. Sometimes this difficulty can – at least in part – stem from the fact that the root causes of the problem aren’t clear. When this is the case, it is easy to unknowingly fall into the trap of trying to solve the problem’s symptoms, thinking this will resolve the situation.

Only when you are able to clearly understand the genuine underlying causes of the bad situation are you able to begin to successfully identify the possible steps to be taken to resolve those causes and start on the journey towards addressing the issues once and for all. So, only when you are able to accurately identify and understand (or measure) the matters requiring resolution are you then able to set out the necessary actions to make the desired changes.

So, as well as a phrase that has great significance to the process re-engineering industry, I believe that it also has a bearing on coaching, for it is often with the input of a coach that the key issues facing an individual are finally able to be measured. I don’t mean that the coach whips out a metre rule and starts trying and failing to take measurements of intangible thoughts and feelings!

Rather, I mean that the use of probing questions and structured models and techniques can be the independent, objective approach that teases out a greater understanding of the underlying issues. This, in turn, could be the factor that makes the difference to an individual who has been trying their best to positively address the issues facing them, without realising that their efforts are to no avail, solely because they are unwittingly targeted at the effects instead of the cause.

Perhaps the next time you find yourself thinking that things are not going very well, whether it be in your work or personal life, you will think to yourself “one cannot change what cannot be measured”, and take the time to be sure that you have accurately identified the causes of the stresses or concerns. That way you can effectively make the changes that are required to improve the situation and, ultimately, your life.

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